The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday set aside the conviction of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, on the grounds of bias allegedly exhibited by the trial judge who sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment for money laundering charges in February 2020.
The three-man panel led by Justice Stephen Adah ordered a retrial of the case.
Justice Adah who read the lead judgment ordered that the case file be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and be reassigned to another judge for retrial.
He directed that the matter could be retried by any judge of the Federal High Court but not the former judge, Justice Okon Abang, whom the Court of Appeal adjudged to have, by his utterances in his handling of the case, exhibited “manifest bias” against Metuh and his team of lawyers.
Justice Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja had on February 25, 2020, sentenced Metuh to seven years’ imprisonment after finding him and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, guilty of charges of money laundering involving the sum of N400m they received from the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) in 2014 preparatory to the 2015 general elections.
The judge had also convicted and sentenced Metuh for transacting with $2m cash without going through a financial institution in violation of money laundering law.
Justice Abang also, in the judgment, indicted Dasuki for breach of trust and acts of corruption by his action of giving the sum of N400m to Metuh from the office of the NSA’s account without justification.
Metuh, his firm, and 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, the perceived bias comments of the judge criticising Metuh and members of his legal team for allegedly making life difficult for him over his firm handling of the case.
Dasuki, who is standing trial before another court in respect of the handling of the funds of the NSA office ahead of the 2015 general elections, stated in his appeal that without being charged or allowed to defend himself in the case before Justice Abang, more than 10 indicting comments were made against him by the judge.
Although Dasuki, appeared as a defence witness subpoenaed by Metuh in the course of the trial, the ex-NSA said his indictment by the judge was a breach of his right to a fair hearing.
The three-man panel unanimously upheld the appeals on Wednesday.
Justice Adah held that from the records of the proceedings and the judgment produced by Metuh and his firm, “the trial judge has shown to the world by his utterances that he was biased against the appellants”.
He held that a judge “must not only do justice but must manifestly be seen to have done Justice. They must be seen to be fair to all parties and any evil spin of bias will invalidate the integrity of the proceedings,” he held.
He said the bias exhibited to by the trial judge led to a breach of their right to fair trial “and cannot be allowed to stand in order not to set a dangerous precedent
Delivering judgment on Dasuki’s appeal, Justice Adah held that the ex-NSA, not being a defendant in the trial or allowed to defend himself, the “damaging comments” made against him breached his right to a fair hearing.
He dismissed the objection by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir, who argued that Dasuki had no right of appeal in the case as he was not a defendant on record at the trial.
One of Metuh’s lawyers, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), said his team would immediately commence the administrative process of getting the ex-PDP spokesperson released.
Etiaba said although they had wanted the case to be dismissed and not sent back for a retrial, they were vindicated that their allegation that the trial judge was biased was affirmed.
The EFCC’s counsel, Tahir could not immediately tell if the prosecution would pursue an appeal or the retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal