Olisa Metuh, the designated National Publicity Secretary of the PDP and, therefore, a member of the party’s National Working Committee, is facing various hiccups. For the past few months, he has been facing trial for allegedly collecting N400 million from former National Security Adviser (by the way, Colonel and Lt. Colonel) Sambo Dasuki. After being fortunate to be granted bail, as the trial continued, a faction of the party claimed to have sacked PDP’s National Working Committee.
At about the same time, the court trying him refused Olisa Metuh’s application to be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. That particular ill luck may attract public sympathy for him. But much of such prospects, may be determined by Metuh’s handling of the court’s refusal to allow him travel abroad for medical treatment. As his trial continued, there was a sudden development. Preceded by Metuh’s widely-reported fall from a chair and days later vomitting, all amidst court adjudication on his application to go abroad for medical treatment, came the bombshell.
Olisa Metuh’s family reportedly offered to refund the entire amount of N400 million, the very amount for which their son had been on criminal trial under a plea of not guilty. When, therefore, Metuh’s family offered total refund, public curiousity was inevitable.
The reason or defence put up by Metuh’s family could have been better handled to match facts of the controversy so far known to the public. What were the facts on both sides?
The EFCC instituted the charges and prosecution against Olisa Metuh while his family offered to refund the entire amount in dispute. It should be noted that the family rather than Olisa Metuh himself offered the refund. The only tenable and, perhaps, pitiable aspect of the offer is that the refund may enable him to travel abroad for medical treatment.
According to Metuh’s family, “it is instructive that out of over three hundred names listed as having received money from ONSA (office of the National Security Adviser), all those who offered to refund the money were not arraigned in court. Our son is the only whose offer to refund money was rejected and has been arraigned in court and his case given accelerated hearing…”
Should it be true that Olisa Metuh long ago offered to refund the money and was rejected by the EFCC, the man’s family must partly accept the blame. EFCC’s offer to suspects to refund the money was made public. Olisa Metuh’s offer to refund the money should have been made public long ago before the need to travel abroad for medical treatment compelled release of that information to the public. The impression those charged to court gave the public was that the allegations were mere hoax to be exposed by their robust defence team.
On the other hand, suspects, who refunded looted public funds took EFCC’s offer at the first opportunity and their names were surreptitiously released to the public while Buhari’s administration, hitherto bellicose on trial even after refund, now seems to be developing cold feet, at least, on matters of disclosing the identities of the refunders of loot of public funds.
Worse than that, Olisa Metuh’s public stance was that he is innocent, as would be expected of any accused or suspect. In such a situation, the EFCC was right to pursue prosecution with the hope of recovering the money.
There was also the allegation by his family that while Olisa Metuh was refused by the court to travel abroad for medical treatment, another court allowed an accused to travel abroad for some kind of prayers. Should that be true, it would be another example of conflicting rulings by our law courts provided the EFCC was not complicit in that particular ruling. Even then, that would be no justification for his family to claim that Olisa Metuh was specially earmarked by the Federal Government, the presiding judge or the EFCC for political persecution. Such silly and false claim could only stiffen EFCC on not allowing Olisa Metuh to travel abroad for medical treatment.
Former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, is also a Nigerian standing trial for allegedly releasing the N400 million (even under Presidential directive) to Olisa Metuh, who is out of custody on bail. Dasuki had been in custody since the day of his arrest last year despite bail granted him by, at least, two courts. A third court refused him bail. Would Dasuki’s family be justified to claim, like Olisa Metuh’s family, that their son is being persecuted for political reasons?
There is no doubt that Olisa Metuh is ill and may be considered for travelling abroad, especially after offering to refund the N400 million. But Metuh is not the only one pleading for medical treatment abroad. Before him, the same Sambo Dasuki was similarly refused to travel abroad for medical treatment. Olisa Metuh’s family could, therefore, have helped their son’s cause by making a joint plea for Sambo Dasuki to travel abroad. Afterall, one of the charges against Sambo Dasuki was that he released the N400 million to Olisa Metuh.
Furthermore, if Olisa Metuh is not eventually allowed to travel, his family should take the blame. Why, for example, should that family blame the court (in effect, the judge) that despite all the compelling information tendered, the court (that is, the judge) still refused application for Olisa Metuh to travel abroad for medical treatment? Was that strictly the case? Even in fairness, the judge opened the way for Metuh on how to successfully pursue his trip abroad for medical treatment.
According to the judge, since he, in the first place, ordered Metuh to deposit his passport in the court as part of his bail conditions, he, the same judge, could not accede to Metuh’s request for his passport to be released because (according to the judge) that would amount to overruling himself, the strict authority lies in a higher court, appeal or Supreme Court. If the judge had mistakenly ruled that Metuh’s passport should be returned to him, the same Nigerian lawyers would have faulted him for exceeding his powers by exercising the authority of a superior court.
Olisa Metuh is a lawyer and should accept that ruling. Rather than his family whingeing on alleged persecution of their son, Metuh’s family should head for Appeal Court, not for strict legality but a plea on humanitarian grounds. He may be lucky to succeed.
By the way, at the Appeal Court, Metuh’s defence counsel must remember the observation of the lower court judge that an idea of the possible duration of the medical treatment abroad is essential.
Criminals (let) off the hook
Continued from last week
Better still, those familiar with erstwhile opposition members known to have joined the looting and are not being tried should be exposed.
Till then, there is nothing the Federal Government can do. There is this wrong mentality that the Federal Government can probe the finance of states. Only the successors of state governors can probe their predecessors strictly within the laws. After all, even those being prosecuted for the diversion of federal funds meant for purchase of arms have continued to challenge the legality of the charges against them from high courts (or Code of Conduct Tribunal) to the Supreme Court, all within their (accused’s) constitutional rights.
If the state governors or commissioners accused also challenge the legality of charges or probe reports against them, such is within their rights under the constitution. But that is not Buhari’s responsibility. It is up to the current state government to pursue its prosecution, as in the case of former Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi. But it is also on record that when the EFCC instituted a trial against another ex-Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, an Abuja Federal High Court granted him a perpetual injunction against being invited, interrogated, detained or tried by any law enforcement agency in Nigeria. That was not under President Buhari’s administration.
Above all, any argument on the power of a federal administration (such as Buhari’s) to probe the finances of a regional (today’s state) government was put to rest as far back as 1961 by the judge of judges, Daddy Onyeama. The federal government of Tafawa Balewa had instituted a probe into the affairs of National Bank (now defunct) visa vis the finances of the defunct west regional government.
A legal tussle ensued with both west regional government and National Bank, challenging the constitutionality of National Bank Inquiry Act with which the Federal Government had hoped to carry out the probe.
Justice Onyeama nullified the National Bank Inquiry Act and stopped the probe, which had commenced already, with the implication that Federal Government of Nigeria lacks the power to probe a regional (state) government. Tafawa Balewa’s government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld Justice Onyeama’s judgment.
That is still the law. How many of today’s Nigerian judges have the guts and integrity for such a monumental ruling?
Under the current situation, only the state house(s) concerned can legislate for a serving state governor to probe his predecessor or ex-commissioner.
President Buhari has no such authority, even if he plans to. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo exceeded his power by intimidating, at least, two state houses of assembly with the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, to impeach their governors for alleged financial malfeasance. The Supreme Court nullified the two impeachments.
If Buhari tries to probe the finances of state government, he, like Tafawa Balewa before him, will fail. The only way out is, again, like Balewa, to declare a state of emergency in the state concerned and appoint an administrator, who, during his tenure, can probe the finances of the state concerned. But then, there are necessary precedents like breakdown of law and order before a state of emergency can be declared.