We read with rude shock the malicious, misleading and completely false report sponsored in a prominent Nigerian online news portal, claiming that the Federal High Court on Wednesday barred our Client, Chief Olisa Metuh from seeking further adjournment in his on-going trial.
This false report, which is now being circulated in other section of the media, also went ahead to heavily twist facts regarding the circumstances surrounding the request by our lead Counsel in the matter, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu. SAN. It will be recalled that Dr Ikpeazu SAN had informed the Honourable Court on the 19th of June 2017 that he will be appearing before the same Federal High Court, Port Harcourt division in an EFCC prosecuted case involving a retired Chief Judge.
More shocking is the fact that the correspondent who authored this mischievous report was not even in court and only spread the falsehood to enhance the well orchestrated and unrelenting media trial against our client.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Federal High Court did not at any time bar our client, Chief Metuh from seeking further adjournment.
It is instructive that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) under Section 396 (5) is clear in providing for adjournments in a criminal trial. This section states without ambiguity; “where it is impracticable to conclude a criminal proceedings after the parties have exhausted their five adjournments each, the interval between one adjournment to another shall not exceed seven days inclusive of weekends.”
In fact, the only option left for the court on issues of adjournments, if for any reason it believes the request is frivolous is to award costs and this is clearly stated in section 396 (6). Furthermore, the fact that our Client is entitled to as many adjournments as justified by circumstances has since been settled before the same Court.
It is therefore totally inconceivable that a Court can bar a defendant from seeking adjournments in the course of establishing his innocence as guaranteed by the laws and the constitution.
On the unfortunate twisting of the request for adjournment by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN, on Wednesday, we find it scandalous that normal Court practice and procedure, which has also been enjoyed by the prosecution in the past, is moved from the courts and made a subject of media controversy with heavy distortions.
We also find it ridiculous that whereas Dr. Ikpeazu SAN’s letter which I, Barr. Obinna Okonkwo, also a Counsel in the matter, directly presented to the Court, clearly sought for an adjournment between June 21 and 22, 2017 to enable him attend a crucial matter at the Port Harcourt division of the Court, what is in the media is that Dr. Ikpeazu said “he would be at another matter at the Federal High Court, Enugu on the dates” and that he “prayed the Court to ‘adjourn to any date other than June 26, 2017.”
Whereas we are aware that these distortions are meant to put our lead Counsel in bad light, we know that the whole aim of the unrelenting media trial against our Client is to upset, tarnish and cow our defence while attempting to stampede and sway the Court against our Client.
This resort to media trial in the war against corruption must stop. The essence of the anti-corruption war is not to harass, hound and scandalize people in the court of public opinion, neither is it to secure conviction with intimidation and manipulation. The fight must be within the ambit of the law and not through media court-martial.
While we commend the media for their support in the anti-corruption war, the newsroom gatekeepers must endeavor to examine and cross-check the facts in the report being pushed to them especially on judicial matters to ensure that they are accurate.
It is our firm view that media trial always leads to the ridicule of the war against corruption as media convictions obtained are often not sustained by Court verdicts.
Finally, while we will not join in externalizing proceedings in the Court like the prosecution, who issue skewed and subjective media releases after Court sessions, we wish to restate that that our Client is not being charged for stealing, corrupt enrichment or abuse of office, but that the payment he received for a national assignment approved by the last administration was from alleged unlawful activity of that administration’s National Security Adviser for which he is establishing his innocence in the Court.
Barr. Obinna Okonkwo
Counsel to Chief Olisa Metuh