A Makurdi High Court in Benue State has acquitted Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, accused of raping and causing the death of Ochanya Ogbanje, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, in 2018.

Justice Augustine Ityonyiman acquitted Ogbuja of the charges filed against him on Wednesday while delivering judgment on the case at the court in the state capital.

Ogbuja and his son, Victor, who are both maternal relations of the victim, were accused of serially raping her until she fell ill and subsequently died.

Ochanya was admitted to the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi for two months before she died on October 17, 2018.

On October 10, 2019, the Benue State government arraigned 54-year-old Ogbuja before the Makurdi High Court on four counts of rape and Ochanya’s death.

The Acquittal
Delivering judgment on the case, Justice Ityonyiman held that the prosecution failed to prove the four counts against Mr Ogbuja.

He explained that the police investigators failed to subject the defendant to medical examination, in order to match his specimen with the findings in the medical reports that were presented before the court.

In evaluating the evidence, the judge held that two autopsy reports from the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi and the Nigerian Police Forensic Laboratory in Lagos left him quandary.

“I cannot pick and choose which of the autopsy reports to rely on in reaching a just conclusion of this case,” he said.

Justice Ityonyiman added that while the autopsy report from the Medical Centre in Makurdi said Miss Ochanya died of “natural cause”, the one from the police forensic laboratory revealed that the deceased “suffered diseases that were related to sexual abuse.”

Despite narrating her ordeals at the hands of the Ogbujas in a video tendered before the court, he said, “it is regrettable that the deceased could not tell her story before she died.”

“I hereby acquit and discharge the defendant of all the four count-charge.”

Wife Convicted
Elsewhere, Justice Mobolaji Olajunwo of the Federal High Court in Makurdi convicted Ogbuja’s wife, Mrs Felicia, for negligence in the rape of the deceased.

Felicia, on her part, was arraigned by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) over negligence that led to the rape and death of Ochanya.

The anti-trafficking agency accused Mrs Ogbuja of failing in her duty to protect the deceased from being raped by her husband and son.

In Mrs Ogbuja’s case which coincided with that of her husband, Justice Olajunwo held that the defendant failed in her duty to protect Ochanya from ‘being sexually abused by her son, Victor’.

According to her, the victim was being abused by Felicia’s son but the defendant who owed the girl the duty of care to ensure that she was protected from such an act failed in doing so, even when her daughter, Winifred, drew her attention to the sexual assault.

The judge said the defendant made it impossible for the NAPTIP investigating officer to see and interrogate Winifred in the course of the investigation of the matter.

Agreeing with the prosecution, she said “the evidence that Ochanya told the defendant (Mrs Ogbuja) about what was going on, and was not successfully challenged,” proved NAPTIP’s case.

Justice Olajunwo also held that Felicia failed to challenge the prosecution’s evidence that she “threatened to send Ochanya out of her house if she told anyone about the sexual abuse.

“This evidence has neither been challenged nor controverted. The defendant failed to perform her duty as it concerned the well-being of Ochanya, particularly as it comes to her protection from being sexually abused.”

“The fourth prosecution witness, in his testimony, said Ochanya upon been presented for medical examination complained of passing urine uncontrollably and had serious pain in the lower abdomen.

“When Ochanya was examined, it was discovered that the membrane covering the vagina opening was not there, which is an indication that Ochanya had been disvirgined,” the judge stated while recalling the prosecution’s evidence.

Before sentencing the convict, Felicia’s lawyer, Abel Onoja, pleaded for leniency and called two witnesses in frantic efforts to save his client.

But Justice Olajunwo sentenced Mrs Ogbuja to five months imprisonment without an option of a fine, after listening to her lawyer’s plea for clemency.

“Taking into consideration the testimonies of witnesses that testified to the defendant’s character, the number of months contained in the law shall be reduced by the court.

“Therefore, the defendant is sentenced to five months imprisonment with no option of fine,” she held.

Search For Education
Miss Ochanya, in search of a sound education, had left her rural home at Ogene-Amejo for Ugbokolo township where she lived with the Ogbujas. Mrs Ogbuja is said to be Ochanya’s maternal relation.

The Ogbujas 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 of complications linked to the alleged serial rape by Mr Ogbuja and his fugitive son.

Mr Ogbuja was later 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 with Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) – a disease attributed to the serial rape allegedly by the two men.

By Editor

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