An address by Ochanya’s elder sister, Josephine Michael, at her funeral service
I want to thank everyone, who out of their other commitments, and in view of the very difficult economic situation in our country, decided instead to come here today to honour our little QUEEN, Ochanya, who left us untimely in a very sad and an unimaginable circumstance.
I would like to begin this brief remark and appreciation by first attempting to correct a wrong impression, which continues to accompany some media narratives since Ochanya’s sad and tragic death.
First of all, Ochanya was never an orphan, in both literal and figurative terms. Both her parents are still living. Her father was never an absentee father. Secondly, Ochanya was never a sickly child, as had been asserted in some talk shows and print media.
Thirdly, Ochanya was never sent to the Ogbujas to be a housemaid. Her having to be with the Ogbujas was essentially due to the yearning of her mother to accord Ochanya a sound formal education at the nearest polytechnic town of Ugbokolo where private schools are operational against the backdrop of the fact that the only primary school (public) available in the village (you may have the opportunity of seeing it later) had shut down as a result of an unending strike by primary school teachers over non-payment of salaries.
This was and still remains a general problem in most of rural Benue. As a result of this, many parents decided to send their children to access education in Ugbokolo.
While many parents from the village had rented apartments for their own children, Ochanya’s mother believed that staying with her cousin who is Mr Ogbuja’s wife was a better alternative for Ochanya’s upbringing.
Today, the mother is not only mourning but also blaming herself for the sexual violence against Ochanya and her eventual death. In spite of her psychological trauma, the truth is that her mother did what most loving mothers would do for their child – to try to give their child the best possible education within reach, even if this means putting the child under a relation they considered trustworthy.
The school here in Ogene-Amejo where little Ochanya hails from is almost totally non-existent. Now we are forced to ask ourselves; would Ochanya still be here with us if the school in the village was up to par? Answering that now may be an exercise in futility with regard to Ochanya!
However, we members of the community can be guided by Ochanya’s tragic story, and begin to take steps to do the needful. In this project, we appeal to the leadership at every level of government, non-governmental organizations, international agencies, philanthropists as well as able and well-meaning individuals to explore the best possible methodology of rendering help to the community of Ogene-Amejo in order to rescue its young ones.
It is the quest for education that pushed Ochanya’s parents to take what is now an unfortunate decision of sending Little Ochanya to stay with the Ogbujas in the first place.
A better option, of course, is to revive the primary school in the village, which had in the past catered for children in the village, most of who went to secondary schools and higher institutions within and outside Benue State.
There is perhaps the alternative of constructing the 3-4 mile rural road linking the village to the Enugu-Otukpo expressway, which if it were good, could enable vehicles to effortlessly come and take these kids to and from school so that they don’t have any reason to stay outside of their homes.
We plead with every stakeholder to come to our aid to save another child from the horrible fate as the one that brought you all here today. There should never be a case like this again!
While we appreciate everyone, individuals and organizations, for their support in demonstrating and demanding that justice is done; we still continue to plead for vigilance in following through the case to a logical conclusion. In this regard, it is important that this case is given the desired attention and speed in prosecution and judgment.
Ochanya, for someone so young, and in the face of intimidation and the danger she faced, was strong and brave in doing her bit. Like most sexually abused victims, she suffered for long and in silence. For a minor like her, Ochanya’s death occurred on the very first day she was raped and subsequently turned into a sex toy!
We thank the Almighty God to have kept Ochanya alive long enough and gave her the strength and bravery to confront her abusers publicly. She may have gone physically but she lived long enough to tell of her ordeal. Our Little Ochanya helped, and even in death, still helping to fight a good fight, not only for herself but also for many that are still suffering in silence.
In my last conversation with my little sister, she requested that l mark and celebrate her next birthday, when she will turn 14 in March 2019. My reply to her was, “well, but we have to make sure you get well first,” and her reply was simply: “Okay.” My immediate younger sister, who is reading this speech today, at a point when Ochanya was very sick and couldn’t move, tried to encourage and motivate her.
When Ochanya complained that she couldn’t move her legs; she said to Ochanya, ‘Ochanya, you have to try, don’t give up, you have to walk so you can wear the shoes that l bought for you…’
No doubt, Ochanya was our sister and her mother’s daughter! But she could as well have been your sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin or niece! So our anger and the national anger on the violence against her are justified!
For those who are silent, passively watching from the sideline; or who would want no justice but instead directing their animosity against the victim, her relations and all who seek justice in this case; we ask: what if Ochanya was your sister, daughter or loved one? Would you be silent?
I want to again appreciate everyone who started this journey with us from the very beginning when we first found out what was causing Ochanya’s frequent sickness and hospitalization.
We especially thank Mrs. Enuwa Soo, founder, Restorer of Path Care Foundation, a place for all sorts of troubled children, ranging from orphans to abandoned and abused children. She created a homely environment for these children. She was Ochanya’s caretaker and seeking funds and making enquiries for her treatment until she passed on. She became a mother to Ochanya; she called her Mummy until death.
My wish is that she will find willing individuals, even government, to support the great work that she’s doing in order to rehabilitate and give the children hope.
I also want to thank many others that I can’t mention here, but they know themselves, for unravelling the mean and brutal violence against Ochanya. Without their voice, the world would perhaps never have known.
At this point l want to appreciate and thank all those that are now taking up the battle in the #JusticeForOchanya# crusade; every one that shared an #JusticeForOchanya# post, everyone that carried a placard, everyone that marched, everyone that chanted, every advocacy and human rights group, every student group, women organizations, every state that carried out a protest, every child, man and woman that didn’t sit on the sideline.
I want to thank especially the Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ukan Kurugh, Andy Kaggwa Obeya and Innocent Agbo.
Our thanks also go to the print and cable media, the journalists that started and continued to report on the issue, a host of other great personalities, and now the Benue State government that has taken the responsibility to prosecute the case.
Every one of you, by your individual and collective action in the fight for #justiceforochanya, have become the voice of Ochanya as she lay cold and quiet; unable to speak now for herself, but happy that through you all she can now scream loud to save her remaining sisters that are still locked up suffering in silence!
I implore you all to please continue the fight, do not let your voices go to the grave with Ochanya. Though she is put to sleep now, she cannot rest until she is assured that victims and casualties of sexual violence she left behind will be safe through justice for her.
Finally, our appreciation goes to all family members, close and distant relations for standing with us right from the very beginning even in the face of threats and multiple condemnations through words of kindness and prayers. You all showed yourselves to be true advocates for justice.
Thank you all so much, you all helped to get the Ochanya cause this far.
And so l say to our little QUEEN, take a nap for now until you are given the justice that you deserve, then we can say rest in peace.