Rape to Death of 13-Yr-Old Ochanya: Judge Delays Justice Till April 28

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By Amos Aar

THE Makurdi Judicial Division of the Benue State High Court has deferred a judgement scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday in the suit against Mr Andrew Ogbuja, a senior lecturer with the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, who has been on trial since 18th October, 2018 for the alleged rape of a 13-year old girl, Miss Elizabeth Ochanya Ogbanje, who died from complications occasioned by prolonged rape by Mr Ogbuja and his son, Victor Ogbuja.

The judgement which was slated for Wednesday, 13th April, 2022 was instead rescheduled to 28th April, 2022 for no clear reasons.

National Record gathered at the court early Wednesday morning that a court Registrar passed the information of the postponement to the mammoth crowd that converged on the court premises when it was just some few minutes before the scheduled time (9 o’clock) for Wednesday’s sitting. 

According to the Registrar, the adjournment was to enable the judge, Justice Augustine Ityonyiman, to receive some guests who were still being expected even two hours later.

The accused, Mr Ogbuja and his people were not sighted at the court premises, a situation interpreted by many, especially anti-sexual violence activists and civil society organisations, that the defence team was privy to the shift in date.

Activists and family members of the late rape victim, in interviews with newsmen, expressed disappointment over the postponement of the long awaited judgement.

A member of #Justice4Ochanya, Mr Lemmy Oghegbe, said: “We will give them benefit of the doubt but we must register our utmost disappointment and dismay. A matter of public interest should not be jettisoned, postponed or adjourned for flimsy reasons. 

“We think that we would be notified by officers of the court that the judge is not sitting this morning because he was expecting visitors, brother judges from Abuja visiting the court. I think that is the most unsatisfactory reason you can give for not sitting. 

“Child Sexual abuse and gender based violence have become epidemic in Nigeria. This very case, the Ochanya’s case, should matter to us in our resolve to deal decisively with perpetrators and would-be perpetrators by ensuring that justice in this case is served so that it will be a deterrent.

“Since the rape and death of Ochanya, Benue State has recorded alarming increase in child sexual abuse and sexual violence.

“Three years ago, we called on Governor Samuel Ortom and the people of Benue State to understand the significance of this case and I really believe that the judge sitting on this matter and trial also understands it. 

“But in case he does not understand it, let’s make it abundantly clear that a justifiable decision reached in this case will help to save the Benue child and indeed signpost the beginning of the protection of Nigerian children as we continue to seek safe places for our children.

“It’s not right for us to come all the way from different places, different parts of Nigeria, including even the family of Elizabeth Ochanya Ogbanje, the aged parents came all the way from their village to Makurdi for this. This is avoidable and needless. 

“A judge who had set down today for judgement will still need two weeks after the visit of judges from Abuja to deliver his judgement. Let the judge be mindful that the world is watching. We are optimistic that this will not just be victory and justice for Ochanya’s family; this will also be victory for the Benue child. No stone will be left unturned. 

“We will make sure that everybody who has played a role directly or indirectly is called to account, we will do a proper documentation of each role everybody has played and take note that while we talk about the adjournment of Andrew Ogbuja on the 28th of February, Mrs Felicia Ogbuja’s judgement will be reserved for 28th of April at the Federal High Court and hopefully, the judgement will be delivered on these two cases on that day. 

“When we are done with that, we will now go to the Inspector General of Police in Abuja and we will file a proper complaint that Victor Ogbuja, who is on record for being the first person who started the abuse, is declared wanted. 

“It has not spoken well of the hierarchy of the police since three years ago that Victor has been said to be at large. An ordinary person like me can’t track him, so the police has more facilities to track him. 

“Victor remains an existential potential threat to all Nigerian children wherever he is and we cannot allow a suspected paedophile to be roaming the streets and be endangering our girl-children.”

Also reacting to the adjournment, a Director, Network Against Child Trafficking, and Ochanya’s Caregiver, Evang. Enuwa Soo, who is also a member of 1000 Concerned Citizens Against Rape and Sexual Molestation of Children, said: “It is so frustrating, it’s so painful. I had to travel from Lagos all through the night to be in Makurdi today. 

“People think they are God and they can decide the fate of everyone, not minding what we are going through. I heard they said they are having visitors; imagine such an excuse over emotions of the whole nation. I’m heartbroken, look at the mom; we wish something could be done quickly. Let’s know the fate of everyone on this matter.”

On her part, Mrs Josephine Habba, who spoke on behalf of the Civil Society said: “Judges are very powerful; their decisions are almost like God’s decision. But one thing I’m sure is that for us in the civil Society, this is working together for good. 

“It may be delayed today but I tell you, it is a great opportunity for us because by the next appearance in court, we will shut down our offices and civilise Benue people and Nigeria as a whole; we will not make trouble. Our mourning has not signified that she is dead; it only signifies that Nigerians have lost a great woman who probably would have become a Chief Justice.

“We ask the whole world to come, let’s hear the judgement of the just judge that the person who is representing this will give. He will give justice in a manner that no man will kill another woman by rape except he is a judge that wants to promote killing of women by rape or by every other means in this country. 

“We believe that justice will be done eventually. They believe that they have it all, but we believe that there are persons behind this, trying to manipulate this but I tell you, it won’t work. Putting us on hold today will only help us to mobilise and come back again to ensure that we put an end to the menace of rape in Benue State if not in Nigeria. After this, we will go out on a peaceful protest and ask that the son must be brought forth.”

Elder brother to the late Ochanya, Mr John Ameh, who spoke on behalf of the victim’s family, said: “Each time there is a sitting, we come here without the case going on and it’s really difficult for us. It brings back the emotions of what had happened to Ochanya, the tragic events that surrounded her death.

“Secondly, this kind of adjournment that does not keep parties on notice for the fact that the judge will not be sitting only highlights the many problems that we have within our criminal justice system, that allows culprits to get away with their crimes. You will hear that a case is going to court but it will never be determined and it ends there and that is what is happening here. 

“The judge was notified about today’s event that he was probably going to attend a meeting and it would only take a phone call to notify the lawyers and parties in this suit that today’s judgement was not going to be delivered but that never happened. 

“It was at the point of arriving at the gate that one of the court registrars informed us that the judge would be attending a meeting and will not be delivering judgement on the matter. That is so disappointing. 

“We must rise up to the occasion and show to the world that we are committed as a people and as a country to ensure that justice is done as swiftly as possible. We cannot continue to adjourn cases forever and I hope that this judgement is delivered in the next adjournment.”

The judge, Mr Ityonyiman, had in March adjourned the suit for judgement on Wednesday, April 13, after the defendant, Mr Ogbuja closed his defence. Mr Ogbuja’s lawyer, Abel Onoja, in his closing arguments, urged the judge to dismiss the case as there was no evidence linking him to the crime. 

According to court documents, Mr Ogbuja denied any knowledge of the charges that were levelled against. “I did not rape her but that of my sin, Victor Ogbuja, I cannot say anything because I don’t know. My son Victor Ogbuja is a student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, and currently on industrial attachment in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State,” Mr Ogbuja said in court papers dated October 24, 2018.

After leading eight witnesses comprising medical experts and family members and investigators, the prosecuting lawyer, Peter Ukande, who is also the state’s Director of Public Prosecution, rested the government’s case.

The DPP before closing his case, played a video recording before the judge in the packed courtroom of one of Miss Ochanya’s last moments speaking of her ordeals at the hands of the Ogbujas; evoking emotions of family members and friends who knew her. Ochanya died in October 2018, two months after the interview. Mr Ukande urged the court to convict and sentence the defendant accordingly. 

State prosecutors had first arraigned Mr Ogbuja at a Magistrate’s Court on allegations of rape but amended the charge sheet after the late Miss Ochanya’s death and transferred the case to a High Court.

In search of sound education, Ochanya’s parents had taken her to live with the Ogbujas, whose residence was located on a street almost opposite the Emmanuel Primary and Secondary School where Miss Ochanya obtained her primary education in Ugbokolo, Benue State.

Ochanya’s parents were, however, plunged into sorrow when medical practitioners pronounced their daughter dead in October after she suffered from Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF), a medical condition resulting from her being serially raped allegedly by the Ogbujas during the eight years when Ochanya stayed with them, her parents said.

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