Friday 29 April 2022

Child Sexual Abuse: Felicia Ogbuja is justly going to jail

They abused their ward

I was first outraged when I read a tweet that appeared to conflate two separate though intrinsically related issues regarding child sexual abuse, safeguarding, duty of care, the obstruction of an investigation that could have led to justice and in the middle of it all the resulting death of a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Miss Ochanya Ogbanje. [Premium Times: Ochanya: State court acquits husband of raping minor, federal court convicts wife of negligence]

Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja was the aunt(-in-law) of the deceased, and her alleged child-abusing husband, Andrew Ogbuja; a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, her alleged child-abusing son, Victor Ogbuja; who is currently a fugitive from justice, are maternal relations of the deceased, meaning the former was her uncle and the latter was her first cousin, mentioned also is Winifred Ogbuja, another first cousin of the deceased. Ochanya Ogbanje had left the village to live with relations of her mother to be cared for and supported in her education by this family.

They terrorised their ward

Whilst the chronology of events is not clearly established, it would appear that Winifred had informed her mother Felicia of the ongoing sexual abuse of Ochanya by both Andrew and Victor which Felicia failed to stop and had apparently threatened to eject the schoolgirl from her house if she told anyone of the sexual abuse.

The terrified schoolgirl left with no protection from assault by her supposedly responsible guardians endured further abuse from the pair of males in the house until the time that she was seriously harmed presenting urinary and faecal incontinence with a diagnosis of Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) attributed to serial sexual rape allegedly perpetrated by both men, for which Ochanya was hospitalised for two months until her untimely death.

They let him go

It leaves one baffled given the medical history of Ochanya that the Medical Centre in Makurdi would ineptly conclude that Ochanya died of natural causes and the Police Forensic Laboratory reached another conclusion that she died of diseases that were related to sexual abuse.

It is unfortunate that Justice Augustine Ityonyiman of the Benue State High Court decided to err on the side of caution, questioning the preponderance of evidence, including video evidence of the deceased narrating her ordeal, even as the prosecution bungled the criminal case that he acquitted Andrew Ogbuja of raping and causing the death of Ochanya Ogbanje.

They got her here

At the Federal High Court in Makurdi, Felicia Ogbuja, the aunt faced another charge of negligence leading to the rape and the death of Miss Ochanya Ogbanje, brought by The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) before Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon.

The case was made that Felicia had knowledge of the fact that Ochanya was being sexually abused by her husband and her son, after first being informed by her daughter Winifred and then went on to threaten Ochanya with eviction if the girl mentioned her ordeal to anyone, after which she impeded and obstructed NAPTIP from gathering information from her daughter after the cause of Ochanya’s ailment was determined when admitted in the hospital.

Her omission to perform

As a consequence, Felicia neither challenged nor controverted the presented evidence, she was left culpable and if not an accessory to child sexual rape that consequently resulted in the death of a ward under the care of her family. Hence, she was found guilty as charged contrary to Section 314 of the Criminal Code Act in Nigeria.

When the cause of death is an omission to observe or perform a duty, the period is reckoned inclusive of the day on which the omission ceased.

When the cause of death is in part an unlawful act, and in part an omission to observe or perform a duty, the period is reckoned inclusive of the day on which the last unlawful act was done or the day on which the omission ceased, whichever is the later.

The subsections shown above, indicate the death of Miss Ochanya Ogbanje was caused in part by the unlawful act of sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by both her uncle and her cousin, for which no one has yet been held duly accountable. Her death was also caused in part by the omission to observe when informed by her daughter that her ward was being abused by both her husband and her son and her decision not to perform a duty of care and protection on her ward once Felicia came into the knowledge of the child sexual abuse.

Negligence is a crime

Knowing she had another girl in the home, her own daughter, one would have expected her to offer a modicum of motherly protection to the girl living in her family home, to whom she might not have been a blood relation, but had a pertinent relationship with the responsibility and authority to do something, but she exacerbated the harm, for which there had to be consequence and NAPTIP should be commended for pursuing the case to a conclusion, viewing the victim as trafficked for sexual purposes, since the responsible adults did not intervene.

Child sexual abuse is too much a taboo subject in Nigeria, too many of us bear scars of child sexual abuse not pursued to fully prosecute perpetrators and obtain justice for the victims. Sadly, responsible adults in the environment where it occurs, rather than address the matter would opt for a cover-up giving license to predators to continue their abuse of minors.

Whilst this case of Ochanya Ogbanje might seem a miscarriage of justice as the alleged perpetrators have not been held accountable for sexual abuse and her consequent death, the other adult who turned a blind eye to the abuse and allowed it to continue with the victim so totally terrified of the threat of eviction means we cannot be bystanders in the knowledge of child sexual abuse, regardless of who is involved, and in this case, it was her husband and her son that she tried to protect from being held accountable of their criminality, and in doing so, she committed a crime of negligence to her duty of care leading to the death of a child in her care.

What good conduct?

I am so annoyed that people came to testify to the good conduct of Felicia Ogbuja, for what good conduct is there when you know a child is being sexually abused under your roof and you threaten the child rather than challenge your husband and your son? What leniency should be afforded to someone who prevented investigators from ascertaining the truth of the ordeal of Ochanya as first indicated to her by her own daughter before she moved to silence Ochanya?

That the witnesses would testify that Felicia Ogbuja had no record of previous convictions is beyond the pale, for child endangerment should never be mitigated on no previous offences, it is the ultimate duty of responsibility in which she totally failed, resulting in death, under her care. Does she have to be given another opportunity to let a child be abused by her husband and her son?

We need to dispense with the fallacy of Christianity as a mitigating factor of good conduct, much less, the membership of church societies says nothing about integrity, honour, responsibility, or character. Felicia Ogbuja was by all terms just as manifestly evil to Ochanya Ogbanje as her husband and her son, the judge saw through that and determined a custodial sentence was the least she could do.

Some justice for Ochanya

The judge did right in sentencing her to five months imprisonment without the option of a fine, if it is appealed, I would hope any other court would give more consideration to the victim, for her negligence resulted in the death of an innocent child. I do not care for the ornate marble grave that adorns the place of her internment. Ochanya Ogbanje as a child should have reasonably expected the care and the protection of the Ogbujas, but they preyed on her and wasted her with the violation of her person, her personhood, her body, her dignity, her childhood, and her life; for that, there can be no mitigation, it is unforgivable.

If Andrew Ogbuja cannot be retried, he should never be allowed to work with minors as a precautionary safeguarding measure, because he is a sexual predator as witnessed by his daughter.

Whenever Victor Ogbuja is apprehended, I hope he faces the full wrath of the law with no leniency. To Winifred Ogbuja who might just be the only redeeming feature of this family, I hope you find a bigger voice to prevent injustice when witnessed, regardless of who is involved.

There is no doubt that your father, your mother, and your brother set the worst examples anyone could view in a family unit. May good fortune find you, for you did what you could to save Ochanya Ogbanje, even if it was not enough.

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