The International Federation of Women Lawyers, (FIDA) Nigeria is devastated to report the untimely and unjust passing of our tender client, Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje, allegedly following years of sexual abuse, defilement and violation at the hands of her uncle, Mr Andrew Ogbuja and cousin, Mr Victor Ogbuja.
Miss Ochanya’s case was first reported to the FIDA Nigeria Benue State Branch in June 2018. She had suffered silently for 6 years and at the time of reporting, she was already suffering from vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) and other related health complications. It was actually in course of investigating her health complications that the sexual abuse and defilement was discovered, as the root cause of the problems.
While making her report, Miss Ochanya recalled that at age 9, she had moved in with her aunt, Mrs Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja, after her parents separated, in a bid to attend school. Shortly after she started living there, the perverted father-son duo began sexually abusing her. She noted that it was her cousin Victor, a final year student of Animal Production at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, who first defiled her, but that her uncle also started abusing her after she had reported his son to him. Miss Ochanya’s uncle, Mr Andrew Ogbuja is a 51 year old lecturer, serving as the Head of Department, Catering and Hotel Management at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, Benue State. Miss Ochanya painfully recalled how they would drug her before molesting her and threatened her with death if she ever revealed what was going on.
On the 8th of August, FIDA Benue took the victim, her mother, Rose Abah and her care giver, Evangelist Margaret Soo to the Police, and made a complaint of rape against the two suspects. The first suspect, Andrew Ogbuja was arrested, while his son remains at large till date. He was arraigned before Upper Area Court 1 in Makurdi on 13 August, 2018 and granted bail on 23August, 2018. On the next adjourned date, 24September, 2018, the court did not sit so the case was further adjourned to 5November, 2018. Following her report, FIDA Benue was also able to secure free medical treatment for Miss Ochanya through a programme of the First Lady of Benue State, Her Excellency, Eunice Ortom, ‘Free Treatment for VVF cases in Benue State’, after which she was transferred to University of Jos Teaching Hospital for further treatment. Her care giver, Evangelist Margaret Soo, informed the Branch that she was steadily responding to the drugs. Sadly, shortly after Miss Ochanya returned to Benue, her health deteriorated and on 17October, 2018, she passed away at the Ultimate Care Hospital in Otukpo.
Miss Ochanya’s case is worthy of national uproar. Her case further proves that the rate of defilement of children in Nigeria is almost at epidemic proportions. Almost every day, there is a case of defilement and sexual abuse reported in the media or shared on social media. We cannot continue to allow these inhumane acts to occur. Child defilement is a social illness that must be addressed otherwise the future Nigeria will be made up of abused individuals who suffer from depression, aggression, substance abuse, personality disorders, relationship phobia, suicidal tendencies, sexually transmitted diseases etc. We must ensure that this heinous crime is eliminated from society and to do so, FIDA Nigeria is suggesting that the following recommendations must be implemented.
Firstly, perpetrators must be held accountable and punishments meted out must be firm and effective enough to serve as a deterrent to others in society. There are numerous legislations which criminalise rape as a felony and provide for life imprisonment, these should be effectively relied on to hold the perpetrators accountable. Unfortunately, Benue State is yet to adopt the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, Child Rights Act 2003 and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, and these provisions provide more expansive protections for victims of sexual abuse and defilement.
FIDA Nigeria calls on the government of Benue State to adopt, effectively implement and sensitise the public on the relevant provisions of these laws. In line with this, the criminal justice system can no longer afford to delay justice for victims. The high costs of lengthy trial processes are ill-suited to the sensitive nature of sexual abuse/defilement trials. The judiciary should set up special courts to specifically deal with such sensitive matters and to ensure expedited trial processes.
Our society must also play its role in ensuring that the child defilement epidemic does not continue to persist in Nigeria. There must be greater concern and condemnation for such heinous acts. We can no longer encourage the culture of silence to foster, and we must be more accommodating of victims. The Nigerian health system must institutionalise psychological therapy so that more victims are able to receive the counselling and rehabilitation they need. Lastly, more parents must begin to provide sexual education to their children, in addition to creating an enabling environment for dialogue so that children can speak out when they are facing abuse.
FIDA Nigeria is devastated that Miss Ogbanje did not live long enough to see justice served, but her death has served as the fuel needed to ensure that our efforts will not relent until the perverts are held accountable. FIDA Benue has therefore written a petition to the Commissioner of Police for the re-arrest and arrest of both suspects for the offences of Criminal Conspiracy and Culpable Homicide. FIDA Nigeria remains committed to securing justice for women and children whose rights are violated in Nigeria, through the provision of free legal representation and advocacy for gender-friendly reforms of the law.
We will not rest until there has been #JusticeForOchanya.
Rhoda Prevail Tyoden