In this special report, JOHNSON BABAJIDE of The Tribune writes that the death of a young girl raped by her guardian and son is currently causing ripples across Benue State, with women activists calling for justice.
IF Elizabeth Ochanya’s parents had known that the life of their daughter would suffer a terrible blow and end in misery and eventual death, they would have buried the idea of giving her out to another family to be her guardian.
Elizabeth’s fate was sealed the day the decision was made to take her to her aunty where she began a new life at age five so that she could attend school, since there was no school at her parents’ village at that time.
The first three years in her new home was reportedly rosy – probably because she was still growing then – until devil struck through her cousin, Victor Ogboja, who allegedly forcefully had carnal knowledge of her. When the act was discovered and reported to her aunty’s husband, Andrew Ogboja, the man reportedly took over from where his son stopped, until both were simultaneously raping and sodomising the little girl after which she developed some health issues for which she was hospitalised. Tragically, Elizabeth died penultimate Wednesday.
Her death sparked off spontaneous reactions from her school, Federal Government Girls College, Gboko, in Makurdi and Abuja, with her teachers and others calling for justice and a thorough investigation and prosecution of the accused persons.
Women in their hundreds on Thursday stormed the court premises to protest the inhuman treatment served on Elizabeth which eventually led to her death. The protesters hurled insults on Ogboja said to be a lecturer, who allegedly is a Knight of Saint Mulumba, as he was being escorted to a waiting vehicle.
Expressing annoyance within the court premises while speaking with newsmen, the President, National Council of Women Society, Benue State chapter, Chief (Mrs) Grace Okochi, said that Benue women were in pains for what happened to the late Elizabeth and for what other women in the country had been going through.
«We are not going to take it lightly; we need justice in this case and l beg the police to go after the son and his mother and arrest them, prosecute them, especially the mother who was Elizabeth’s guardian for five years. Thank God that before the girl died, she confirmed that it was her husband and his son that raped her,» Okochi said.
Victor, who is a student at Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi is currently said to be at large, the moment the issue became public.
It is recalled that the case of rape had earlier been proffered against Ogboja, the 51-year-old lecturer at Upper Area Court, Makurdi in August where he was ordered to be remanded in prison custody till 4th of October, 2018.
Surprisingly, the accused within a week of the remand secured a bail, a development that made family members to raise the alarm and alleged threat to Elizabeth’s life.
Ogboja’s arraignment last Thursday was for fresh charges of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, an offence said to be punishable according to section 97 and 222 of penal code laws of Benue State 2004.
Her new guardian and founder of Restorer Path Care Foundation, Otukpo, Evangelist Enuwa Soo was heartbroken when she spoke with Sunday Tribune on Elizabeth’s demise.
Soo who described the death of the 13-year-old girl as “devastating” said she had been in her custody since her ordeal started, stating that the girl died in her hands.
According to Soo, “Elizabeth Ochanya had been with me since the problem started; her death is traumatising. I was also ill at the time she was in the hospital, she died in my presence.”
While recalling how the girl was brought to her, Soo said that sometime in June 2018, the case of the girl was reported to her through the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and since then, she had been taken care of her.
“As of the time they brought the girl, she was very sick and when we began to make our findings, we discovered that she was actually raped and the doctor confirmed that she was abused both through the vagina and the anus by one Victor Ogboja, who is a son of her guardian.
“Since then, we had been trying hard to see how we could restore her to good health. We took her to the teaching hospital where series of tests were carried out and she had also been booked for VVF operation,” she narrated, calling on government and the general public not to allow the girl die in vain. She, however, vowed that the case would be pursued to the very end.
The government of Benue State which expressed its sadness over the tragic end of the teenager, also urged the police and judiciary to ensure that justice is done. The acting governor of the state, Benson Abounu, said in a statement issued by his press secretary, Mr Ede Ogaba Ede, described the serial violation of Elizabeth as “inhuman, shameful and deserving of nothing less than appropriate punishment for the perpetrators.”
He promised that the state government would give the police necessary support towards the prosecution of the case to its logical conclusion, to serve as a deterrent to others with similar evil tendencies.
Abounu said that “the mere thought of s3xually molesting a minor is in itself condemnable,” stressing that “those who take advantage of vulnerable persons in the society commit unpardonable sins against God and humanity.”
He commiserated with the family of the late Ochanya and assured them that the death of their daughter would not go unpunished.
Chairman of Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State, George Ali, on Thursday, made attempt to immortalise Elizabeth by naming a street in Otukpo after her.
Increasing cases of rape
A not for profit organisation, Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF), had as recent as 2017 decried the increasing incidence of rape in the country. The report of a research it conducted confirmed that more female children and young adults were becoming victims of rape on a daily basis.
But the major issue about rape particularly in a developing society like Nigeria’s, as experts claimed, is often the silence the victims keep. They would rather prefer to suffer in silence fearing the stigmatisation they would be subjected to in the aftermath and/or the further harm their assailants might visit on them should they report their ordeal.
Elizabeth had suffered such fate. During an interview with newsmen in August at Upper Area Court premises, where the case of her rape was first heard, she had narrated her ordeal at the hands of her aunt’s husband and his son. She had alleged that her guardian’s son first raped her in 2013 and warned her never to disclose it to anyone.
“It all started in 2013 when I turned five years and came to live with my mother’s sister in Ugbokolo because there was no school in my village.
“So when l was eight years, the son started sleeping with me and when the sister caught him, she reported the brother to their father and the father scolded him.
“From there, the father also started doing same thing by sleeping with me and l told my mother. Then my mother told my elder sister who later took me to Makurdi for check up.
“So last year September when l went to school and l fell sick and l was taken to Federal Medical Centre Makurdi, where l spent two months and five days before l was discharged. In the hospital, they checked me and discovered that what my aunty’s son and his father did to me was actually affecting me and responsible for my condition. My mother went to confront my aunty and the husband but they did not take the matter seriously and that is why we brought the case here. I want my health back,” Elizabeth had pleaded then. Sadly, even her life had been taken from her
Report indicated that the girl was most of the times drugged by the alleged rapists before the dastardly act was performed on her.
During her interaction with newsmen within the premises of the Upper Area Court in August, her health had deteriorated, she could hardly stand, and was said to be passing water freely from her private parts. This prompted her being taken to Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi, where she was diagnosed with severe damage to her private parts.
The Chief Medical Director of the teaching hospital, Professor Telumun Swende told newsmen last Wednesday that the anus and vagina of the girl were damaged, noting that “she was not treated her; we only carried out test on her.”
It was gathered that the little girl was taken to an hospital in Jos where an operation was carried out on her. The operation was said to be successful, only for her to develop complications and died penultimate Wednesday at Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.
As WARIF claimed, thousands of young girls like Elizabeth are violated daily around the country and are wallowing in similar situation that took the life of Elizabeth, but their cases are either being swept under the carpet. The outcome of this case may probably make a statement that culprits in similar situations would not go scot free if found out and Elizabeth’s ghost will rest peacefully.