By Kemi Yesufu
The family of the late student of the Federal Government Girls College Gboko, Ochanya Ogbanje and members of civil society organisations on Thursday called on 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 that Justice Augustine Ityonyiman of the Makurdi High Court, last Thursday, discharged and acquitted Mr Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, of rape which led to Ochanya’s untimely 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.
Speaking at a press conference organised by members of the deceased teenager’s family, the old students’ association of the Federal Government Girls’ College, Gboko, Benue State, and Men Against Rape Foundation held on Thursday in Abuja, Ochanya’s elder brother, John Ameh, appealed to the Benue State governor, Mr. 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 Gov. Ortom for resisting political pressure during Mr Ogbuja’s prosecution, Mr 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”, he added.
Also speaking at the media parley, President of the FGGC Gboko Old Students Association FCT Chapter, Dr. Ngozi Azodoh, called on the Benue State government, to appeal the Makurdi High Court judgement that acquitted Mr Ogbuja.
Azodoh who lauded Gov. Ortom as a promoter of strong family values and for his efforts in getting justice for Ochanya death, further called on the Benue State helmsman to order that the Ogbuja’s acquittal is appealed.
She said: “Ochanya is our daughter and sister. She chose to attend our alma-mater with the hope that someday she will become like many of the old girls of FGGC Gboko who have done well in many sectors of the economy or even do better than us. But her life was cut short under sad circumstances which we hoped that we would get legal reprieve on. However, the judgment of the Makurdi High Court has left much to be desired. We plead with Gov. Ortom to give a fiat to a competent lawyer to prosecute this case at the level of appeal”.
Also speaking at the media parley, founder of ‘Men Against Rape,’ an advocacy group championing the cause of Justice for sexual gender based violence victims and survivors, Mr. Lemmy Ughegbe, described the Makurdi High Court judgement as highly disappointing.
Ughegbe wondered why Justice Ityonyiman’s failed 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.
The human rights activists, called on 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.
“I did call on Gov. Ortom and I still appeal to him to issue a fiat to a private legal practitioner with years of consummate legal practice on issues around sexual violence. We are not asking for just any private legal practitioner; we are not even insisting on a private legal practitioner who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). We have offered to help the Benue State government hire an experienced legal practitioner to handle Ochanya’s case and the offer still stands.
“While taking umbrage on the judgment of the judge, the law is said to be an ass, so if lawyers do extra-ordinarily well, it will reduce the level of funny judgments we get”, he said