Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed an application asking him to disqualify himself from further presiding over the trial of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, for money laundering charges.
The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, had also in a March 24, 2016 letter dismissing Metuh’s petition asking for the transfer of the case from Justice Abang to another judge.
Justice Abang dismissed the application by Metuh for lacking merit after entertaining arguments in support of it by the PDP spokesperson’s lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), and against it by the counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir.
EFCC is prosecuting Metuh and his firm before Justice Abang on seven counts of money laundering including $2m cash transaction.
Part of the charges preferred against them also bordered on the N400m which the accused allegedly received fraudulently from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2014.
The accused sent the petition against the judge and filed the application asking him to withdraw from the case after the prosecution closed its case with eight witness and they were called upon to open their defence.
Both the petition and the motion were based on allegation of bias leveled against the judge.
Ruling on the application Friday, Justice Abang ruled that the allegation of bias against him was baseless.
“It is my considered view that the application lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed,” the judge ruled.
The application by Metuh, through his lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), asking the judge to disqualify himself was based on the allegation that the judge had been bias in the handling of the case.
The same allegation was part of the grounds in an earlier petition by Metuh’s lawyer asking the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, to withdraw the case from Justice Abang and reassign it to another judge.
The Chief Judge had however dismissed the petition on the grounds that it was too late in the day to reassign a case in which the prosecution had called its witnesses.
Justice Abang restated in his ruling on Friday that the there was no evidence adduced by Metuh’s lawyer in support of the application asking him to withdraw from the case.
“The honourable Chief Judge has said he was satisfied with my explanation to the petition,” he ruled.
The lawyer claimed in the application that Metuh was a classmate of the judge in the 1987/1988 set of the Nigerian Law School.
As stated in his petition to the Chief Judge, the lawyer also accused the judge of denying his client fair hearing by refusing to release to the defence team a copy of the records of proceedings of the court to enable them to appeal against some decisions of the judge in the course of the trial.
He alleged that the defence applied for the record of proceedings on February 8, 2016 to enable the defence to appeal against some decisions of the court, but that one month and one week later, the judge had yet to release it to the defence.
Metuh also claimed in the application that he would likely be denied fair hearing in the case due to a losgstanding “frosty relationship” between him and the judge.
Etiaba had also claimed in the petition that Metuh and the judge both practised law in Lagos before the PDP spokesperson relocated to Abuja and Justice Abang on his part was appointed a judge.
Etiaba also alleged that Metuh met and had discussion with Justice Abang late last year in Meridien Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, adding that his client was baffled at the views expressed by the judge during their encounter.
Justice Abang is now taking arguments on Metuh’s application for adjournment of his trial indefinitely pending the hearing and determination of his appeal against the ruling of the judge dismissing his no-case submission.