Alleged N400m fraud: Jonathan asked Metuh to submit his company's account — Witness
The embattled National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, yesterday, opened his defence to the seven-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.
In a bid to establish his innocence, Metuh, who is facing trial alongside his company, Destra Investment Limited, over alleged N400 million fraud, produced his first witness to testify before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. The witness, DW-1, Mr. Ike Abonyi, who identified himself as a journalist and Media Consultant to the PDP, narrated before the court, events that led to the alleged transfer of N400 million into Metuh's company account, prior to the 2015 presidential election.
Abonyi, who said he was part of the media team engaged to help and 'repackage the battered image of the PDP,' told the court that he attended the meeting where former President Goodluck Jonathan directed Metuh to submit his corporate account for money to be 'dropped' into it to enhance campaign activities of the party. Led in evidence by Metuh's lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, the witness said ex-President Jonathan gave the directive after he watched a presentation that was made by a team of media experts constituted by Metuh to launder his image before the general election.
He said the team was headed by the Managing Director of a public relations firm, CNC Connect, Mr. Yomi Badejo. Abonyi told the court that Jonathan was moved to act after the team, during its presentation, informed him that his public image was in bad shape. He said the candid appraisal of the image of the ex-President by his team did not go down well with the then media aide to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, who he said took it as an indictment on his office.
Party members present According to the witness, some senior members of the party, who were present at the meeting when Jonathan demanded the account number, included the then Vice President Namadi Sambo, then Senate President David Mark and former National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Adamu Muazu. Others were former Governors of Cross River and Anambra States, Liyel Imoke and Peter Obi, respectively, as well as media aides to the President, Dr. Abati and Chief Doyin Okupe.
The witness' testimony The witness said: 'The team, anchored by CNC Connect, preferred some strategies and after rehearsals and testing, we all agreed that we have a good product to present and Chief Metuh said he would wait for clearance from the Presidential Villa for a date for the presentation. 'One afternoon, he told me that he just received a call from the National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, that the President would be ready for the presentation that night.
'All the other members of the team were resident in Abuja except the company, CNC connect, which was based in Lagos.
'He called MD of the firm to take next available flight for the presentation. Because he was already expecting the appointment, Yomi took the next available flight and came in around 6pm.
'Because he was coming from Lagos, other members of the team went with one vehicle while Metuh carried Badejo.
'At the villa, only Metuh's car was allowed to go in, but they waited for us to be cleared by the security.
'After then, we were ushered to a waiting room. Metuh left us and entered the inner room. Fifteen minutes later, he came and called us and we entered inside a very large parlour with the President seated, the Vice President, Senate President, Chairman of the party, then governor of Cross River, Imoke, then governor of Anambra State, Obi and some media aides to the President, Dr. Ruben Abati and Doyin Okupe. The presentation
'We sat down, after a while, the President said 'Olisa where are your men?' and he called us up and the MD of CNC Connect was the first to speak for the team and we went there with a projector and demonstrated the strategies without a microphone.
'After the presentation, the President requested for comments from other members of the team. After our comment, he said jokingly that we were too hard on him.
'But we made it clear that his image was in bad shape and that he himself was not helping the matter with the way he was acting. Abati reacts
'At a point Abati, who saw our presentation as an indictment on him, told the President that the situation was not as bad as we tried to portray it. But the President overruled him.
'After the presentation as well as that of others, including ones from Abati and his team, Okupe and his team and other professionals brought in by politicians, the President asked for comments. Those with him said they were impressed with what we did.
'I recall vividly, comments by former governor of Anambra, who told the President that if what we presented is achievable, that we should be mobilised before the President starts his campaign.
'He said if not, it will be difficult to win the election because of public perception at that time. 'The President then said since it appeared consensual, that Metuh and his team did a better job, he would advise that all the others collapse into the team, but he would want the consultant to provide the direction.'
While being cross-examined by EFCC lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, the witness said he was not aware if the money was released to Metuh by the former NSA, Dasuki. Meantime, trial Justice Okon Abang, yesterday, fixed April 20 for counsel to Metuh's firm, Chief Tochukwu Onwugbufo, SAN, to cross-examine the witness. Vanguard.