The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, on Wednesday, nullified the seven-year jail sentence handed a former spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh.
The court held that Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja was biased in handling the case of the former PDP spokesman.
Mr Metuh, who held sway under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, was prosecuted by the anti-graft agency, EFCC, alongside his company, Destra Investment, on a seven-count charge of diversion of illegal monies received from Sambo Dasuki, an ex-National Security Adviser.
The former spokesman was also accused of transacting with the sum of $2 million without going through a financial institution, in violation of a provision of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
The defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were arraigned before the court in January 2016.
‘Guilty as charged’
On February 25, 2020, the high court found the defendant guilty on all counts of money laundering and sentenced him to seven years in jail.
The former spokesman who was dissatisfied with the decision, filed an appeal through his counsel in March 2020 arguing that he was denied a fair trial.
He said the judge was biased during the trial because of ”some remarks he made”.
Mr Metuh then asked asked the court to upturn the ruling.
A three-member panel of the appeal court led by Justice Stephen Adah in a unanimous judgement held that the proceedings of the Federal High Court which led to the conviction of Mr Metuh was ”tainted and therefore must not be allowed to stand”.
During the ruling, Mr Adah held that the ‘expressions’ of the trial judge, during the course of the trial ”established that he was biased against the convicts”. He, therefore, ordered that the trial be conducted afresh.
“The narrative of the trial judge suggests someone who didn’t enjoy trying the appellant and counsel because he said they were picking on him. He was struggling with the case and even wished that he should be recused out of the case.
“The influence from the narrative is indisputably to say the least that a trial judge was angered only in his mind that he was wrongly influenced and showed bias against the appellant in this case as this is what manifests from all the outbursts, he has infused in his judgement.”
“Learned trial judge showed in his comments, the influence of an abnormal desire all inclination to pursue a predetermined line of action against the appellant. This is no doubt is an influence of bias against the appellant. There is no way the learned trial judge can be seen to be detached from the malice against the appellant in the case as alleged.”
The appellate court ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment.
The appellate court also nullified the judgement of the trial court against Mr Metuh’s company, Destra Investment Limited.
Justice Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja had on February 25, 2020 sentenced Mr Metuh to seven years imprisonment after finding him and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, guilty of charges of money laundering involving the sum of N400 million they received from Mr Dasuki in 2014 preparatory to the 2015 general elections.
The judge had also convicted and sentenced Mr Metuh for transacting with $2 million cash without going through a financial institution in violation of money laundering law.
Justice Abang also, in the judgment, indicted Mr Dasuki for breach of trust and acts of corruption by his action of giving the N400 million to Mr Metuh from the office of the NSA’s account without justification.
Mr Metuh, his firm, and Mr Dasuki, had filed separate appeals against the judgment, accusing the trial judge of bias and alleging a breach of their rights to a fair hearing by the judge.
They quoted from the records of proceedings of the trial court, perceived bias comments of the judge criticising him and members of his legal team for allegedly making life difficult for him because of his firm handling of the case.
Mr Dasuki is standing trial before another court in respect of the handling of the funds of the NSA office ahead of the 2015 general elections.
He stated in his own appeal that without being charged or given the opportunity to defend himself in the case before Justice Abang, more than 10 indicting comments were made against him by the judge.
Although Mr Dasuki, appeared as a defence witness subpoenaed by Mr Metuh in the course of the trial, the ex-NSA said his indictment by the judge was a breach of his right to fair hearing.
Delivering judgment on Mr Dasuki’s appeal, Justice Adah held that since the ex-NSA was not a defendant in the trial or given opportunity to defend himself, the “damaging comments” made against him breached his right to fair hearing.
He dismissed the objection by the EFCC lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir, who argued that Mr Dasuki had no right of appeal in the case as he was not a defendant on record at the trial.
The Court of Appeal held that section 241(b) of the Nigerian Constitution conferred the right of appeal on anyone to challenge any decision in civil or criminal case believed to have denied him or her any of the rights contained in Chapter 4 of the Constitution.
“He was never as an individual charged as an accused person, yet many damaging things were said about him. His appeal is justified,” Justice Adah held.
“Even an accused person would be ordinarily presumed to be innocent, yet “in this case, the appellant was not charged and a lot of damaging things were found in this judgment against him.”
“The appeal is allowed,” Mr Adah held.
He also made an order nullifying all indicting comments made against Mr Dasuki in the judgment.
Mr Metuh has been in prison since February 25, when he was convicted and sentenced by the trial judge.
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