A CURIOUS CASE OF OPEN BIAS BY JUSTICE ABANG AGAINST OLISA METUH: AN APPEAL FOR INTERVENTION BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA
A curious observer of the ongoing trial of those charged in connection with alleged embezzlement of arms fund by the former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) will clearly notice that the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, has shown a comparative bias against one of the accused, the former Publicity Secretary of the People Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh. That the said Olisa Metuh has been singled out by the judge for scapegoating, humiliation and outright denial of fundamental human rights is no longer a secret, and the fear that justice might be desecrated in this case is most palpable now!
It is this fear of imminent travesty of justice that has compelled Nzuko Umunna, a think-tank organization anchored on rule of law, equality, fairness and justice, to voice out its concern in this matter. Conscious of rule of law, Nzuko Umunna is not averse to any Nigerian so accused of crime having his or her day at the Court and tried accordingly; we are however worried about a dangerous attempt to dehumanize, victimize and discriminate against any Nigerian in a classic case of “guilty before law until proven innocent”, which the trial judge is embarking on in Metuh’s case. There is no doubt that the Hon Justice Abang is noted for his ‘no nonsense’ and almost radical approach to his trials, rulings and judgement but that of Metuh’s case has clearly taken extreme posture bordering on vindictiveness. Nzuko Umunna is therefore worried that this particular case may have been decided even before the trials are concluded. We pray Your Lordship that this perception should not be sustained and it should be reversed for posterity.
The trajectory of Metuh’s trial in the court over this case is well known to Nigerians. We all saw how he was always bundled into court in handcuffs like dangerous convict; it is also on record that more than any other suspect facing similar trial, Mr Metuh endured verbal dress down from the same trial judge that were meant to break his spirit. However none of these mistreatments has been more disconcerting than the refusal of Justice Abang to allow Metuh receive due medical attention even in the face of overwhelming evidence of debilitating ill health.
On January 25, 2018, Justice Okon Abang dismissed a duly filed medical report from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching hospital, Nnewi where Mr Metuh was on admission for a life threatening spinal cord ailment which has continued to deteriorate owing to the refusal of the same judge to allow him travel to a London hospital for a scheduled delicate surgery to save his life. Not only did he repudiate the medical report, he went ahead to deride the hospital, describing the report as a piece of trash fit only for the dustbin, reason being that the doctors used medical terms/jargons unknown to the court! To the consternation of everyone, Justice Abang thereafter ordered that Metuh be yanked from the intensive care unit of the hospital and brought before him on Monday 5 February, 2018 to continue his trial or have his bail revoked and be committed to prison! We find this unduly high-handed.
While we are not challenging Justice Abang’s right to discretion of judgement, we feel it is our duty as promoters of justice and rule of law to scrutinize the decision of our public office holders and hold them accountable to their actions. We find it outstandingly strange and a miscarriage of justice that Metuh’s passionate plea to allow him travel to London hospital for surgery for such delicate medical condition will be consistently rejected by Justice Abang, even when his (Metuh’s) counsel, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu opted to surrender his own practicing license to the court as a bond that Metuh will return to face his trial after the surgery. The question agitating our minds is, why is Justice Abang barring Mr Metuh from accessing medical treatment for a serious condition as a spinal cord ailment? We are curious about this development because here is a trial judge who has granted several others facing similar charges leave to travel for medical reasons.
On July 27, 2017, Justice Abang granted former Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako currently facing trial for alleged N29 billion fraud leave to travel abroad for treatment. On the same July 27, 2017, Abang granted Zulkifikk Abba, also standing trial alongside Nyako leave to travel abroad to visit family members! Also, various divisions of the Federal High Court had granted leaves to others facing similar charges to travel abroad for medical treatment, and we cannot see any reason or evidence justifying Abang’s imposition of blanket ban on Mr Metuh. We can state authoritatively that Metuh is currently immobilized and critically ill, as opposed to the impression of Abang’s court that he is using ill health to delay trial. We persuaded that the refusal of the judge to allow Metuh access to medicare is out-rightly life threatening and amount to sentencing before trial. The essence of criminal trial is to achieve justice and NO justice is achieved if the accused right to life while on trial is flagrantly denied!
With the above development agitating our minds, we pray the Honourable Chief Justice of the Federation the following:
- Our number one demand is that life is sacred, especially before the law and Metuh is within his right to request for medical treatment and Honourable Justice Okon Abang should not deny him of this inalienable right to life.
- Metuh should not be scapegoated, discriminated against, dehumanized and vicitimised while remaining law abiding throughout the course of his trial; his past ordeal is already sending wrong signals.
- Metuh who has no choice but to defend himself remain innocent until proven guilty and must be accorded such rights, dignity and respect.
- That if the Honourable Justice Okon Abang cannot bring himself to treat the person of Mr. Metuh fairly and impartially, should for the sake of justice rescue himself from the trial henceforth.
Your Lordship, we count on you to intervene urgently to save the life of Mr. Olisa Metuh.
For: NZUKO UMUNNA