Photo above: Ijato Ugbagwu, Director of Child Care, Make A Difference Initiative
A human rights and good governance advocacy group – Make A Difference Initiative (MAD) has issued warning to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) over the trial of a – 35 year old man, Onyebuchi Ezenna who it charged before an Abuja High Court for allegedly raping his 4-year old daughter in April, 2020.
In a statement issued by the Director of Child Care, Lady Ijato Ugbagwu the initiative asked NAPTIP to show commitment to the diligent prosecution of the charge, noting that several occurrences between July 12 and July 13, 2020 linked to the commission, with regards to the case, suggested an attempt by some of its officials to compromise the case and endanger a good spirited Nigerian and journalist, Mr. Ben Ubiri who facilitated the arrest of the suspect.
Specifically, a lawyer(names withheld) had traced the house of Mr. Ubiri on July 12 at about 2pm to harass him for “putting pressure on NAPTIP not to drop the case against” the suspect. Earlier in the day, kinsmen of the suspects had also summoned Ubiri to a meeting where they levelled the same accusation as (the lawyer) did.
The initiative recalled that on June 16, 2020, (the lawyer) was also seen denigrating journalists who had come to cover the trial of his client.
Although Ubiri denied mounting any pressure on NAPTIP over the rape trial, the kinsmen insisted that “the people at NAPTIP told us that there is pressure from you and that is why they cannot drop the matter.”
Lady Ubagwu lamented “that a citizen who has decided to help protect an abused child would be exposed to harm by officials of NAPTIP calls for serious concern” and he called on the agency’s Director General, Julie Okah Donli to seriously investigate all officers connected with this case.”
“Our initiative warns that should Ubiri or any member of his family come to any harm, NAPTIP will be held liable.”
“We call on Ubiri to file a formal complaint to the Police and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) against (the lawyer) for threat to life and professional misconduct. Such actions unbecoming of a legal practitioner must be dealt with”, Ugbagwu stated.
Ubiri and the Executive Director of MAD, Lemmy Ughegbe had on April 17, 2020 accompanied the wife of the suspect, Mrs Faith Ezenna to NAPTIP with her daughter to file a formal complaint of rape against her husband.
When the matter came up on Monday, July 13, MAD also observed the ease with which Prosecuting counsel pushed for a long adjournment on behalf of defence counsel who was not in court.
Addressing the court, the prosecuting counsel submitted thus: “My lord, the matter is slated for hearing today. However, I received a text message from.., counsel for the defendant at exactly 5.20am today, saying he is not well and won’t be able to make it to court. In view of this, we will be forced to ask for an adjournment. The defence counsel says he is not free in July and asked for a date any time after September 24.”
“We also take special note of the eagerness of the prosecutor to request for a long adjournment on behalf of defence counsel. This is disturbing and curious. And it demonstrates a seeming nonchalance to the case and insensitivity to the rape pandemic that has engulfed the country.
“We call on the DG of NAPTIP to summon the lawyer and all other officers at the agency to sit up and be alive to their responsibilities even as we assure the agency that we are closely monitoring the prosecution of the case.”
Meanwhile, MAD has commended NAPTIP for taking good care of the raped child who has been in its shelter since April 17 when the complaint of her abuse was lodged.
“The 4 year old baby girl is looking beautiful, relaxed and so well kept. NAPTIP and the team at the shelter have done an impressive job with her. That is commendable”, Lady Ugbagwu stated.