N400 million fraud: Olisa Metuh sacks Ikpeazu, Etiaba, appoints new counsel
OLISA Metuh, the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has disengaged the two senior lawyers representing him in the N400 million fraud case charged against him before Justice Okon Abang of the federal high court, Abuja.
In their place, he appointed a less known lawyer, Abel Ozioko, as his new counsel.
Metuh is being tried alongside his company Destra Investments Limited, for allegedly receiving the sum of N400 million from the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, which he ought to have known formed proceeds of unlawful activity. The case was filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on behalf of the federal government.
The matter had been adjourned to Wednesday, March 13, for the hearing of an application filed by Onyechi Ikpeazu and Emeka Etiaba, both senior advocates of Nigeria, seeking to withdraw from representing Metuh due to several threats to their lives. They also said that they were not disposed to the day-to-day proceedings in the matter as had been ordered by the trial judge.
But when the trial resumed, Ikpeazu, who announced his “conditional presence” for the accused person, informed the court that Metuh had written him and Etiaba saying that he believes they could no longer represent him effectively in the matter, hence he has appointed another counsel.
Ikpeazu said that following the development, he was withdrawing the earlier application for withdrawal since it has been overtaken by events.
After hearing the submissions of the prosecution counsel Sylvanus Tahiru, as well as that of the counsel to the second defendant, Toochukwu Onwudufor (SAN), Justice Abang ruled that the accused person has the right to chose the counsel of his choice and that the court cannot deny him that right.
“The moment the first defendant debriefed a counsel, there is nothing the court can do. He has the right to brief or debrief any counsel, the court cannot take that right away from him. The court cannot even investigate to find out why the first defendant opted to debrief his counsel,” Abang ruled.
“Dr Ikpeazu, having been debriefed by the first defendant, cannot be forced by the court to continue representing him. Ikpeazu is hereby withdrawn as the counsel to the first defendant. Doing otherwise would be an infringement on the constitutional right of the first defendant to a counsel of his choice.”
However, Justice Abang said he was worried as to what could have warranted Metuh to have written a letter debriefing his counsel when the said counsel had already filed an application seeking to withdraw from the trial and hearing had been fixed.
“I believe subsequent proceedings would reveal the motives behind such decision,” he said.
Subsequently, another lawyer, Abel Ozioko, announced that he would be representing Metuh in the trial going forward. He then applied for a two-week adjournment “to enable me to be properly seized and be briefed of the facts of the matter”.
Both the counsel to the second defendant and the prosecution counsel did not oppose the application for adjournment, but Onwudufor asked the court to consider giving the new defence counsel a longer time than the two weeks he requested to enable him to adequately study the case file and offer a more effective representation to the accused person.
Justice Abang, having listened to all parties, adjourned the matter to March 28, adding that from thenceforth the case would be heard on a day-to-day basis. He warned that once the trial resumes, frivolous applications for further adjournments would not be entertained.
Speaking with journalists after the court sitting, the new defence counsel, Ozioko, explained that he was moderate in asking for a two-week adjournment because he did not want to appear as trying to delay the trial unnecessarily.
He, however, expressed optimism that the two weeks would be enough for him to review the case file and put up an effective defence for his client.