The claim, Thursday, by a judge of the Federal High Court, Okon Abang, that he and the spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, may not be classmates, is false, checks by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.
Justice Abang had, during a hearing of the case between Mr. Metuh and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, rejected claims by Mr. Metuh’s lawyers that he and the PDP spokesman were classmates at the Nigerian Law School.
A counsel to Mr. Metuh, Emeka Etiaba, had written to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, demanding that the corruption case be withdrawn from Mr. Abang and assigned to another judge.
In the petition, Mr. Etiaba said Mr. Metuh feared he might not get justice from Mr. Abang, being a former classmate and based on what he knew as the judge’s position on the matter and himself.
The lawyer said the PDP spokesperson informed his legal team that sometime late last year, when he met the judge at an occasion at the Le Meridian Hotel, in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, “he was baffled at Justice Abang’s views and when eventually the charge against him was assigned to his court this January, (a few weeks later), he got worried because he feared that he may not get justice in his court.”
Speaking on the letter, Justice Abang told the team of lawyers before him that “are you aware that after eight witnesses were called by the prosecution, and the court gave its ruling on an application of no-case submission by the defence, that Mr. Emeka Etiaba wrote the registrar to the Chief Justice of the Court, asking that this case be transferred to another judge?”.
According to the judge, the reason given by Mr. Etiaba for the request of transfer of the case was that he (the judge) gave certain interlocutory judgements in favour of the prosecution, and that he (Mr. Abang) was Mr. Metuh’s former classmate.
Justice Abang added, “I am not aware that the first defendant was my classmate, he said he is my classmate.”
However, checks by PREMIUM TIMES showed that both Messrs. Metuh and Abang were called to the Bar on the same day and were both members of the Nigerian Law School class of 1988.
Mr. Metuh’s call-to-bar certificate showed that he was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 3, 1988.
Also, the profile of Justice Abang, as posted on the website of the Federal High Court indicated that he was called to the bar on November 3, 1988.
As at 1988, there was only one law school in Nigeria, located in Victoria Island, Lagos. All lawyers seeking to practice law in Nigeria at that time attended the school.
The controversy over whether the judge and Mr. Metuh were classmates did not come up suddenly in open court. A petition was sent to the Chief Judge, through which that claim was made.
The petition was brought to the judge’s attention.
Some lawyers told PREMIUM TIMES that Justice Abang should have made enquiry to determine if indeed Mr. Metuh was his classmate before raising the matter in open court.
“He had time and opportunity to crosscheck the claim before the court hearing,” one lawyer said. “He cannot be excused for saying he was not aware he was classmate of the PDP spokesman.”
The immediate past chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, told PREMIUM TIMES, “Justice Abang surely knows that he and Olisa went to school together. We were all in the same law school set in 1988. We were all admitted to the Bar same day on 3 Nov 1988. (Babatunde) Fashola, (Pius) Anyim, Godswill Akpabio, Liyel Imoke, Nnia Nwodo…. all were in that set.
“I know Olisa and Abang have been together at more than 2 class reunions… In Lagos, Uyo. Someone isn’t being totally candid.”
Justice Abang however denied he had been biased against Mr. Metuh, saying the court approved three adjournments at the request of the defence.
He also denied the claim that Mr. Metuh was denied copies of the court’s ruling.
“The secretary will type and the court will proofread about four times,” said Justice Abang, explaining why copies of a ruling he gave was not ready before Thursday for both parties.
Mr. Abang said despite the “unprofessional” conduct of Mr. Etiaba, he would abide by the directives from the National Judicial Council which directs judges in such circumstances to continue to handle cases until the chief judge takes a decision on such petitions.
He therefore adjourned the case to March 23, 2016.
The EFCC is accusing Mr. Metuh of corruptly receiving N400 million meant for the purchase of arms for the fight against the extremist Boko Haram sect.