By Nwabueze Okonkwo
ONITSHA – The Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Maduka Okeke has assured inmates of the Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS, Onitsha, Anambra state that the church would not rest on its oars until the prison is transformed into a modern facility, as obtained in the advanced countries of the world, including Britain and the United States of America, USA.
Archbishop Okeke who spoke at the St. Maximilian Kolbe Chaplaincy, NPS, Onitsha, during a Solemn Mass to mark his 63rd Birthday Anniversary, said apart from bettering the living condition of inmates, he would also like to see to the upliftment of the skill acquisition center running inside the prison with other educational facilities , so that the inmates would leave the prison skilled and more educated than they were when they came into the prison custody.
Okeke also commended Governor Willie Obiano’s administration for supporting and giving a face-lift to the prison and at the same time improving the living conditions of the inmates so far and urged him not to relent.
Admitting that some of the inmates came into the prison not because they were criminals but for circumstances beyond their control, the cleric noted that what is important is not how they came in but how they will leave the prison as reformed citizens so as to become useful to themselves and the society.
Earlier, the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, DCP, in-charge of Onitsha Prisons, Alex Odita had expressed gratitude to the Archbishop for choosing the prison as a venue for celebrating his annual birthdays for three consecutive times since he assumed duty about 14 months ago, adding that his visits have obviously brought a lot of improvements to both the inmates and the prison environment.
According to Odita, “through the financial and material assistance of Archbishop Okeke and other philanthropists he attracted, the schools are now running inside the prison and some of the inmates have even enrolled at the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN and I now call the inmates my students and no longer prisoners because of the stigma attached to the name”.
The DCP however called on the Chief Judge of Anambra state to visit the prison on quarterly basis, as matter of constitutional responsibility, not optional, so as to grant amnesty to those who deserve amnesty at a particular point in time.
Also speaking, the Chief of Staff to Governor Willie Obiano, Prof. Joe Asike who represented the governor at the ceremony, noted that the state government would provide necessary facilities for the inmates who want to take their WAEC, GCE and NECO examinations preparatory for gaining admissions into the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN.
Chief Austin Ndigwe, a friend to the Archbishop and one of the vibrant politicians in the state, described Archbishop Okeke’s regular visits to the prison as quite emulating, adding that on his own part, he would soon come up with his programmes of action in terms of refurbishing the broken down vehicles belonging to the prison authorities for easy transportation of inmates to various courts.
Ndigwe also disclosed that he had already procured certain items as electric generator, fans, air-conditioners, chairs, beds and other house holds which he intended to donate to the prison authorities to make life meaningful to the inmates.
In his vote of thanks, the Chaplain of the Maximilian Kolbe Chaplaincy, Rev. Fr. Pius Nwankwo expressed delight that the Chaplaincy is so blessed that it is the only place where the Archbishop visits three times a year with gifts and cash donations.
Fr. Nwankwo therefore prayed God to give the Archbishop good health and long life to enable him fulfill the good works he started inside the prison which is total transformation because according to him, once the Archbishop is alive and healthy, he would surely fulfill his promises, as a man of his word.
The state Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Victoria Chikwelu who represented Governor Willie Obiano’s wife, Ebelechukwu, presented coolers of cooked rice, cartons of malt, bags of sachet water, toiletries and other consumables to the inmates, in addition to a live cow and other cooked foods provided by the visiting Archbishop.