The Court of Appeal in Abuja has voided the February 25, 2020 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which convicted former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman Olisa Metuh and his firm, Dextra Investment Limited.
Metuh and Dextra were sentenced to seven years imprisonment for money laundering offences.
In a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, a three-man panel of the Appeal Court held that Metuh and Dextra’s trial before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court was tainted with bias and prejudice against the defendants.
The court reached the conclusion in two judgments on Metuh’s and Dextra’s suits.
Justice Stephen Adah, who read the lead judgments in both appeals, said from the record of proceedings, it was evident that the judge portrayed himself as having an axe to grind with the defendants and his team of lawyers.
Justice Adah noted that Justice Abang narrated his ordeal in the hands of the appellants (defendants) and their lawyers, which also portrayed him as unwilling to try the case.
He said the duty of a trial judge is to be detached from the case before him and that such a judge is expected to afford both parties in the case.
Justice Adah, who stressed that a trial judge was expected not only to be fair to both sides but must be seen to be impartial in handling any case brought before him, held that in the handling of the case, Justice Abang did not treat the defendants (appellants) and their lawyers fairly.
“His (the trial judge’s) comments betrayed the mindset of the court against the appellants (defendants),” Justice Adah said.
He added that the appellants were able to convince the appellate court that there was the likelihood of bias in the conduct of the trial judge, who was said to have denied them fair hearing in the course of the trial.
“Where somebody is charged, he must be subjected to fair trial and accorded respect,” Justice Adah said.
He added that if a judge allows a trial to be tainted, the product of such a trial cannot stand.
He accordingly annulled the proceedings leading to the judgment, voided the judgment and ordered the return of the case to the Federal High Court for retrial.
Metuh’s lawyer Emeka Etiaba (SAN) said since the court had nullified the conviction of his client, the legal team would explore relevant administrative procedures to ensure his release from prison.
Etiaba, who said his client had spent about 10 months in prison as a result of the “tainted trial”, added that they had expected that the Court of Appeal would free Metuh instead of ordering a retrial.
But prosecution lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Sylvanus Tahir, said the commission would study the judgments and decide on the next steps to take.
In the third judgment, the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal by former National Security Adviser (NSA), Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, against his indictment in some portions of the judgment that convicted Metuh.
Dasuki had argued in his appeal that Justice Abang made some conclusive and indicting statements against him in portions of the judgment he gave on February 25, 2020, when he convicted Metuh and Dextra for money laundering offences.
The same three-man panel of the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge was wrong to have indicted Dasuki in some portions of the judgment when he (Dasuki) was not a defendant in the case but only acted as a subpoenaed witness.
In the lead judgment, Justice Adah held that the trial judge breached Dasuki’s right to fair hearing as he was not heard on the issues for which the trial judge made indicting statements against him.
He particularly referred to the N400 million Dasuki’s office was said to have transferred to Metuh’s account.
Justice Adah also said certain lines in the judgment indicted Dasuki without giving him fair hearing, adding that the only role he played in the trial was as a subpoenaed witness.