The Nigerian news media was recently awash with reports on 13-year-old Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje, who died a few weeks ago after battling Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) and other health challenges for months. Ochanya was admitted in hospital but she died on October 17. Her condition was said to be due to years of sexual molestation by her aunty’s husband, who she referred to as “uncle.”
Mr Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer in Benue State Polytechnic’s Department of Catering and Hotel Management, Ugbokolo and his son, Victor Ogbuja, allegedly began molesting the deceased three years after she moved into their home. Ochanya went to live with her aunty at the age of 5 and the abuse started in 2013 when she was 8. Reports said she was regularly drugged, abused, molested and raped. At the time of her death, she was a JSS 2 student at the Federal Government College, Gboko in Benue State.
The matter became known when one Evangelist Enuma Soo drew the attention of the deceased’s mother to the development and they reported to the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Benue State chapter, which in turn took the matter to court. Last August, an Upper Area Court in Makurdi remanded Ogbuja in prison custody for criminal conspiracy and rape, but he was later granted bail. Outrage and condemnation have continued to trail the matter since it broke, with Nigerians urging the government to ensure that the culprits get the highest punishment for rape. Human rights and civil society groups have staged protests across the nation.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said his government would ensure that the law takes its course. He described Ochanya’s death as painful and said her future was cut short by sheer wickedness. He said, “I am pained over her death because I also have daughters. What if it were any of them? Indeed, this matter will not be swept under the carpet. The law must take its course.” Ortom also urged all abused persons to speak out “so that the world would know their plight and those in authority would be able to come to their aid.”
We join the rest of the country in mourning Ochanya’s death. It is sad that a little girl, in her quest for education was subjected to such wicked and inhuman treatment and had to pay the supreme price. It is a sad and shameful episode for Nigeria and humanity as a whole. For sometime now, reports of rape and abuse of children by relatives have been on the increase but none has been this callous. For a father and son to take advantage of a little girl and molest her in such a manner is the height of wickedness and no effort should be spared in seeing that justice is done.
We commend Evangelist Soo who exposed this heinous deed. We also commend the association of female lawyers, National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) and all other groups who have worked hard to draw public attention to this outrage. As a country, we can no longer shut our eyes to this unsavoury trend and efforts must be made to nip it in the bud. Perpetrators must be caught and punished accordingly. The law on rape should be implemented to the letter.
We are glad that Mr Ogbuja has been re-arrested. The prosecution should be diligent and if found guilty of the crime, he should serve the maximum sentence to serve as deterrent to others. The police should also go after his son who is currently at large and make him face the law. We call on all abused persons to speak up as it is by so doing that the perpetrators can be punished. Parents should be vigilant and mindful of whom they give their children to. It is true that times are hard, but they should try as much as possible to keep their children with them and cater to their needs.