The Benue State High Court in Makurdi, on Thursday, acquitted Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, of raping and causing the death of Ochanya Ogbanje, a 13-year-old schoolgirl in 2018.
The decision contradicts another Thursday’s verdict of the Federal High Court in Makurdi, in a separate case, which convicted Mr Ogbuja’s wife for negligence over the child, after establishing that he raped the minor.
The federal court jailed Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja five months without an option of fine for failing to protect the child from her husband, but the state High Court, about the same time, on Thursday, exonerated the man.
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 and subsequently died.
Ochanya was admitted at the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi for two months before she died on October 17, 2018.
As the police manhunt for Victor had yet to yield any result, the Benue State government, on October 10, 2019, arraigned 54-year-old Mr Ogbuja before the Makurdi High Court on four counts of rape and Miss Ogbanje’s death.
Delivering judgement on the case, on Wednesday, the judge, Augustine Ityonyiman, of the Benue State High Court in Makurdi, held that the prosecution failed to prove its four-count charge against Mr Ogbuja.
The judge held that 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 the two autopsy reports from the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi and the Nigerian Police Forensic Laboratory in Lagos, left him in quandary.
“I cannot pick and choose which of the autopsy reports to rely on in reaching a just conclusion of this case,” Mr Ityonyiman said.
He said while the autopsy report from the Medical Centre in Makurdi said Miss Ogbanje died of “natural cause,” the one from the Police forensic Laboratory said 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, Mr Ityonyiman 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 counts charge,” the judge held.
Another court convicts wife for negligence
However, in Mrs Ogbuja’s case which coincided with that of her husband, on Thursday, the judge, Mobolaji Olajuwon, of the Federal High Court in Makurdi, held that the defendant failed in her duty to protect Miss Ogbanje from “being sexually abused by her son, Victor.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) had charged Mrs Ogbuja with negligence leading to the rape and death of Ochanya.
The anti-human trafficking agency accused Mrs Ogbuja of failing in her duty to protect the deceased teenager from “being raped” by her husband and son, Victor.
In her verdict, Mrs Olajuwon held that “Ochanya was being abused by the son of the defendant, but the “defendant who owed” the deceased girl “the duty of care to ensure that she was protected from such an act,” failed in doing so even when Mrs Ogbuja’s daughter, Winifred, drew her attention to the sexual assault.
The judge noted that Mrs Ogbuja “made it impossible for the NAPTIP investigating officer to see and interrogate” her daughter, Winifred, in the course of the investigation of the matter.
Agreeing with the prosecution, the judge said “the evidence that Ochanya told the defendant (Mrs Ogbuja) about what was going on, and was not successfully challenged” proved NAPTIP’s case.
The judge also held that Mrs Ogbuja 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 wellbeing of Ochanya, particularly as it comes to her protection from being sexually abused,” Mrs Olajuwon said.
Recalling the prosecution’s evidence, the judge said “the fourth prosecution witness in his testimony, said Ochanya upon being presented for medical examination, complained of passing urine uncontrollably and had serious pain at 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.”
“During examination it was discovered that Ochanya had urinated on her bed as she could not hold her bladder.
“The medical report further stated that a working diagnoses of the faecal and urinary incontinence in a sexually abused child was made,” the court held.
‘Harm would have scarred Ochanya for life’
Detailing Miss Ogbanje’s ordeal at the hands of the Ogbujas, the judge held that aside the physical injuries inflicted on the deceased, “the (sexual) abuse itself would have scarred her for life, and I so hold.”
The court held the prosecution had been able to prove all the ingredients contained in count one of the charge.
“I hold that the defendant is guilty as charged in respect of count one.
” hold that the defendant is guilty as charged contrary to Section 314 of the Criminal Code and she is hereby convicted,” Mrs Olajuwon declared.
Before sentencing the convict, Mrs Ogbuja’s lawyer, Abel Onoja, pleaded for leniency.
In his allocutus, Mr Onoja called two witnesses in frantic efforts to save Mrs Ogbuja.
The two witnesses -Austin Ochiga and Alexande Ugbe – both testified to the good conduct of the convict whom they described as a “Christian” and a “Lady of the Saint Molumba Nighthood of the Catholic church.”
Messrs Ochiga and Ugbe said the convict had no record of previous convictions, urging the court to “temper justice with mercy.”
After listening to the defence lawyer’s plea for clemency, the judge sentenced Mrs Ogbuja to five months imprisonment without an option of fine.
“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,” the court held.
Miss Ogbanje in search of a sound education, left her rural home at Ogene-Amejo for the 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 on October 17, 2018, of complications linked to alleged serial rape by Mr Ogbuja and his fugitive son.
This newspaper had reported how Mr Ogbuja was 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.