By NWABUEZE OKONKWO
The Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Catholic Archdiocese, His Grace, Dr. Valerian Okeke has called on the Judiciary, to give priority to cases concerning the awaiting trials inmates, ATMs, in Onitsha prisons by giving the cases accelerated hearings as justice delayed is justice denied. Okeke said that it was unacceptable for the ATMs to remain in the custody much longer than their prison terms if they were eventually convicted for the offences for which they were remanded in custody.
He spoke as the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons in-charge of Onitsha Prisons, Julius Ezeugwu said that only seven out of 786 inmates were actual convicts as the rest were awaiting trials. Speaking during his official visit to the prisons where he donated food items and cows worth thousands of Naira, Archbishop Okeke noted specifically, that the strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union, JUSUN in Anambra state about four months affected the inmates adversely.
Okeke, who administered sacraments of Holy Communion and confirmation to about 18 inmates expressed sympathy with them for the hardship they were usually subjected to as a result of delays in the judicial system, adding that some inmates were innocent of the offences they were charged for. He further said that some of the ATMs were in prison custody based on frivolous charges, even as those who were actually guilty were forced to stay in prisons more than the period they were supposed to serve on conviction.
In his homily, entitled: “God has His Own Plans Always”, Okeke commended President Goodluck Jonathan for sacrificing his position for Nigeria’s unity, adding that it takes a man filled with trust in God to sacrifice such an exalted position no matter the amount of pressure. Urging Christians to always allow the will of God to prevail rather than deciding and following their own mindset, Okeke declared: “We still owe God a lot of gratitude that President Jonathan has the humility to bow to His own plan.
“We prayed and fasted ceaselessly before the Presidential and National Assembly elections to attract God’s intervention and we are happy that God heard our prayers and intervened because for Jonathan to concede victory and even congratulate the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari before the final result was announced, has allowed peace to reign. We have had enough bloodshed already in the country.
“I want to commend and thank President Jonathan because he is a father. And he understood that Nigeria is more important to him than ego, power and fame and we pray that God should bless him and that God in His infinite mercy should give us more leaders that are accommodating like him to for to move forward.” In his speech, the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, Julius Ezeugwu said that no fewer than 779 inmates of the prison were affected by the four-month JUSUN strike in the state.
Ezeugwu noted that the strike affected some of those who had already been granted bails and their bail conditions were being perfected before it commenced. He therefore appealed to the judiciary to accelerate cases to de-congest the prisons and commended Archbishop Okeke for his regular visits to the prisons with gifts and cash donations. Ezeugwu, however, urged Okeke to assist them in floating secondary and tertiary institutions inside the prison yard, to enable the inmates come out better than they were when they entered.