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Olisa Metuh’s public trial and the cost of silence

Once upon an encounter with the late Ahmed Joda, the famed Super Perm Sec of the 60s and 70s, I got curious and posed the…

Once upon an encounter with the late Ahmed Joda, the famed Super Perm Sec of the 60s and 70s, I got curious and posed the question to him: Why is the Nigerian civil war story predominantly one-sided? Why is the federal side’s account muted?

As someone who was very much involved in the government at the time, a witness to the January and July coups of 1966, and a senior public officer during the Civil War and beyond, he paused for a minute and thought it through before saying that he and his peers had thought not talking about the issues was in the interest of the country. The reasoning was that after a fight among brothers, you don’t go about telling stories of what happened to keep the injuries raw. Instead, you move on and put the whole tragedy behind you so the wounds heal. “I think that was a mistake we made. I wish we had done things differently,” he said.

Silence is said to be golden. That is not always the case though. The case of the former PDP spokesperson, Mr Olisa Metuh demonstrates this very well. I was surprised some weeks ago when I received a petition from lawyers representing Mr Metuh in response to a column I had written on this page on February 25, 2024, titled “Unmasking Corruption in Nigeria’s high stakes corruption cases.” My first reaction was shock. I did not write a column about Olisa Metuh, did I?

I didn’t, but he was casually mentioned in that column as an example of public officials staging theatrics, feigning sudden and severe medical ailments to scam both the court and the public. It honestly was a very flippant mention, but Mr Metuh and his lawyers decided this was the opportunity to set the record straight and drag the Daily Trust and me to court. Mr Metuh took exception to his acts in court during his trial being branded a “scam” because his medical condition during his trial for allegedly misappropriating N400 million naira was not theatrical spectacles and was never intended to deceive as he was sure of his innocence and the political optics around his arrest, detention, and very public trial.

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No one wants a trial over this, to be honest, well, no one except Mr Metuh who wanted an opportunity to clear his name and set the record straight and prove once and for all, that those video skits and jokes made about his illness in court are not a true representation of things. My column and casual mention of his name was the opportunity he sought. Soon enough, a writ of summons from an Abuja court was submitted.

An intervention was arranged to settle the matter out of court between Media Trust, publishers of Daily Trust and Mr Metuh. As I was not in the country at the time, I only received briefs of the discussion and the report was that the meetings went well and Mr Metuh proved to be both sincere and reasonable in articulating his grievance and stating his objective. He was also quite meticulous, as the court paper he filed showed. There were medical records of his condition during the trial. His case file was bulky and I took my time to go through them.

There are no reasons to doubt the authenticity of the documents regardless, a meeting with Mr Metuh was set up to clear the air. We met at his office within the Apo Legislative Quatres and in the presence of his PA, he spoke at length about his motivation for filing the suit. It was clear that there was no malice on his part with the legal action and he also understood there was none on mine in mentioning his name in the column.

What we both agreed on was that there was information floating out there about Mr Metuh that legitimately gave the impression he had been faking his illness during his trial. The trial judge in that case, Justice Abang, did not seem convinced despite the documents presented before him and investigations by the EFCC that found that indeed Mr Metuh had been hospitalised for some time with a very serious medical condition, evidence that the judge decided to discountenanced. There was one instance where Mr. Metuh fell in court and the judge carried on with the trial while the defendant lay on the floor in pain, even after a medical doctor attached to the court was invited to check. This doctor confirmed that Metuh’s situation was indeed critical and he needed urgent medical attention. The outcome of the trial is well documented. Mr Metuh was convicted until an appeal repealed the judgment and questioned the conduct of the trial judge in handling the case.

These are stories that are well-documented and in the public domain. What is not is Mr Metuh’s private struggles and the pains he and his family went through during his illness and trial and the time he spent at Kuje Prison before an appeal court set aside the judgment of the lower court. So also, are the private pains he suffers each time his friends share video skits making a joke of a very painful experience that could have left him paralysed, has impacted the way he lives today, and the pain he is still living with because everyone assumes it was an attempt to escape justice.

As he said, one’s health struggles are not things one shares in public, except when necessary. I have refrained from mentioning the specifics of his medical conditions here as evidenced by his words and the documents in the writ of summons because it is not my place to do so. I trust someday he will write that book that will tell all.

To be fair to Mr. Metuh, he understood and agreed that Nigerians’ natural inclination when they see a big man on trial looking ill is to assume it is nothing but a theatrical spectacle. This is because a good number of people have used this strategy of feigning illness in court, turning up strapped in neck and back braces, being pushed around in wheelchairs only to be seen dancing or praying normally once they are out of sight of the courts. It is a practice that puts people like Mr Metuh with genuine medical conditions in a difficult position because they have to go over and beyond to prove that their cases are not willful attempts to deceive the court and the country.

He had hoped dragging Daily Trust and myself to court would clear the air that he never faked any of it. I understand that. The fact that he has also been persuaded to let the matter go, through the intervention of a gracious third party, is also a very considerate gesture. So, it is fair to set the record straight. I have seen the medical records made available through the lawsuit entered by Mr Metuh’s lawyers and I have listened to him. I am convinced he wasn’t scamming the court and Nigerians. On behalf of myself and the Daily Trust, I wish to apologise to Mr Olisa Metuh for the insinuation in that column and to also appreciate his conciliatory spirit. I understand how important it is for a man to clear his name, especially if untrue allegations that are at the risk of being canonized as facts are bandied about.

Was Mr Metuh right to have kept silent while these untruths about him were spread, joked about, made skits of? This is where that question to Ahmad Joda resurfaces. In every story, truth is always a matter of perspective. His truth, in the wake of a very public trial, should find the wings to fly. His story is not mine to tell but what a story it would be whenever he decides to tell it.

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