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Ochanya’s Case: Any Hope For Justice?

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For anyone that has followed the case of late Ochanya Christiana Ogbanje since 2018, Thursday, April 28, 2022, must have been a sad day for her.
Christiana, a 13-year-old girl was said to have died from complications from years of serial sexual abuse by her aunt’s husband, Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokoloh,  and his son, Victor Ogbuja right under the nose of her aunty, Mrs. Ogbuja, who claims not to have known what was going on in her home.
Victor (younger Mr Ogbuja), was said to have started sleeping with Ochanya when she was eight years old. His sister, one day caught him in the act and reported to their father who scolded him and afterwards also started defiling her until she fell ill, was admitted at the Federal Medical Center, Makurdi, but died about two months later, on October, 17, 2018.
Many Nigerians, including many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations were enraged by the despicable act and the painful death of Ochanya’s and they have ceaselessly demanded and pursued justice in the case. Incidentally, the hope of seeing the primary suspect duly punished was dashed by the judgement of Justice Augustine Ityonyiman, of the Benue State High Court in Makurdi, which held that the prosecution failed to prove its four-count charge against Mr Ogbuja and therefore discharged and acquitted him.
According to the judge, the police investigators failed to subject the defendant to medical examination in order to match his specimen with the findings in the medical reports that were presented before the court and the two conflicting autopsy reports from the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi and the Nigerian Police Forensic Laboratory in Lagos, left him in quandary.” I cannot pick and choose which of the autopsy reports to rely on in reaching a just conclusion of this case,” Ityonyiman said.
“While the autopsy report from the Medical Centre in Makurdi said Miss Ogbanje died of “natural cause,” the one from the Police forensic Laboratory said the deceased “suffered diseases that were related to sexual abuse”, he continued.
Incidentally, on the same day, in the city, in another court, the wife of the accused person, Mrs. Felicia Ochiga-Ogbuja, was convicted of negligence over Ochanya. The Federal High court in Markurdi jailed her five months without an option of fine for failing to protect the child from “being raped” by her husband and fugitive son, Victor.
One can understand the pain and disappointment of many Nigerians seeing Mr Ogbuja let off the hook despite all the stories linking him to the crime. But my little knowledge of criminal law states that in criminal proceedings, a person, however clear the evidence seems to be, is innocent until proven guilty. This assertion is supported by Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Section 135 (2) of the Evidence Act 2011.
The position of the law is that the prosecution in most criminal cases has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. This is the standard of proof in a criminal case. This means that the defendant will not be convicted unless the court is convinced that all the elements of the offence are present and proven. Hassan v. State (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt.709)
The phrase ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is the conventional way of expressing the idea that the court must feel sure of the defendant’s guilt. Any doubt left in the minds of the court will be resolved in the favour of the defendant. Oguntola v. State (2007)
It is an established principle of criminal law that not only does the burden of proving a crime rest squarely on the prosecution, the standard of proof is also that of beyond reasonable doubt. The clear meaning of this is that every ingredient of the offence must be established to that standard of proof so as to leave no reasonable doubt regarding the guilt of the accused. Ojo v. F.R.N (2008) 11 NWLR (Pt.1099)
It therefore stands to reason that since the prosecution could not discharge its duty of convincing the court that the defendant committed the crime; since there were contradictory autopsy reports as to the real cause of Ochanya’s death, Justice Ityonyiman could not have erred by discharging and acquitting the accused person as being insinuated by some people.  After all, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers.”
Fortunately, the Benue State Government has the option of appealing the judgement of the trial court. It is hoped that the government will heed the call of Ochanya’s family and other interested bodies and appeal the acquittal verdict and ensure that a capable prosecution team is put together to obtain justice for the poor girl.
Efforts should also be intensified by the police at apprehending Victor so that he can answer for his alleged crime. It is only when rapists are duly punished that others will be deterred from committing the crime and thereby reduce the high rate of the menace in the country.
The increasing cases of rape in Nigeria is a great concern to many. Scarcely a day passes without an incident of a woman, girl or infant being raped in one part of the country or another. Some of the victims are not only raped but brutalised and killed. Recall the story of how a 22-year-old 100 level Microbiology student of the University of Benin, Uwaila Omozuwa, was raped and murdered in a church in Benin a few years ago.
When the Senate in June 2015, ratified the Sexual Offences Bill (2015) which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual interaction with children under 11 years, many thought that would assist in reducing rape cases in the country. Incidentally, that is not the case as many women in the country, both young and old, are daily subjected to sexual abuses. Some are reported, while many go unreported.
However, the recent judgement of Justice Abiola Soladoye of the Ikeja Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court should encourage Ochanya’s family, individuals, human rights organisations, civil society groups and all working relentlessly towards the curtailment of the bestial act,  attest  that there is still hope for justice irrespective of how long it may take.
The judge sentenced 54-year-old, Michael Oliseh, a pastor, to life imprisonment in addition to his name being entered in the sex offenders Register of the Lagos State Government for raping his friend’s 12-year-old twin daughters in 2017. Reports have it that the victims were defiled by the defendant after their father entrusted them in his care and travelled to the village for burial.
The defendant was charged with two counts bordering on defilement, contrary to Section 137 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2015 and the verdict was reached after the prosecution convincingly proved the charges of defilement against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt, according to the court.
But the responsibility of ridding our society of rape is not that of the CSOs alone. Every other hand must be on the deck. As the former Executive Director of Centre for Women Studies and Intervention, CWSI, Rev Sr Rosemary Ukata, advocated during a sensitisation programme on rape recently, “to win the fight against rape in Nigeria and save our society, law enforcement agents and all those responsible for implementing laws against the menace should rise to their responsibilities.  Gender desks at police stations should be made functional just as the issue of drug and other substance abuse are given more bite by the relevant bodies.”
The need for proper parental upbringing, more attention to the boychild and value reorientation of the entire citizenry  as ways of dealing with the crime cannot be over emphasised.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Nigeria Will Unite If… 

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The phrase; unity of Nigeria, has almost become a cliché in Nigeria. Most leaders in the country at any suitable opportunity pontificate on national unity even when their commitment to its ideals remains in doubt. Our leaders claim that the unity of the nation cannot be negotiated even as their actions and inactions negate national cohesion.
During his nationwide broadcast to mark the nation’s 61st Independence Anniversary recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the umpteenth time, emphasised that the unity of the country is not negotiable. Many other political leaders have often also toed that path. When they want to claim to be patriotic, mostly for their own selfish gain, they call up the introductory statement of the Nigerian Constitution which reads; “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation …”.
On the contrary, they hardly highlight the fact that being a federation, there are certain elements which must be seen in the country. Chiefly among them is that there must be devolution of power. Power should be shared proportionately between the various levels of government or the component units. There must be some measures of independence and autonomy for the component units. Do we have all these features in Nigeria’s federation? The answer is no!. In our country, the devolution of power is disproportionate. We have a situation where the government at the centre has overwhelming power in comparison with the states and the local governments. The federal government has control over the natural resources in any part of the country. This has given rise to the age-long agitation for resource control ,particularly by the oil-producing areas that bear the brunt of oil exploration, from whose backyards oil, the main source of Nigeria’s economy, is derived, yet they live in squalor.
Ours is a country where a state that cannot generate enough money to cater for its needs has nothing to fear because at the end of the month, finance commissioners will converge in Abuja to share the allocation for the month. We are aware of the ongoing legal tussle between the Government of Rivers State and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) over Value-Added Tax (VAT) collection. Some states are given back the total sum of money generated from VAT, while other states are given a minute fraction of what was generated from their domain. While we wait to see how the issue pans out at the supreme court, we cannot help but wonder how there can be true autonomy and development of the various states in this manner? There is also the issue of a centralised police force where, though there are police commissioners in the various states, they take orders from the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja. The governors are called chief security officers but they are not in charge of security of their domains in the real sense of it. We have seen instances where some governors cried out that, though they are called the chief security officers of their states, they are almost helpless in the face of serious security challenges in their domains because the police commissioners do not obey them when they give orders concerning the situation; hence, the unending call for state police which will engender effective policing of the states and reduce insecurity in the country
Similarly, Section 14 (3)and(4) of the 1999 Nigeria’s constitution as amended, provides for federal character, a principle that was introduced to engender a feeling of inclusiveness, such that all the people that make up the country will have the feeling that they are part of the country. It states: “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
Incidentally, today, we see the opposite of this constitutional provision playing out in the country. People from certain ethnic groups are seen at the helm of affairs of government agencies, parastatals and all that. All the key security, intelligence and defence officers and all the three arms of government in this country, are headed by citizens of northern extraction who are also of the same religion. (with the recent resignation of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, a southerner now occupies the position in acting capacity) Some ethnic groups continue to be in power while other groups, particularly the minority groups, are hardly considered. Despite regular complaints from leaders of other regions in the complex diversity, the president has failed to defuse tension arising from the negative perception that our leader is overtly promoting sectionalism. I recall the coordinator of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBF) and immediate past President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, expressing shock and disappointment at President Buhari’s exclusion of Igbos in the appointment of the current Service Chiefs.
Some other minority ethnic groups have equally complained of being swallowed up by the three major ethnic groups in the country – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba in many affairs of the nation. With the exception of former President Goodluck Jonathan through an act of fate, the position for the president of the country had rotated among the three major groups, they claim. As the 2023 general elections draw near, all manner of arguments are being put up by people from the northern part of the country, a region which who has been in power in the past seven years in defence of another northern president come 2023. So, in as much as one agrees that there are enormous benefits in Nigeria remaining as a united entity, it goes without saying that in view of the challenges and some structural problems associated with our federation, some of which have been highlighted, which is responsible for the endless calls for devolution of power, restructuring, resource control, state police, division of the country and many others, it is imperative that people from various parts of the country should come together and negotiate how to stay and move on together as one country.
We can remain a united and one indivisible nation but there is an urgent need to renegotiate the terms of the unity, so as to make every group feel more secure in the union. Renegotiating the terms of existence will bring more development to the country and solidify its unity. Many other countries like the United Kingdom, the former Soviet Union and others toed and continue to toe that path and there is no doubt that Nigeria will be better if we emulate these countries.
It is high time our leaders, both at the federal, state and local government levels worked their talk. The problem with the unity of Nigeria does not lie with the citizens because several instances are there to prove that the citizens love themselves. A typical example is an accident scene, when it happens, People keep all tribal or religious sentiment aside in order to save lives. The major impediment to the nation’s unity is the leaders who due to their selfish gains do not want the country to move forward. The nation cannot forge ahead with growing complaints of marginalisation, suppression, intimidation, distrust among various ethnic groups.
The truth is that Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from a negotiated term of existence as an entity which hopefully will make room for the much-canvassed restructuring of the country and devolution of power, and a practical federal structure where all tiers of government will work as they ought to. Real autonomy of the states will definitely engender growth and competition among the states. The president and other leaders of the country should therefore, prove that their constant preaching of Nigeria’s unity is not a mere lip service by ensuring that the negotiation is not further delayed.
Presidential and governorship flag-bearers of various political parties in the forthcoming general elections should also consider the nation’s unity in picking their running mates. Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian tickets will certainly not bring the much-needed unity and peace in the country.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

  Symbolism Of Narcotic Palliatives

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Mechanism of the degeneration and corruption of human races, communities and groups accounts for much of current experiences across the globe, with Nigeria featuring as one environment of growing density. The principal purpose of life on earth is not all about gains, profits and successes in material pursuits, but largely growth in personal awareness, consciousness and ability to drop excess luggage and encumberances, and become free indeed.
Unfortunately many organisations have been able to divert the attention of several persons away from the principal issues of human existence.
Backward communities and nations across the globe have earned their current status because of not being able to keep pace in the development process; or, after having advanced higher in the past, became degenerate through corruption, vanity and indolence. Neither is the incarnation or coming together of people of similar status and characteristics in particular environments, an error or arbitrary occurrence. Individuals are born into circumstances and environments where they deserve to be, and where they can strive along with others of similar inner qualities, and then improve better.
Through personal guilts and deficiencies, people are compelled through their mutual experiences, to assemble in environments homogeneous with their characteristics, as a means of faster learning experiences. Thus environments characterised by savagery, terrorism and barbarism become suitable learning spots for such individuals burdened with corrupt tendencies, so that through mutual sufferings and agonies they can, if they become penitent, progress to improved status.
Among the guilts which result in the degeneration of human status are inadvertent or deliberate misleading and misinforming of the masses by individuals and organisations. For example, the grace contained in the mechanism of repeated earth-life, has been denied and distorted by individuals and organisations that profess to disseminate the truth. Is it right for a clergyman to assert that: “there is nothing like reincarnation”? Either such a preacher knows the truth about such matter, or he is ignorant about it! The price for misleading the masses is quite great!
It is a pity that many guilts that humans incur often arise from prattling and careless talks, such as expressing opinions on issues which an individual knows nothing about. Thus when individuals and groups allow themselves to degenerate through personal guilts, the process of rising up to a previous status of nobility is always arduous and painful. It would involve having to cross the path of those whose progress was retarded through some careless or misleading statements. The situation is worse when the habit making careless and unguarded statements becames a regular lifestyle.
Accumulation of personal guilts arising from minor origins, often weigh individuals down in ways which they rarely recognise. The process of wanting to create an equilibrium and inner harmony can bring about the use of palliative measures. Common among such palliatives are narcotics of various nature. For emotional balance and stability, chemical palliatives include psychothropic substances commonly called narcotics. However, the process of narcotisation goes beyond intake and consumption of chemical substances.
Let us admit that there are numerous corrupting influences in the Nigerian environment, all of which are meant to narrow down the possibility of having easy access to personal salvation, via the light of truth. Abuses, negligences and deficiencies of the past, whether inadvertent or deliberate, are not easily thrown aside and detached from individuals, unless they are followed, by genuine penitence, change for the better and some redress and appeasement, from those hurt and injured.
Unfortunately many people rarely know the mechanism of nemesis as well as the mechanism of narcotic palliatives. No man is free unless he is free from burdens and encumberances of guilts; neither are such guilts obliterated without knowledge of the truth and laws that govern human existence. However we twist and turn everything, humans are subject to an irrevocable responsibility and obligation to atone for our wrong-doing and negligences. Neither sermons nor legislations have addressed these issues adequately and correctly.
Taking the historical incident of June 12 as a reference point in Nigeria, it can be said that seeds of wrong deeds grow to replicate their species, until serious efforts are made to extirpate them from the grassroots through a cleansing and purification process. One principal actor in the June 12 episode, a few weeks to his death this year, was an unpleasant sight and a testimony that humans pay painfully for their misdeeds. Rather than genuine penitence, confession and atonement, some people take the step of taking refuge and seeking solace in narcotic palliatives. Resort to denials, buck-passing and concealment of ugly skeletons make the attendant prices more painful and cumbersome, such that those who murder sleep, rarely sleep any more.
Apart from the physical aspect of narcotisation, involving the use of psychotropic substances for purposes of temporary relief from the pains and realities of life, there is also another aspect of application of narcotic palliatives. Sometimes known as shut-down process in practical psychology, non-physical aspect of narcotisation involves drifting into the realm of illusion. It is a situation where an individual withdraws into a recluse life, insensitive about others and what happens to them. The recluse does not only keep out everybody from his life, but also shuts himself down in voluntary seclusion.
Victims of serious shocks and personal tragedies can take this line of seclusion as a narcotic palliative, but the situation is often a catharsis of the soul or a serious feeling of guilt, calling for purgative measure. The Guardian newspaper would remind us that the human conscience is an open wound which only truth can heal. It does require truth to pacify the conscience, but cathartic phenomenon calling for the use of narcotic palliatives, signifies far-reaching burdens that demand purgative measures.
Unfortunately many persons oppressed by guilts rarely have the courage or will to drink of the water of mara since it is very bitter. Thus the common alternative is the resort to narcotic palliatives. It is sad also that human institutions provide such palliative measures that give temporary solace rather than dig out why there are apparently “inexplicable” experiences and pains in life. The sad burdens of June 12 will still linger on!

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Professional Banditry

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Banditry has become such a hypocritical concept that some authorities would utilise it in order to hide away something more sinister than banditry. The uniqueness about banditry as different from other groups of criminals, is that bandits are hooligans who, in their frolicsome engagements, attack travellers to steal away what to eat. Are bandits terrorists? It would require following due process of law to be able to determine that!
From the perspectives of history, there are three species of bandits, namely: attackers of travellers; avengers, and then enigmatic highway men. Two old story books about Robin Hood and Ali Baba and his gang of 40 thieves, provide details about the first species of bandits who engage in frolicsome criminal activities. This first group of bandits often operate with some lighthearted principle of sharing their loots and booties with some needy persons or a patron god-father. For example, in 1961, a British woman married to an Urhobo man wrote an open letter to ‘dear thieves of Surulere’ who robbed her home, to return her wedding ring, which was among the items stolen. Four days after, the wedding ring was returned.
As part of their frolicsome mischief, the thieves of Surulere addressed a letter to Mrs Urhobo advising her that a wedding ring is meant to be worn on the finger and not kept carelessly. Yes, bandits of the first species can be humorous, capable of advising their victims to learn to lock their doors properly. Recently in Nigeria, this species of bandits who can also be called hungry thieves, specialise in hooking away smartphones and laptops from charging sockets in people’s homes. All kinds of devices are used for this nefarious purpose.
The second species of bandits – the avengers – can be vicious, with the purpose of passing a message to individuals and groups that abuse power with impunity and arrogance. Historically, the Red Indians, original owners of the American land and the Aborigines of Australia, suffered unspeakable abuses by early colonialists and armed invaders who dispossessed them of their ancestral lands. African slaves suffered similar acts of inhumanity in the American continent, while the Boer War dealt humiliating blows on the original owners of Transvaal and Orange Free State in South Africa.
The founding of Hispaniola in West Indies by Black slaves who broke free from their slave masters, with Haiti as seat of Black power (misnamed Voodoo) serve as ideal examples that oppressed people can develop some unique power. Similarly, labourers who were used during the construction of Panama and Suez Canals, were not only poorly paid but, like gold miners in South Africa, contracted some ailments that rendered them useless in life. Thus, slave masters, tyrannical labour masters and others who exploit, use and then dump those who worked to build up their economy, can face the wrath of such aggrieved labourers who can be misnamed as bandits.
In more recent times, poor, idle and helpless people have been unjustly exploited, used and then dumped by some political power gamesters to serve their political purposes. Such purposes range from inflating of census figures, rigging of elections, to carrying out of some acts of mayhem in the services of dark ends. It is common that jobless, poor but desperate youths can be hired, fed, trained and sent out to carry out some unethical activities, oftentimes under oath not to reveal their sponsors. Many die in such missions.
Some members of these exploited and abused youths who become aware of the exploitations and abuses that they suffer, turn around to become avengers, who can be misnamed as bandits. Many of such unsuspecting youths often confess that they did not know or bargain for the kind of engagement that they unwittingly found themselves participating in. There are recruiting agents who lure unsuspecting young men and women into various unethical engagements, taking undue advantage of the level of poverty and ignorance in the country. In the 1950s, some Nigerians were lured into job recruitment projects of working in Equatorial Guinea, also known as Panya. Many returned destitute and demented!
The third species of professional bandits, the enigmatic highway men, are not only very dangerous, but they are not themselves. In the psychic sense there are people, men and women, who can be said to have renounced their humanity, arising from various reasons which can hardly be examined here. Such renunciation follows drinking of the ‘Water of Usachi’, which is like going into a partnership with the forces of darkness. This water, like an aphrodisiac, places those who drink of it in the hands of dark agents, on a warfare with human beings striving for nobility.
Therefore, this species of professional bandits can be rightly called spiritual highway men and women. They include the witches that many weak people fear or talk about, the wizard of the desert and all those who perform various psychic acrobatics which lovers of miracles and wonders patronise. Their principal duty is to waylay and distract those seeking the path of light and truth. Often posing as agents of light and truth, this species of bandits operates largely in ecclesiastical circles.
Can we deny the truth that there are bandits in the ecclesiastical circles? Why should miracles, wonders, acrobatic performances and prosperity antics become ready means to lure seekers into the path of light and truth? Is truth no longer what should lead seekers into freedom? Should freedom not include maturing and growing above being lured away by the antics of spiritual highway men, and attaining the height of being guided intuitively, in the midst of perplexities? Why do many people jump from one belief system to another with little or no deep personal conviction?
Like the politics of stomach infrastructure which has become the order of the day, has religion not degenerated to a similar status, whereby bandits and highway men confuse many unsuspecting ones? Surely, the situation in the country currently demands that individuals should do things out of personal conviction and commitment. Such personal conviction can only come from a free and uninfluenced search and recognition of the truth. Those who float about, capable of being abducted by bandits and highway men, are hardly ready for the task of facing life on its own terms.
Similarly, the politics of banditry should teach discerning Nigerians the antics of surviving in a hostile environment. The inability to differentiate terrorists from bandits is an idiom whose significance would demand reading this article twice. The third species of bandits discussed here are in the league of those who terrorise people for the purpose of confusing and distracting them while something more sinister is being perfected. Many have taken the Water of Usachi!

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

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