Family members of a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Ochanya Ogbanje, who allegedly died from rape-related complications, watched with anguish as a video recording of one of her last moments speaking of her ordeals was played at the Benue State High Court in Makurdi on Wednesday.
The video recording was earlier admitted by the court as an exhibit in the trial of Andrew Ogbuja, a senior lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, who was accused of raping her.
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.
Ochanya was admitted at the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi for two months before she died in October 2018.
As the police manhunt for Victor had yet to yield any result, the Benue government in October 10, 2019, arraigned 54-year-old Mr Ogbuja before the Makurdi High Court on four counts bordering on rape and Miss Ogbanje’s death.
At Wednesday’s proceedings, the state’s Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Peter Ukande, got the court’s permission to play a video recording of Miss Ogbanje speaking of how Mr Ogbuja and his son, who is said to be on the run, allegedly raped her serially until she fell ill and was later admitted in the hospital.
“My aunty’s (Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja) son started sleeping with me, and after that his father, (Andrew Ogbuja) started sleeping with me too. I was sick and admitted at the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi for two months,” Ochanya said in the video that was played before the court on Wednesday.
The prosecution told the judge, Augustine Ityonyiman, that the deceased teenager was interviewed on court premises in August 2018 when Mr Ogbuja was first arraigned at an Upper Area Court in Makurin in connection with the rape allegation.
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.
Ochanya died in October 2018, two months after the interview.
Mr Ogbuja’s lawyer, Abel Onoja, objected to the admissibility of the video cassette, arguing that he was not properly served with a copy of the video exhibit.
But upon an appeal by the trial judge to both lawyers to do away with legal technicalities and allow the suit that had lingered for nearly three years to proceed, the defence counsel withdrew his objection, paving the way for the judge to admit the recording as an exhibit.
“The video cassette tendered is hereby admitted as Exhibit F,” the judge ruled.
Prosecution closes case
Subsequently, the prosecuting lawyer, Mr Ukande closed the government’s case against Mr Ogbuja.
The DDP said he called a total of eight witnesses comprising medical experts, family members of the deceased teenager and police officers who investigated the case.
“We called a total of eight witnesses comprising medical experts, police officers, family members and we tendered medical reports and statements of witnesses before closing our case today,” the DPP told journalists shortly after Wednesday’s proceedings in Makurdi.
In his reaction, Mr Ogbuja’s lawyer sought an adjournment to enable his client to prepare for his defence.
Thereafter, the judge, Mr Ityonyiman, adjourned the case till October 8, 2021, for the defendant to commence his defence.
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 prolonged rape by Mr Ogbuja and his fugitive son.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how how Mr Ogbuja was arraigned on four counts of sexual abuse of the late Miss Ogbanje during a period of over five years which resulted in her death in October 2018.
Mr Ogbuja was accused alongside his son, Victor, who has been missing since the incident became public in 2018.
The defendants, both maternal relatives of the deceased, allegedly abused the late Ochanya after her mother, Rose Abah, brought her to live with them at the age of five.
In search of sound education, Ms Abah had taken Miss Ochanya 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.
Ms Abah and her family were, however, plunged into sorrow when medical practitioners pronounced their daughter dead in October after she suffered from Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF).
This followed a series of rapes allegedly perpetrated by her niece’s husband, Andrew, and his fugitive son, Victor, during the eight years when Miss Ochanya stayed with them, her parents said.
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