Archbishop brings joy to prison inmates
From ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha
Wednesday April 11 , 2012
Archbishop Okeke with other visitors inside the prison yard
Their voices rang out in angelic melodies inside the church. Accompanied by traditional music equipment like ekwe, udu, ogene and oshakashaka, they raised their voices as they praised the Lord, their creator. The women among them sang the soprano while the male folks hummed the tunes in bass. Some visitors watching and listening to the tunes were tempted to draw closer after the mass and enrol as members of the choir. But it soon dawned on them that this was a special choir for special members.
They are the inmates of the Onitsha Prisons. Among them were those that had been incarcerated for many years. But you would hardly notice this, as all of them were in high spirits. They wore cheerful looks, looking well fed and robust.
Recently, the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, hosted the inmates of Onitsha Prisons to commemorate the tenth year anniversary of his Episcopal ordination. His visit to the prison, Daily Sun gathered, has always been a regular feature of his apostolate since he assumed duties as the Chief Shepherd of the Archdiocese.
He also celebrated last Christmas as well as his last birthday with the inmates.
Archbishop Okeke was accompanied by Bishop Martin Uzoukwu of Minna diocese, members of the clergy, friends and well wishers.
The inmates were showered with various gift items, which included 140 bags of rice, a live cow, soaps and detergents, as well as a giant anniversary cake.
In a homily during the Eucharistic celebration, Bishop Uzoukwu described the prison as a school and reformation centre where people pass through to become useful to the society.
He admonished the inmates to discard any form of grudges they might have against anybody in the society and face whatever they were passing through with positive mindset.
He also decried the continued congestion in various prisons in Nigeria and called for the quick dispensation of justice so that many awaiting trial inmates could know their fate without waiting indefinitely.
“As we were coming in here, I looked at your number and asked myself, ‘is this one greater than ours in Minna?’ I want you people to know that you are not alone. That the Archbishop has finished celebrating his anniversary and still deemed it necessary to be here today to rejoice with you makes it clear that he has your interest in mind.
“Forgive all who bear false testimony against you. Anything you are told to do, do it generously. Open your heart so that grace will abound. Remember Paul and Silas in the bible and the prison shake-up story, when their chains were broken. God is the one to break all your chains of oppression.
“The months or years you stay here is not important. Rather, it is the lesson that you learnt that will reshape the society,” Bishop Uzoukwu counselled.
Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, Onitsha, Anthony Ubaike described the inmates of Onistha Prison as the most disciplined in Nigeria, saying they were also the most blessed for having Archbishop Valerian Okeke behind them. He also showered praises on the Archbishop for graciously approving free medical ante-natal care for Chinansa, an inmate who he described as a victim of circumstance. Ubaike recounted how Chinansa fell into the hands of fraudsters who hypnotized her. She thereafter opened her master’s vault and submitted about N16 million naira to the evil men. The men ended up raping her mercilessly, which resulted in pregnancy, he recalled.
He further explained that the girl’s pregnancy was discovered after Chinansa had been thrown into jail by her master who was so furious over the missing money.
He further thanked God for the life and the wisdom of Archbishop Okeke. He listed the assistance of the Archbishop to the prison community to include the sinking of a borehole and fixing of the entire rooms/cells with functional showers, which he said had made the inmates to remain comfortable.
Ubaike took the visitors round the prison yard and it was a marvel to discover that the inmates enjoy double beds, well ventilated rooms with functional fans, uninterrupted power supply and constant running taps and showers.
The rooms are also complemented with different deodorants and air-fresheners.
He also appealed to Bishop Uzoukwu to replicate such facilities among the inmates in the Minna prisons.
“The Christian apostolate is the greatest, and yet the Archbishop does it effortlessly. He has done exceedingly for us in Onitsha prisons more than I expected,” Ubaike said.
Speaking to Daily Sun, Archbishop Okeke gave further insight into why he is in love with prisoners: He said: “I always like to come here because they are part of us. They are part of the society, part of the children of God and part of my own children entrusted to me.
“When you want to know the strength of a rope, you consider the weak position of the rope because if you draw the rope and you are not sensitive to the weak section, the rope will break, and many things will be lost. But if you are sensitive to the weak portion, you strengthen it and the rope will serve you.
“If we are reforming the society, we have to be mindful that these people (inmates) will come out to join us and we have to ensure that when they come out, they don’t become a nuisance to the society and they will also not constitute nuisance to themselves.
“Sometimes, they hate themselves and transfer that hatred to the rest of the society. But if we succeed in converting them, the purpose of the prisons will be achieved. The prison is a reformatory and rehabilitation centre. People are meant to turn their lives around for good but if sufficient things are not done while they are inside, they will become worse.
“In addition, I want them to share in the joy of the society to know that they are not forgotten, they are not condemned to death. Even when some of them are condemned to death physically, they can be revived spiritually and at least be happy and joyful in the spirit. If they know that the society does not hate them, they will be better people.”