From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The family of 13-year-old Ochanya Ogbanje and members of civil society organisations have asked the Benue State government to appeal the decision of its High Court freeing Andrew Ogbuja, in the alleged rape and death of the teenager in 2018.
Recall Ochanya, who died at age 13 in October 2018, suffered years of sexual abuse and molestation while living as a ward under the care of Ogbuja and his wife, who is a cousin to Ochanya’s mother, Rose Abah.
Justice Augustine Ityonyiman of the Makurdi High Court, last Thursday, discharged and acquitted Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, of rape that led to Ochanya’s death.
But another judge of the Federal High Court in Makurdi, Justice Mobolaji Olajunwo, last Thursday, convicted Mr Ogbuja’s wife, Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja of negligence in the sexual assault of Ochanya, who died of complications linked to rape.
Until her death, Ochanya was a JSS1 pupil of the Federal Government Girls College Gboko in Benue State.
The request to challenge Mr Ogbuja’s acquittal was made on Thursday at a press conference organised by members of the deceased teenager’s family, alumni association of the Federal Government Girls’ College, Gboko, Benue State, and Men Against Rape group.
Speaking at the conference, Ochanya’s elder brother, John Ameh, appealed to the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, to issue a fiat to team of private legal practitioners, to file an appeal with a view to upturning the Makurdi High Court decision.
While commending Ortom for resisting political pressure during Ogbuja’s prosecution, Ameh said “Justice Ityonyiman’s ruling remains a dark day for anit-sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) campaigners across Nigeria” until it is upturned.
“The Makurdi High Court judgement must never stand.
“Governor Ortom must see to the end of this legal battle. We urge him to give fiat (permission) to a private legal practitioner of note, to take up the process of filing an appeal to challenge Mr Ogbuja’s acquittal.
“We appeal to the Governor not to allow the 90-day window of appeal to laspe, as ‘history has its eyes on him.'”
Also speaking at the event, the chairperson of the FGGC Gboko alumni association in Abuja, Ngozi Azodoh, called on the Benue State government, to appeal the Makurdi High Court judgement that acquitted Ogbuja.
Azodoh, a medical doctor, lauded Ortom’s efforts in getting justice served over Ochanya’s death, urging him to do same in pushing for an appeal against Justice Ityonyiman’s verdict.
In a similar vein, founder, ‘Men Against Rape,’ an advocacy group championing the cause of Justice for sexual gender based violence victims and survivors, Lemmy Ughegbe, faulted the Makurdi High Court judgement.
He condemned Justice Ityonyiman’s refusal to consider a video recording of the deceased teenager which was admitted in evidence before the court as well as the findings of the autopsy report from the Nigerian Police forensic laboratory in Lagos.
Ughegbe advised the Benue State governor to take up the task of issuing permission to private lawyer to challenge the High Court’s decision on Mr Ogbuja’s acquittal.