Fred Itua, Abuja
A human rights and good governance advocacy group – Make A Difference Initiative (MAD) – has issued a warning to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in regard to the case of a 35-year-old man, OnyebuchiEzenna, who the agency charged before an Abuja High Court for allegedly raping his 4-year-old daughter in April.
In a statement issued by the Director of Child Care, Lady Ijato Ugbagwu, the initiative asked NAPTIP to show commitment to the diligent prosecution of the charge, noting that several occurrences between July 12 and July 13 linked to the agency in regards to the case suggested an attempt by some of its officials to compromise the case and endanger a good-spirited Nigerian and journalist, Mr Ben Ubiri who facilitated the arrest of the suspect.
Specifically, the counsel to the suspect, Ejeh Monday Ejeh, had traced the house of Mr Ubiri on July 12 at about 2 pm to harass him for ‘putting pressure on NAPTIP not to drop the case against his client’. Earlier in the day, kinsmen of the suspects had also summoned Ubiri to a meeting where they levelled the same accusation as Barrister Ejeh did.
The initiative recalls that on June 16, Barrister Ejeh was also seen denigrating journalists who had come to cover the trial of his client.
Although Ubiri denied mounting any pressure on NAPTIP over the rape trial, the kinsmen insisted that ‘the people at NAPTIP told us that there is pressure from you and that is why they cannot drop the matter.’
Lady Ubagwu lamented ‘that a citizen who has decided to help protect an abused child would be exposed to harm by officials of NAPTIP calls for serious concern’ and she called on the agency’s Director-General, Julie Okah Donli, to seriously investigate all officers connected with the case.
‘Our initiative warns that should Ubiri or any member of his family come to any harm, NAPTIP will be held liable.
‘We call on Ubiri to file a formal complaint to the Police and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) against Barrister Ejeh for threat to life and professional misconduct. Such actions unbecoming of a legal practitioner must be dealt with,’ Ugbagwu stated.
Ubiri and the Executive Director of MAD, Lemmy Ughegbehad on April 17 accompanied the wife of the suspect, Mrs Faith Ezenna, to NAPTIP with her daughter to file a formal complaint of rape against her husband.
When the matter came up on Monday, July 13, MAD also observed the ease with which the posecuting counsel, Cornelius Dabiet, pushed for a long adjournment on behalf of defence counsel Ejeh who was not in court.
Addressing the court, the prosecuting counsel argued: ‘My lord, the matter is slated for hearing today. However, I received a text message from Monday Ejeh, counsel for the defendant at exactly 5.20 am today, saying he is not well and won’t be able to make it to court. In view of this, we will be forced to ask for an adjournment. The defence counsel says he is not free in July and asked for a date any time after September 24.
‘While conceding the right of defence to an adjournment on account of ill health, we take note that the same counsel claiming poor health is the same one who had gone to harass a facilitator of a formal complaint of rape against his client.
‘We also take special note of the eagerness of the prosecutor to request for a long adjournment on behalf of defence counsel. This is disturbing and curious. And it demonstrates a seeming nonchalance to the case and insensitivity to the rape pandemic that has engulfed the country.
‘We call on the DG of NAPTIP to summon the lawyer and all other officers at the agency to sit up and be alive to their responsibilities even as we assure the agency that we are closing monitoring the prosecution of the case.’
Meanwhile, MAD commended NAPTIP for taking good care of the raped child who has been in its shelter since April 17 when the complaint of her abuse was lodged.
‘The 4-year-old baby girl is looking beautiful, relaxed and so well kept. NAPTIP and the team at the shelter have done an impressive job with her. That is commendable,’ Lady Ugbagwu stated.