Lawyers said yesterday that the fact that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman Olisa Metuh tore his statement at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commisssion (EFCC) does not in any way stop him from prosecution.
They said that the EFCC could still proceed with his prosecution for alleged involvement in the $2.1 billion arms scam.
They include Professor of Law, Itsay Sagay(SAN), Professor Kanyisola Ajayi(SAN), Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), Wahab Shittu, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch, Yinka Farounbi, member, Ogun State Judicial Service Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi and National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) Malachy Ugwummadu.
Sagay said what Metuh did amounted to a criminal act and that the EFCC could prosecute him for criminal conduct.
“It is a bad example by somebody of his status,” he said.
Metuh is a lawyer.
Sagay said the torn statement could still be tendered in court if the pieces could be put together, adding that “it would be as valid as it was not torn”.
Prof. Ajayi said the EFCC’s prosecution has not been jeopardised by the alleged tearing of Metuh’s confessional statement.
He said: “The alleged tearing up of the confessional statement shouldn’t affect the EFCC’s prosecution. The EFCC as an organisation will most likely have other evidence to support its case before it proceeds to court. It should have other things in store that’ll prove that the crime it alleged was committed was indeed committed by the defendant.”
To Fagbohungbe, Metuh’s conduct does not show him as being of good character, having regard to his position in the PDP. Tearing the statement has no justification, he said, adding that Metuh may have torn the statement after discovering that he wrote incriminating things against himself.
“His action will raise a lot of suspicion in the mind of security agents. It is a suspicious conduct,” Fagbohungbe said.
Shittu, who teaches law at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) said Metuh’s action cannot stop his trial.
“What is important is for the case against him to be water-tight and for the prosecution to be able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.
Omoyinmi said the implication of what Metuh did is that he could be charged with wilful destruction of property belonging to the government because the matter at hand is a criminal offence.
He said Metuh’s act does not in any way jeopardise his arraignment as long as there is enough evidence related to the offence for which he was arrested.
He maintained that once a prima facie case had been established against him, the EFCC could go ahead with his prosecution “even with or without a torn statement”.
Farounbi described the development as unfortunate. “If the statement is not badly torn, it could be used; otherwise it will constitute a separate offence and the torn paper constitutes an exhibit against him,” he said.
Ugwummadu said if indeed the attempted destruction of the confessional statement took place, it exposes Metuh’s level of civility.
He said: “The idea of tearing up a confessional statement, if indeed it happened, exposes the thuggish nature of the person in question. It exposes his level of civility. If you have made a statement and you intend to challenge the voluntariness of the statement, what you do is not to tear up that statement.”
Ugwummadu suggested that the statement can be subjected to a trial within trial in court.
“In addition, under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, for an accused person to volunteer information to a law enforcement agency, such as the EFCC, such a person should have in his company his own lawyer.
“Secondly, there would be, like has been adopted under the Lagos State Criminal Law, a video coverage of that procedure. So, if Olisa Metuh feels threatened or witch-hunted, what he should do is to insist that all of these things are available before he makes his statement,” he said
As for the EFCC’s chances of securing a conviction, Ugwummadu added: ”Convictions are not only secured through confessional statements. Whereas it would have been easier, faster and less complex for the prosecution to establish its case with a confessional statement, it is not the only way by which a conviction can be secured.”