Embattled former publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, has fired two Senior Advocates of Nigeria leading his defence in his N400m money laundering case before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
In their place, Metuh has hired Mr. Abel Ozioko to replace them in circumstances that left them wondering why he would debrief his former counsel, Dr. Onyechi Ikpezu and Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), only a few days after the counsel applied to withdraw from the case.
Before today’s proceedings, Ikpeazu had informed the court of an application he filed seeking leave of the court to withdraw from the matter.
In the application dated March 4 and filed on March 5, Ikpeazu had cited what he described as, “immense pressure” with respect to their appearance in the case as well as “severe threats” to their lives.
Responding, the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang then adjourned till March 13 for hearing on Ikpeazu’s motion on withdrawal from the suit.
However, when the matter came up for the hearing of the motion, Metuh had written to the senior lawyers disengaging them as his counsel.
It was Ikpeazu, who informed the judge that his application seeking an order permitting him and his law firm to withdraw from the case had been overtaken by events following Metuh’s letter of disengagement of his law firm.
Metuh’s letter which was dated March 6, 2019, was filed March 12, 2019.
Justice Abang however, held that there was nothing the court could do, other than to respect the decision of the defendant.
“The court cannot question his decision or carry out an investigation to know why he is disengaging his lawyers. It is his fundamental right,” the judge held.
Abang said Ikpeazu hadn’t been debriefed could not be compelled to continue as counsel to the 1st defendant, saying “he is hereby discharged as counsel to the 1st defendant in this case”.
He accordingly dismissed the application of Ikpeazu seeking withdrawal from the case on the grounds that the application had been over taken by event, adding that the outcome of the motion would not serve any useful purpose in the case.
The new counsel, Oziokor, however, applied for a short adjournment to enable him to have access to the case file in order to properly defend his client.
Since the request for adjournment was not opposed by the prosecution and the 2nd defendant, Justice Abang, subsequently adjourned the matter till March 28 for the continuation of the trial.
He, however, warned that the court would not entertain frivolous applications from any counsel.
Metuh and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on money laundering charges. Both are being alleged to have fraudulently taken the sum N400m from the Office of the National Security Adviser “when they reasonably ought to know” that the money was part of the proceeds of an alleged criminal act of then NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
The ex-PDP’s spokesperson was also accused of transacting with $2m cash without going through a financial institution in violation of a provision of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.