The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Olisa Metuh, was absent from his ongoing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday.
Upon an inquiry by the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, about Metuh’s whereabouts, his lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), said the defendant was on a bed rest at the National Hospital, Abuja.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, on charges including fraudulent collection of N400m from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2014 and using same for PDP’s presidential campaign.
Metuh and Destra Investments Limited are also being tried on charges of money laundering involving alleged cash transaction of $2m.
Justice Abang had on Monday adjourned till Tuesday for the continuation of the testimony of the fifth defence witness, Mr. Richard Ihediwa.
After intimating the judge on why Metuh was absent from court, Ikpeazu passed to the court registrar a medical report signed by a neurosurgeon consultant in the hospital, Dr. O.O Olaleye, confirming that Metuh was in the hospital for a bed rest.
The lawyer, who sought an adjournment of the case, said the situation in section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, in which the judge is allowed to proceed with a criminal trial without the defendant present in court, had not arisen.
The provision of the law provides that the court may proceed with a criminal trial if a defendant already granted bail is absent from court in violation of a court order or in the absence any good reason for the absence of the defendant.
?Destra’s lawyer, Tochukwu Nwugbufor (SAN), had supported the request for adjournment insisting that by virtue of the provisions of section 352(4) of the ACJ Act, the court could never proceed with the trial in Metuh’s absence.
Prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, also did not oppose the application for adjournment but also referred the court to section 266(a) and (b) of the ACJ Act which makes it mandatory for a defendant to be present in court whenever his trial comes up.
The judge, in a ruling, which he delivered after entertaining the submission of parties to the case, noted that though Metuh had good reason to be absent from court, the medical report was unhelpful, as it failed to indicate the period which the bed rest would last.
The judge said the omission of the period for the bed rest in the medical report had left doubt to whether the report was issued in bad faith.
The judge conceded to the request for adjournment and fixed May 30 for continuation of trial.
Justice Abang also fixed Wednesday (tomorrow) for ruling on an application by Metuh seeking the release of his passport to enable him travel to the United Kingdom for medical treatment.