The Benue State government has urged a Makurdi Chief Magistrates’ Court to decline a bail application being sought by a senior lecturer at the Department of Catering and Hotel Management of the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, Mr. Andrew Ogbuja, who is being held at the Federal Prison in Makurdi over the alleged rape to death of a 13-year-old girl, Ochanya Ogbanje.
Ochanya died on 17 October last year due to complications arising from the alleged sexual molestation she suffered at the hands of the accused senior lecturer and his son, Victor Ogbuja, who now at large.
Ochanya’s death provoked national outrage and demonstrations across the country where human rights activists called for the arrest and prosecution of the culprits.
Following the nationwide protests and popular anger, Mr Ogbuja, who was granted bail under shady circumstances after being remanded by a Makurdi Upper Area Court, was re-arrested and re-arraigned before Magistrate Isaac Ajim following the death of the minor.
At the proceedings, the prosecuting lawyer, Mrs. Awashima Addingi, told the trial Magistrate, Mr. Isaac Ajim that “the prosecution is vehemently against the accused person’s bail application.”
Addingi who represented the State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, predicated her objection on the ground that the offences against the defendant were not bailable as they carry capital punishment upon conviction.
“Going by Section 341 of the State Criminal Code, the offences which the accused was brought to court is capital in nature; he is not entitled to bail.”
The prosecuting lawyer further submitted that Section 35 (7) of the 1999 constitution stipulates that where there is sufficient suspicion of the commission of crime by an accused person, his right to liberty can be suspended.
She urged the court to discountenance Mr. Ogbuja’s lawyer’s claim that his client’s case had “special circumstances” that would warrant granting the accused bail.
Addingi added that the legal advice from the state’s Ministry of Justice showed “there is substantial evidence against the Ogbujas for the rape and death of Ochanya’s.”
However, Ogbuja’s lawyer, Mr. A. A. Onoja, argued that there was no valid charge against his client before the court.
He argued that the court was clothed with the requisite power to admit Mr. Ogbuja to bail.
“Our submission is that there is no valid charge before this court against our client. The only way the court can be intimidated into refusing our bail application is for the prosecution to place a charge before the court.
” We urge the court to discountenance the legal advice against our client, as it did not disclose any material evidence against him,” Onoja said.
Subsequently, the court adjourned the suit till February 8, 2019, for Mr. Ogbuja’s counsel to serve some court processes he tendered before the court on the prosecution.
It would be recalled that the prosecution had at the last sitting informed the court that the legal advice from the State’s Attorney-General stated categorically that “there is a prima facie case” against the defendants.
In the legal advice, which was sighted by our correspondent, the Attorney-General asked the police to intensity efforts to arrest the second defendant, Victor Ogbuja, who has been on the run since the news of Ochanya’s rape and death broke.
Marked: MoJ/LEG.3CR/39/100, dated January 10, 2019, and addressed to the Commissioner of Police, Benue State Command Headquarters, Makurdi; the Attorney-General said: “Arising from the health condition of the deceased due to multiple rape and sexual abuse resulting to grievous injuries confirmed by medical reports, it is our legal opinion that a case of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide punishable with death under Sections 97 and 222 of the Penal Code Revised Edition (Laws of Benue State) 2004 has been made out against the above named accused person and shall be prosecuted accordingly.”