The Benue State High Court in Makurdi, on Wednesday, postponed its judgement in a case involving Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer at the state polytechnic, accused of raping and causing the death of a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Ochanya Ogbanje, in 2018.
Mr Ogbuja and his fugitive son, Victor, who are both maternal relations of the deceased, were accused of serially raping her until she fell ill and subsequently died.
Ochanya was admitted at the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi for two months before she died on October 17, 2018.
As the police manhunt for Victor had yet to yield any result, the Benue State government, on October 10, 2019, arraigned 54-year-old Mr Ogbuja before the Makurdi High Court on four counts of rape and Miss Ogbanje’s death.
Why judgement was shifted
Family members of Miss Ogbanje and members of civil society organisations gathered at the court in anticipation of judgement in the case on Wednesday, only to later the find out that the court would not be sitting.
A court official who asked to not be named because of lack of authorisation to talk to the media about the case, said the judge, Augustine Ityonyiman, was unable to deliver the verdict because of an official meeting he would be participating in.
The court official said the case had been judgement rescheduled for April 28.
The judge, Mr Ityonyiman, had fixed Wednesday, April 13, for judgement after parties canvassed their closing arguments in March.
Mr Ogbuja’s lawyer, Abel Onoja, in his closing arguments, urged the judge to dismiss the case as there was no evidence linking to the crime.
Mr Ogbuja had, in his defence, denied the charges filed against him.
“I did not rape her but that of my son, 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.
The prosecution had closed their case after calling eight witnesses including medical experts, family members and investigators.
The prosecuting lawyer, Peter Ukande, who is also the state’s Director of Public Prosecution, had during the trial, played a video recording of one of Miss Ogbanje’s last moments speaking of her ordeals at the hands of the Ogbujas. The video clip evoked emotions of family members and friends who knew her.
Mr Ukande urged the court to convict and sentence the defendant accordingly.
State prosecutors had first arraigned Mr Ogbuja at a Magistrate’s Court for rape, but later had the case transferred to the High Court and the charged amended after the late Miss Ochanya’s death and transferred the case to the High Court.
Ochanya died in October 2018, two months after the interview.
Court slates April 28 for verdict on Mrs Ogbuja’s trial
Similarly, the Federal High Court in Makurdi, has fixed April 28 for judgement on the trial of Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja, wife of Mr Ogbuja.
The date for the federal court’s decision coincides with the new date chosen for the verdict on Mr Ogbuja’s case.
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) had charged Mrs Ogbuja with negligence leading to the rape and death of Ochanya.
The anti-trafficking agency accused Mrs Ogbuja of failing in her duty to protect the deceased teenager from “being raped” by her husband and son, Victor.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the judge, Mobolaji Olajunwo, fixed April 28 for judgement after lawyers to the parties adopted their final written submissions.
In the course of the prosecution, Mrs Ogbuja had told the court of her intention to reach a plea-bargain agreement with the prosecution, before making a U-turn when talks between the parties collapsed.
Women and children’s rights campaigner, Lemmy Ughegbe, criticised the postponement of judgement on Mr Ogbuja’s case.
Mr Ughegbe who leads a women’s rights advocacy group ‘Men Against Rape’, told journalists in Makurdi, on Wednesday, that the court’s eventual decision in the two trials will be a “watershed in Nigeria’s approach to tackling sexual and gender-based violation.”
Enuwa Soo, who was Ochanya’s caregiver, expressed concerns over the trauma the deceased girl’s family had been subjected to for nearly four years of trial.
Mrs Soo, founder of Restorer of Paths Foundation, vowed to continue her battle against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) until all perpetrators are brought to justice.
In search of sound education, Ochanya’s mother, Rose Abah, had taken het to live with the Ogbujas.
Mrs Ogbuja is said to be Mrs Abah’s blood relation.
Their residence, where they lived with the deceased, was said to be located on a street almost opposite the Emmanuel Primary and Secondary School where Ochanya obtained her primary education in Ugbokolo, Benue State.
Ochanya, who was a JSS1 pupil of the Federal Government Girls College Gboko in Benue State, died on October 17, 2018, of complications linked to alleged serial rape by Mr Ogbuja and his fugitive son.
This newspaper had reported how Mr Ogbuja was arraigned on four counts of sexual abuse of the late Ochanya during a period of over five years,, which resulted in her death in October 2018.
The father and son allegedly abused the late Ochanya while she was living with them. But the son, Victor, disappeared after police started looking for him and his father over the case.
Doctors later diagnosed Ochanya Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) attributed to serial rape allegedly by the two men.
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