From Scholastica Onyeka, Makurdi
The Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi, has upheld the conviction of Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja, for failing to protect her niece, Ochanya Ogbanje, from being raped by her husband and son.
Ochanya, a 13-year-old, died in October, 2018, following complications from prolonged rape at the hands of Andrew Ogbuja and his son, Victor, after she was admitted at the Federal Medical Centre, (FMC), Makurdi.
It will be recalled that while the Benue State High Court in Makurdi, on 28 April, acquitted Mr Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, of raping and causing the death of Ochanya, the Federal High Court in Makurdi, in a separate case on same day, convicted Mr Ogbuja’s wife (Felicia) for negligence.
The federal judge, Mobolaji Olajuwon, found Mrs Ogbuja guilty of failing to protect the deceased girl from her husband and son.
In April 2019, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons, (NAPTIP), charged Mrs Ogbuja with negligence leading to the rape and death of Ochanya.
Determined to upturn her conviction, Mrs Ogbuja filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Makurdi, challenging the lower court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit amongst other issues.
Delivering judgement on the appeal via Zoom, on Friday, the Court of Appeal in Makurdi, agreed with the Federal High Court in Makurdi that Mrs Ogbuja failed in her duty to protect Ochanya from the “sexual exploitation” of her husband and son.
A three-member panel of the appellate court led by Hassan Muslim, dismissed Mrs Ogbuja’s argument that the charge was unknown to the law upon which she was convicted and sentenced.
“The conviction endures on appeal once it is shown by the facts on which the appellant is convicted constitute an offence known to law. It does not matter if the conviction is under the wrong section of the law.”
Mr Muslim said Mrs Ogbuja understood the charge and pleaded not guilty to it as she “tailored her defence towards same.”
He held that the appellant’s conviction did not occasion a miscarriage of justice, saying, “The offence is the defendant’s omission to take action against the sexual exploitation of Ochanya by her husband and her son.”
Giving insights into the nature of Mrs Ogbuja’s offence, the judge explained, “The crime of omission is an offence that is categorised by a person failing to perform an act that is required, including omitting to take care. It is the neglect to do what the law requires.”
Citing Section 344 of the Criminal Code Act upon which Mrs Ogbuja was convicted and sentenced, Mr Muslim said, “The defendant is in breach of that duty (of care).
“Section 344 of the Criminal Code Act is an appropriate Section of the law which accommodates the offence as charged in count one.”
“The law provides that any person who unlawfully does any act or omits to do any act which it is his duty to do…is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for six months.”
Recalling the travails of the deceased teenager, the judge said Mrs Ogbuja “does not deserve any sympathetic consideration of this court.”
Mr Muslim said the appellant from the evidence available “had the duty to protect and care for the wellbeing of Ochanya as she (Mrs Ogbuja) was legally responsible for her (Ochanya) while in her custody.”
But the appellate court found that Mrs Ogbuja “omitted to take action against the sexual exploitation of Ochanya by her husband. She knew of the abuse and did nothing to protect the late Ochanya from the several abuse(s) which were brought to her attention.”
“The appellant failed to take steps to ensure the wellbeing of Ochanya which will include her not being sexually abused or exploited as she was in the house of the defendant so she could go to school, and would not want anything to jeopardise her schooling, led to the harm suffered by Ochanya.”
Mr Muslim held that the appellant “deserves more time of imprisonment to deter others of like minds.”
He noted that the harm Ochanya “suffered includes not only the illness she suffered but also the abuse itself which affected her wellbeing.”
The appellate further held that Mrs Ogbuja “allowed such a heinous crime to take place under her watch, even when her own daughter (Winnie Ogbuja) brought to her attention the sexual exploitation of Ochanya.”
Similarly, Mr Muslim dismissed the appellant’s contention challenging the lower court’s jurisdiction to entertain her trial saying “Having resolved the sole issue for determination against the appellant, it means that this appeal must fail, it fails and it is hereby dismissed.
“The judgement of the lower court delivered by Hon Justice M.O Olajuwon on 28 April, 2022, is hereby affirmed. That is my judgement!” Mr Muslim declared.
Before ending his judgement, Mr Muslim lauded the “relentless efforts” of late Ochanya’s caregiver, Enewa Soo, the International Federation of Women Lawyers and NAPTIP, in championing the course of justice adding that without their efforts, the case will not have seen the light of the day but would have been tagged a family affair.
The online verdict had Mrs Ogbuja’s lawyer, Abel Onoja and NAPTIP’s counsel, Jennifer Yakusak in attendance.
The post Ochanya: Appeal Court upholds Ogbuja’s conviction for negligence over minor’s rape appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.