ONITSHA – About N6.9 million would be required to equip all the departments of the modern skills acquisition center built by the Onitsha Catholic Archdiocese for the inmates of the Nigerian Prisons Service, Onitsha, Anambra State.

The N39 million skills acquisition center which was completed and commissioned in December, last year, was designed to have up to six departments, including tailoring, shoe mending and making, carpentry, computer studies and engineering.

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province and Archbishop of Onitsha Catholic Archdiocese, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke who disclosed this during a pastoral visit to the Onitsha Prison inmates, promised that all the machineries required to equip the center would be procured on or before October, this year to enable the training proper kick off.

Archbishop Okeke who also disclosed that he was assisted and encouraged by donations from good spirited individuals and groups, including the state government and and other Christian faithful, noted that with N3 million already donated by Governor Willie Obiano on behalf of the state government, N1 million pledged by Obiano’s Chief of Staff, Primus Odili, another N1 million pledged by the state Commissioner for Lands, Nnamdi Onukwuba and N500,000 pledged by Hon. Edward Ibuzo, member representing Onitsha North II Constituency in the state House of Assembly, the October date for the completion of equipping the center and kick off of training proper would be guaranteed.

The cleric noted that he decided to initiate the skills acquisition center to ensure that prison inmates left the prison at the end of their prison terms armed with various manpower skills to become useful to themselves and the society, adding that he did not initiate the programme to attract accolades, praises, publicity, popularity or make money, but as part of his own contribution towards the shaping of the society.

He therefore charged the inmates to dedicate themselves in acquiring skills while serving their jail terms, adding that it was certain that some of them were innocent of the accusation that brought them into the prison, adding that it is the responsibility of the federal government to build such a center but that the church cannot wait for enternity.

He expressed joy that some other Catholic Bishop in other Dioceses, including Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Onaikan of Abuja, Adewale Martins of Lagos have started visiting prisons in their respective Dioceses, adding that the federal government should equip other prisons and public schools for our youths.

He disclosed that since the number of inmates in the prison custody were about 1,107, he decided to visit them with 10 bags of rice cooked with one cow and another live cow, toiletries, toilet soaps, tooth brush, laundry soaps, baked cake and biscuits and other consumable items that will go round all the inmates.

In his speech, Primus Odili, Obiano’s Chief of Staff who represented Obiano at the visit, handed over the N3 million cash donation from Obiano and commended Archbishop Okeke for his efforts to give the inmates sense of belonging, adding that government would continue to partner with the church to keep all the prisons in the state tidy, as part of efforts to give the inmates hope.

Anambra state Comptroller of Prisons, Emmanuel Nwakaeze, in his brief remarks, commended Archbishop Okeke for relocating the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity to the prisons for sake of the inmates, adding that some human rights groups who visited some prisons in the country, adjudged Onitsha as the best in the country because of Archbishop Okeke’s regular visits and renovation of dilapidated structures inside the prison.

The Chaplain of the prison Chaplaincy, Rev. Fr. Bartholomew Okpalaugo commended the Archbishop for visiting the prison three times in a year and urged him not to relent, while Rev. Fr. Richard-Mary Umeike of the Maria Consolata Society, described Okeke as his role model and a prison apostolate, adding that what the Archbishop is doing is practical christianity which is worthy of emulation by all and sundry.

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