Monday, April 11, 2016 8:26 pm
By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja
Olisa Metuh, the Peoples Democratic Party National Publicity Secretary who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on a seven count charge of criminal breach of trust and money laundering finally opened his defence on Monday after all efforts by his lawyers to delay the trial failed.
The first defence witness was Ike Aboyi, a journalist and a public relations practitioner.
Led in evidence by the lead prosecuting counsel, Onyeachi Ikpeazu, the journlist who was also a former media adviser to Dr. Okwesilisi Nwodo, a former chairman of PDP told the court how former President Jonathan had requested for the corporate account of the PDP spokesperson after a presentation made to him on a planned image laundering blitz preparatory to the 2015 election.
The presentation, according to him was presented by a team led by Yomi Badejo (Okusanya), the Managing Director of CMC Connect, a public relations firm based in Lagos sometimes between October and November 2014.
Abonyi who said he started working as a consultant to Metuh when he was appointed the National Publicity Secretary of PDP told the court that Dr. Nwodo had engaged CMC Connect to help to package programmes aimed at improving the image of the party when he was working with him. He added that since Metuh was also part of Dr. Nwodo team, he also came in contact with CMC Connect then.
Abonyi said: “Soon after his election as National Publicity Secretary, he called me to arrange for CMC Connect to meet with him. This I did and the MD of CMC Connect, Mr Yomi Badejo came with his team who met with Chief Metuh and some officials of Publicity Directorate of the party.
“Metuh appealed to the consulting firm that he want them to return and continue where they stopped when Dr Nwodo was there. The Consulting Firm said they were willing to return, but the party is owing them.
“Chief Metuh promised to make a case for them at the NWC of the party. Following their presentation at that meeting, Metuh said he will need them, but at that time there was no resources to engage them.
“He promised to get back to them if he got some resources from the party.
“Eventually, towards the end of 2014, Chief Metuh approached me where I was DMD of Telegraph newspaper and requested that he will need my full services at this time.
“That he would like if I can come into the party as a consultant to help him on the new challenge of improving the image of the party which he said then was in a bad shape and by virtue of his position, all eyes were on him to come up with strategies to ensure that the image of the party was better ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
“That was the point I left New Telegraph to join him. When I joined him, he told me that CMC Connect will be handy, so he wanted us to call back CMC Connect and I told him that CMC Connect is too expensive, that we could use smaller PR firm, but he insisted on CMC Connect, saying that the assignment was enormous and he will be ready go for the best.
“When I mentioned the fear of funding, he reminded me that the general elections was coming and lack of funds in his department will soon be a thing of the past because the party and the leader of the party who is the president of Nigeria then will have no choice but to fund the department.
“The main consideration for giving the job to CMC Connect is the quality of their work. In addition, the party was owing CMC Connect and Metuh has promised to help them and made commitments to them that whenever funding comes, they will be number one to benefit.
“Even when I tried to talk Metuh out of CMC Connect, he reminded me that he has made a commitment and will not like to go out of it. So, we eventually called up CMC Connect to join a team of other journalists, media practitioners and some politicians when Metuh told us he has been given an assignment by the leader of the party, President Jonathan to come up with strategies that will help the party win the then forthcoming general elections.
Chief Metuh told us that the assignment given to him was also given to some other professionals, that we should see it as a challenge and make sure that our own strategy will prevail in the choice that the party leaders and the President would make eventually.
The team anchored by CMC Connect devised some strategies and after rehersals and testings with Chief Metuh presiding in most of the meetings, we all agree that we have a good product to present.
And Chief Metuh said we should wait for clearance from the presidential villa for a date for the presentation. Then, one afternoon, he came to me and said he has just received a call from the National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Adamu Muazu that the President will be ready for the presentation that night.
“All the other members of the team were resident in Abuja except CMC Connect who was based in Lagos. We called the Managing Director, Mr Yomi Badejo to take the next available flight to Abuja for the presentation. Because he was already expecting the appointment for the presentation, he took the next available flight and arrived Abuja about 6.30 pm.
Because he was coming in from Lagos, other members of the team went on one vehicle while Chief Metuh carried the Managing Director of the Consulting firm. I was part of the team that was in the other vehicle.
“And when we arrived at the presidential villa, only Chief Metuh’s car was allowed to enter. But he and Metuh waited for us at the security clearance area. After the clearance, we were ushered in by the security to a waiting room.
“But Chief Metuh left us and entered into an inner room. 15 minutes later, Metuh came and called us and we entered into a very large parlour with the President, the Vice President, Senate President, National Chairman of PDP, Liyel Imoke, then governor of Cross River, former governor of Anambra State and some media aides of the President- Dr Reuben Abati, Dr Doyin Okupe. We sat down.
“At the time we entered the room, Doyin Okupe was speaking. After that the President said, where are your men and he called us up. And the MD of CMC Connect was the first to speak in our team.
He went in with a projector and demonstrated most of the strategies we had in mind.
“After the presentation, the President requested for comments from other members of the team and after our comment, he said jokingly that we are too hard on him because virtually all who spoke from our team made it clear to him that his image was in a bad shape and he himself is not helping matters the way he is acting.
“At a point, Reuben Abati, the media adviser who saw our presentation as an indictment on him told the President that the situation was not as bad as we tried to portray, but the President overruled him.
“After the presentation, the President asked for comments from those sitting with him and most of the speakers made positive remarks that they were impressed with what they saw in our presentation.
“The office of the Media Adviser did its own presentation to the President, Dr Doyin Okupe and some other professionals brought in by some party and government officials also did presentation.
“Following the comments of the people sitting with the President, I recalled vividly the comment of the former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi who told the President that what these people presented if they can put it into action, they should be quickly mobilised because if not before the President start campaign, it will be difficult to win the election given the image of the government at that time.
“The president then said since it appears to be the consensus of his people that Metuh and his team did a better job, he will advise that all other teams collapse into Metuh’s group because he will want the Consultant to provide direction.
“At that point, the President told Chief Metuh, ‘You have done a good job, but the real job out there is to put all these into action.’ And he told him to bring a corporate account to him for immediate mobilisation and action.
“After the presentation, we continued our work and the MD of CMC Connect returned to Lagos and we were waiting to hear from Chief Metuh on the outcome of the presentation.
“And one afternoon, he told us that the work will now start, that the President called him and said he should check his bank, that the money has been disbursed for the job. Since the election, I have been consulting for PDP Publicity Secretary,” said Abonyi.
When he was asked by the defence counsel how the activities of PDP National Publicity office is funded, Abonyi said: “To the extent that I operated as a media adviser to the National Chairman and as a political journalist familiar with political activities. I am aware that the funding of the office of Publicity Secreatry comes mainly from the party and the leader of the party who is President Jonathan.”
However when he was cross examined by Sylvester Tahir, the prosecution counsel, the witness said everything he knew about the transfer of the funds was related to him by Metuh and not President Jonathan.
He also agreed that the Office of the National Security Adviser is not part of the structure of the PDP. It will be recalled that Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, the Managing Director of CMC Connect who is the 5th prosecution witness had in his testimony on 28 June, 2016 told the court how the PDP spokesman paid him N77.5 million to sponsor media campaigns for the re-election of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
Okusanya who said he handled media consultancy jobs for the PDP, prior to the 2015 general elections added that the N77.5 million was paid to the PR firm through the bank account of Metuh’s company, Destra Investment Limited, which is the second defendant before the court.
He told the court that the fund which was released to his company to ‘launder the image’ of ex-President Jonathan to the electorate was mostly used to pay for advertorials in four television stations.
The EFCC, through the witness, tendered vouchers addressed to Destra Investment Limited for payment by CMC Connect to African Independent Television, AIT; Nigerian Television Authority, NTA; Channels TV; and Silverbird Television, STV.
Badejo-Okusanya told the court that before his firm was hired, Metuh helped him to get audience with ex-President Jonathan, who he said gave his approval after listening to his presentation.
“When Metuh became National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, I met with him, and he said he liked the work we did for the party in the past, but unfortunately that the party did not have money to pay us to continue with the work.
“He promised to compensate us whenever an opportunity arose. This was in 2012. Early November 2014, I got a call from him and he asked me where I was. I told him I was in Lagos. He said he wanted me to come to Abuja to attend a meeting.
“When I arrived in Abuja and met him at his house, he drove me to the Presidential Villa where we met a meeting in progress. At the meeting was former President Goodluck Jonathan; his Deputy, Namadi Sambo; former PDP chairman, Adamu Mu’azu; former Senate President, David Mark; Reuben Abati, Alkali Rufai and Doyin Okupe.
“Although, the meeting was in progress, I was able to pick that it had to do with how to win the 2015 presidential election.
“In the course of the meeting, Metuh introduced me as the communication consultant that worked for the party before. He then asked me to speak. I proceeded to speak what I considered very frankly with the President.
“I felt it was very important to let him know the critical things he had to do to get the nation right. He asked me a couple of questions himself, and I specifically remembered telling him that there was a disconnect between his government and the people.
“He took everything in good faith and asked us to go. The next evening, Metuh called me and said that it seemed like I made an impression on the President. He asked me to coordinate the media campaign plan for the PDP presidential election.
“So, we set about the work with a plan. I was meeting Metuh severally on the ideas we had on how we could position the party in the minds of Nigerians.
“We got the first payment from him on December 1, 2014 which was N7.5 million, a cheque he issued in my name and I transferred the money to my company’s account. This cheque was from Destra Investment Limited.
“On December 15, 2015, he did a transfer from Destra Investment Limited of N70 million to our company. By middle of December we had started the work.
“The first batch of work we did was to get Nigerians to appreciate the role of the military in the fight against Boko Haram. We also made advert placements in newspapers, radio and television.”
EFCC is prosecuting the National Publicity Secretary of PDP on a seven count charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption, money laundering involving $2m cash transaction and for allegedly receiving N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser on Friday.
In count one of the seven-count charge, Metuh was accused of taking ‘possession of N400million paid into the account of Destra Investment Limited with Diamond Bank Plc Account No 0040437573 from the account of the ONSA with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without contract award when he reasonably ought to have known that the said fund formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity.
The offence, according to EFCC is contrary to Section 15(2),(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 20111 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
The prosecution had alleged that the N400 million was part of $2.1 budgeted for procurement of arms to fight Boko Haram in the ONSA, but which was diverted to fund the PDP 2015 presidential campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Metuh had insisted that the fund was given to him by President Jonathan for an assignment prior to the 2015 presidential election.
Justice Okon Abang adjourned proceedings to the 20 April, 2016 at the request of the counsel to the second defendant in the case who had earlier argued that he has just been briefied and needed time to study the processes.