By Emeka Ugwuonye
The judgment of the court of appeals in the case of Olisa Metuh should trouble Justice Okon Abang and anyone in government who sees him as the government’s judge who could be used in cases where the government has vital interest. Overtime, Justice Abang has been seen as the judge that does dirty business for government. Even in the absence of concrete evidence, this perception of the judge persisted. From the judgment of the court of appeal which nullified Abang’s conviction of Olisa Metuh, there is now undisputable evidence that Abang is a judge that could be on a personal mission.
According to Stephen Adah JCA, in the Appeal by Metuh: “Learned trial judge [Abang] showed in his comments, the inference of an abnormal desire and inclination to pursue a predetermined line of action against the appellant. This no doubt is an inference of bias against the appellant. There is no way the learned trial judge can be seen to be detached from the malice against the appellant in the case as alleged.
“The duty of a trial judge is to be completely neutral in the case before him. A judge must not only be impartial; he must be seen to be impartial to both sides. His duty is to sit and determine the issues raised by parties and to conduct an examination into the parties. He is not an umpire just yet. His job is to find out the truth and do justice according to law.
“Appellant has been able to convince us in this court from the records shown and from all the utterances of the judge that there is likelihood of bias signifying that he was no freeman while the trial was going on. If this is allowed, it will set a dangerous president and that is never allowed by our constitution. Trial that was conducted in a hostile atmosphere without any regard to the constitutional right of the person accused can never be upheld.
“The learned trial judge unfortunately has shown the whole world that much was into that judgment than what was put in evidence before the judge. “It was in this respect that we cannot ignore it. This court in its duty, must set that decision aside”
The above are very powerful words and knowing how careful and restrained the Court of Appeal Judges would have been on such matter, one can appreciate the gravity of Judge Abang’s failings. A similar pattern of infusing emotions into a case before him has been seen in the conduct of Maina’s trial. In the last hearing on Maina’s case on 14th December, 2020, Judge Abang went overboard repeatedly and dramatized and sensationalized every minor issue. For example, the Judge railed endlessly against the defense counsel for addressing his courtroom deputy as “Clerk” instead of “Registrar”. In Nigeria, such courtroom deputies are called Clerk if in Magistrate Courts and Registrar in the higher courts. Judge Abang made a mountain out of the fact that the defense counsel mistakenly referred to the Registrar as Clerk. Also, he spent fifteen minutes chastising the defense counsel for addressing his application for record to the judge instead of the Registrar. The judge repeatedly accused the defense counsel of violating rules of professional ethics just for that.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal should be a timely warning to Abang and other judges who easily get carried away by their powers and position. It is also a lesson to defense counsel: If you meet a judge who is cantankerous and biased, try to keep a good record of his activities and utterances as your evidence of bias for the purpose of appeal.