A new lawyer, Abel Ozioko, on Wednesday announced his appearance before a division of the Federal High Court in Abuja as the new counsel for a former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh.
Mr Metuh is facing a seven-count charge of diversion of N400 million from the office of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
The court had earlier on Wednesday discharged the counsel who was representing the defendant in the trial, Onyechi Ikpeazu.
The court decision to discharge Mr Ikpeazu was as a result of a letter by Mr Metuh dated March 6 and filed March 12, informing the court of his intention to disengage the senior advocate from representing him in the trial.
During the session on Wednesday, Mr Ikpeazu told the court that Mr Metuh had debriefed them.
“The first defendant wrote a letter debriefing us.”
According to him, Mr Metuh said he no longer wanted them as the legal team representing him, noting that he has the right to choose his counsel.
“He said he believes we can no longer effectively represent him and that he has a right to choosing,” Mr Ikpeazu told the court.
“If it pleases the court to grant him his constitutional right and discharge me and other counsel in our chambers from further appearing. I apply that we be allowed to withdraw the application.”
Responding, the second defendant’s counsel, Tochukwu Onwubufor, said: “In my opinion, he should move the application and affidavit of facts, section 349(7 and 8) which ought to be complied with.”
Mr Onwubufor is the lawyer for Dextra Investment Ltd, the company charged with Mr Metuh in the trial.
“I do not think a counsel is allowed to withdraw by mere affidavits of facts which were filed by counsel to the first defendant. Before a court ceases to act, it must be an order of the court.
“I urge the court to hear the application alongside the affidavits of facts filed.
“The prosecution has filed a counter affidavit and the second defendant (we have also filed a reply. So the issue has been joined.
In his part, the prosecution counsel, Sylvanus Tahir, said they were on the same page with the second defendant’s counsel.
Again, Mr Ikpeazu said “a party cannot be forced to move an application which he has withdrawn.”
Following argument from both counsel, the presiding judge, Abang Okon, made a short ruling.
“The moment a defendant debriefs his counsel, there is nothing a court of law can do.
“He has a right to engage and disengage counsel as he so wishes because it is his fundamental human right to do so.”
He cited section 36(6c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states that: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to – (c) Defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice.
“Therefore the application filed by Ikpeazu has been overtaken by an event.
“Asking Ikpeazu to argue the motion is no longer of use,” Mr Abang added.
The court wondered why the legal strategy by Mr Metuh but held that it cannot question the defendant’s decision.
“In any event, I cannot stop the first defendant from presenting who would defend him in court,” the judge said.
After the ruling, the new lawyer, Mr Ozioko asked for two weeks to enable him to acquaint himself with the matter.
With the prosecution not objecting to Mr Ozioko’s request, Mr Abang adjourned to March 28 for the continuation of trial on a day-to-day basis.
“Frivolous application for adjournment will not be entertained, Mr Abang added.