A Collaborative Quest for Justice for Ochanya 

0
Man’s inhumanity to man was again brought to the fore recently with the cruel death of 13-year-old Elizabeth Ochanya, who was raped to death, vaginally and anally, by two relatives-father and son. George Okoh reports on the nationwide outrage and the quest for justice
“Those responsible for the death of our dear Ochanya will have their Judgement one day with our Creator”, those were the words of a heartbroken mother, Mrs. Ene Ogbaje, whose 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Ochanya was recently raped to death by two relatives.

Ogbaje’s offence was a passion to see her daughter, Elizabeth, who was five years old then, educated. Given the lack of schools in their village in Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State, she had sent her daughter to live with her cousin, one Mrs. Felicia Ogbuja and her family. Unknown to her, that turned out to be her greatest undoing. Her supposed family betrayed the trust imposed on them to ensure the minor received education.

For little Elizabeth, her journey to pain began from 2013 to 2018, when her aunty’s husband, a knight, 51-year old Andrew Ogbuja, a senior lecturer in the Department of Catering and Hotel Management, Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, and his son, Victor Andrew Ogbuja, who is now at large, abused her serially through the vagina and anus under a period of six years, leading to her consequent death.

Her Ordeal
Having lived with them since she was five, it came as a shock to the minor when she was eight and was first raped by her guardian’s son in 2013. As is the modus operandi with such of his ilk, he warned her never to disclose it to anyone. That went on for a long time as she slept with from 2013 to 2015 until he was caught by his sister.

The sister dutifully reported the matter to their father, thinking justice would be served. Instead, after scolding Victor, the father took his place and took the molestation a notch up. He abused her both from the vagina and the anus. That depravation from both father and son was her lot until she was diagnosed of having Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and other related deceases.

Her Rescue

When all hope seemed lost, her rescue came, albeit a bit late. Ochanya was forced to confide in her mother in June this year, who queried her sister and her husband. As expected, they both denied the allegation.

Going a step further, Evangelist Enuwa Soo, Founder of Restorer of Path care Foundation, Otukpo, became involved. But at that point, Ochanya had already  been inflicted with VVF. She was taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, where she was until her death on October 17, 2018. The ailment VVF, is an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder (or vesico) and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault.

Appearance in Court
Given the lack of remorse shown by the duo, the case was taken to court. While Andrew Ogbuja was arraigned on a two-count charge of criminal conspiracy and rape, his son on the other hand, fled and has since been placed on the wanted list of the police.

The rape case in August was dragged to Makurdi Upper Area Court and according to the First Information Report (FIR) that was filed before the trial Magistrate, Mr S. D. Kwen, the accused was dragged before the court for “criminal conspiracy and rape,” which he allegedly perpetrated alongside his son, Victor Andrew Ogbuja, who is now at large.
The FIR with file no: CR80/2018 and dated August 13, 2018 reads: “Criminal Conspiracy and rape: on the 8/8/2018 at about 1200hrs FIDA, Benue State Chapter, Makurdi, in company of the victim’s mother (name withheld) of Okpokwu LGA of Benue State, came to Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Makurdi and reported that, on the 28/06/2018 at about 1000hrs, the victim’s mother reported at FIDA office Benue State Chapter, Makurdi that, sometime in 2018 February, when her daughter (name withheld) age 13-years-old was sick and staying with her cousin by name Felicia Ogbuja (wife of the accused) and was admitted at Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.
“She told her that when she was staying with her cousin by name Felicia Ogbuja of Ugbokolo Town in 2013 to 2015, the son of the said cousin by name Victor Andrew of same address had canal knowledge of her at different locations. She further stated that the husband to her cousin by name Andrew Ade Ogbuja also had canal knowledge of her without her consent between 2013 to 2015, which is the cause of her illness.”

The Minor’s Testimony
Ochanya’s tragic story came to  the fore in August 2018 when she narrated her ordeal before a chief Magistrate court in Makurdi. The deceased, prior to her death was a Junior Secondary School (JSS) 1 student of Federal Government College, in Gboko, Benue State. In her statement to the court, she disclosed that her guardian’s son first raped her in 2013 and warned her never to disclose it to anyone.

She said: “It all started in 2013 when I  turned five and came to live with my mother’s sister in Ugbokolo because there was no school in my village. So when l was eight, the son started sleeping with me and when the sister caught him, she reported to their father and he scolded him.

“From there, the father also started doing same thing by sleeping with me and l told my mother. Then my mother told my elder sister who later took me to Makurdi for check up. So last year September when l went to school and l felt sick and l was taken to Federal Medical Centre Makurdi where l spent two months and five days before l was discharged. In the hospital, they checked me and discovered that what my aunty’s son and his father did to me was actually affecting me and responsible for my condition. My mother went to confront my aunty and the husband but they did not take the matter serious and that is why we brought the case to here. I want my health back.”

However, despite her plea to regain  her health, she never made it as she died as a result of the inhumane treatment meted to her continually by two adults who should have known better.

Accused’s Denial 
When the accusations were thrown at him, Ogbuja according to a source denied the allegation against him. He said Ochanya was a troubled child who his family wanted to help. He further claimed his enemies were taking advantage of the situation to spread false allegationss against him to bring him down.

He however said he was not certain if his son actually slept with Ochanya, adding that it was the reason he asked the court to allow him settle the matter in a family way since all the parties involved are one family. When the case came up in August, he admitted that although the victim had been living with him since the age of five, he however said he was being  framed on trump up charges.

He said: “I am most surprised at being here. I was detained at the State Criminal Investigation Department from where I was brought to court today. It was a completely forged and arranged allegation against me. I know nothing about the charges against me.”

The Remand
However, despite his claims of innocence, the trial Magistrate who declined jurisdiction in the matter, wondered why a man of the accused’s standing would be framed up if he had nothing to do with the alleged crime.  “I don’t know how an allegation of this magnitude would be made against a man of this standing without him being involved in its commission,” the magistrate wondered.
At the proceedings, Ogbuja’s lawyer, Mr. David Ojile, had urged the court to admit his client to bail. The defence lawyer argued that there was no direct link between the alleged crime and his client.

Prior to the minor’s death, the  accused, who spoke through his counsel, Ojile also pleaded with the judge to grant him bail to enable him go home and resolve the matter within the  family. He had equally promised to take full responsibility for the treatment of the victim, but the judge, Justice S. D. Kwen had rejected the plea and sent the lecturer to Makurdi Federal Prison.

Her Death
After five months of undergoing treatment for VVF, she gave up the ghost on October 17, 2018, due to complications from the ailment.  According to Soo, who ended up as her caregiver, the death of the minor  was a devastating blow. She said at that point,  Ochanya had been in her custody as she has been suffering from VVF, a major cause of unnecessary and avoidable suffering for young women.
According to Soo, “Ochanya had been with me for sometime, so, her death was traumatising. I was also sick at the time she was in the hospital, so she died in my presence. She was brutalised with sex at a very early age and this really affected her.”

She called on the government and the general public to assist and not to allow the girl to die in vain, just as she said that the case would be pursued to a logical conclusion on their part.

Bereaved Family React
Also reacting, one of the relatives of the deceased minor, Ameh John described the death of Ochanya as a blow to the family. He lamented that the killers of his sister were yet to be served their due justice. He said the family were thinking of adding homecide/murder to the case before the court. According to him, “those  responsible were charged for rape but with her death, which was as a result of rape, we are thinking of adding homicide to the case.”

Fresh Charges

With the death of the minor, the charges were changed. Last Thursday, the suspec in custody was arraigned on a fresh charge at the Chief Magistrate Court 1 in Makurdi, for criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, as against the former charges of rape and persistent molestation of the minor.

During the sitting, the court heard from police investigation that one Andrew Ogbuja was arrested for the offence while his son is still at large, adding the offence is punishable by section 97 and 222 of penal code laws of Benue State, 2004
His counsel, Anthony Onoja however, observed that the media have been awash with reports about his client who has not been proven guilty. According to him, if care is not taken, such reports would not allow the matter to go on smoothly.
He appealed to the trial judge to protect his client from the hands of journalists and also caution the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), noting that he has no objection over the remand of his client.
However, the Presiding Magistrate, Issac Ajim overruled Onoja, saying no plea was taken for want of Jurisdiction and remanded the accused at the Federal Prison. The case was adjourned to November 29 for further mention.

FGGC Gboko’s Outrage
In a press statement, the school described her death as an outrage to FGGC Gboko, all female children, all women, Benue State, Nigeria and indeed the World.  The statement reads thus: “As a body, we demand that the perpetrators, indeed murderers, be called to justice and severely punished. Messrs Andrew Ogbuja and Victor Inalegwu Ogbuja should be arrested for homicide and charged with first degree murder. They should be made to feel the full wrath of Lady Justice. They should bear the brunt of the Law in quantum measures. It was not enough for them to hurt young Ochanya from age eight; they had to repeat the barbaric sessions within a six-year period. We can only describe such tendencies as animalistic, with special apologies to animals. As such, they deserve jungle justice. No mercy.”

More so, representatives of the class of 81, Federal Government Girls College Ugbokolo have also submitted their petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanding justice.

Lending their voice to the cause, the Vice President of Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA),  Mr. Michael Magali, called on the court to ensure justice for Ochanya.

National Council of Women Society
As expected, the case has stirred out outrage among different strata of the society. Chief among them were different women groups, who as mothers, feel the pain more.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the court sitting, the President of the National Council of Women Society, Benue State chapter, Mrs. Grace Okochi said that the women of the state are in pains for what happened to late Ochanya and for what other women in the country are going through.
“We are not going to take it lightly; we need justice in this case and l beg the police to go after the son and his mother and arrest them, prosecute them especially, the mother who harbour late Ochanya for five years.

Vow by Benue State Government 
Meanwhile, the Acting Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu, has urged the police and judiciary to ensure that justice is done over the death of Ogbaje. Abounu described the act as inhuman, shameful and deserving of nothing less than appropriate punishment for the perpetrators.

Commiserating with the family of the late Ochanya he said the state government  will give the police necessary support towards the prosecution of the case to its conclusion, to serve as deterrent to others with similar evil tendencies.

In a statement issued by his Press Secretary, Mr  Ede Ogaba Ede, the acting governor said: “The mere thought of sexually molesting a minor is in itself condemnable. Those who take advantage of vulnerable persons in the society commit unpardonable sins against God and humanity.”

TUC’s Demands

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has demanded justice for late Ochanya. Chairperson of the TUC Women Commission, Comrade Oyinkan Olasanoye in a statement in Abuja urged Nigerians not to keep quiet about it, adding that justice for the deceased was justice to the thousands of women all over the world who had suffered same.

Chairperson of the TUC Women Commission, Comrade Oyinkan Olasanoye in a statement in Abuja urged Nigerians not to keep quiet about it, adding that justice for Elizabeth was justice to the thousands of women all over the world who had suffered same.

The labour union urged Nigerians not to keep quiet about issues of rape which it described as a crime against humanity, insisting that the government must bring the culprits to justice.

The statement reads: “We have received with a deep shock the news of the death of Miss Elizabeth Ochanya Ogbanje, a 13-year-old pupil of Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Gboko, Benue State. We feel more saddened that her death was caused by a health condition called “Vesicovaginal Fistula” and other related diseases that arose from the several sexual abuses.

“Truth be told, the incidences of rape have continued because the country is not doing enough to curb it. The act in itself is bad, but worse when minors are the victim. To imagine the mental torture the deceased went through in itself should be a torture to sane minds, especially women.

“One, however, wonders how these things happened under the roof of Mrs Ogbuja without her knowledge: we suspect a foul play here! We want to cease this opportunity to condemn the “loud silence” of victims and relatives when a rape has taken place. If rape is a crime of aggression with the sole aim of having sexual intercourse without the consent of the other person then we must not keep quiet.

“The shame and stigmatisation of rape victims have been going on for long and it has not done the womenfolk any good. Statistics of incidences of rape cases available has shown that if the country (especially the lawmakers, security agencies, Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations) do nothing drastic, soon the magnitude will so increase that every home becomes a potential victim.

“The time for parents to stop taking things for granted is now. From the look of things our children are no longer safe with uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and even people of the same faith. It is Elizabeth Ochanya today, who knows who would be next?

“On our part as Women in Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), we will not keep quiet or do nothing on this matter. Justice to Elizabeth on this case is justice to the thousands of women all over the world who have suffered the same fate. To have carnal knowledge of a little girl through the anus and vagina since she was eight is unimaginable and a crime against humanity, especially the womenfolk. We urge the judiciary and security agents not to sweep this very case under the carpet.”

Involvement of Human Right Organisations, CSOs

Inflamed by the cruel actions of the Ogbuja family, human rights activists, civil society organisations (CSOs) and students last Thursday staged a peaceful protest in Abuja to demand justice for late Ochanya. The protesters in their black shirts had gathered at the Unity Fountain, Abuja calling on the government to ensure that those who perpetrated the dastardly act be brought to book. They had placards that read- and ‘#Justice4OchanyaNow’,  ‘Hang The Rapist’, ‘I am Ochanya’, ‘Say No To Rape’, ‘We Demand Justice for Ochanya’.

Addressing the protesters, the Coordinator for #Justice4Ochanya, Mr. Great Felix, said: “We want the Minister of Justice to expedite action and ensure that justice is delivered. This is because an injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

They also marched to the Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to register their grievances and reinstate their demand for justice for the deceased.

Joining the protesters were the African Students Education Support Initiative (ASESI) and according to its Executive Director, Chinonso Obasi, in a statement on Friday in Abuja, they alongside its volunteers, joined other CSO’s to the NHRC headquarters. Obasi said the protesters got NHRC’s assurance that the matter would not be swept under the carpet and that anyone found wanting would be brought to book.

Also reacting, the Idoma Youth Action Group headed by Comrade Felix Onuh, in a statement, demanded for justice as a deterrent to others who carry abuse and molest young girls.

As efforts to unravel the truth behind the death of Ochanya intensifies, the government and indeed the judiciary owe the bereaved family the onus to ensure that justice is served, so that they can at least begin to find closure.