By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu
BENIN CITY: 29-year-old Charles Omawunmi from Delta State spent 17 years in prison in Edo state; seven years as a teenager in children’s remand custody and ten years as a convict. He was convicted for murder at the age of twelve.
His case was that of a minor who found himself in the middle of a crisis involving adults but was alleged to have taken the action that resulted in the loss of a life. In his years of incarceration, Omawumi who has now been pardoned, discovered his talent and is gaining traction as a music star.
Investigation by Saturday Vanguard indicated that the father of young Charles, now deceased, abandoned his family to stay with another woman and at the time his father reconciling with them, he suddenly fell ill and died. In the process, Charles followed his elder siblings to the house of the other woman in whose house their father had died.
The woman was said to have confessed that she actually killed their father because she heard he wanted to reconcile with them. An argument that led to a scuffle ensued and a lit lantern allegedly exploded on the body of the woman who sustained burns which led to her death.
Omawunmi was fingered as being responsible for the explosion of the lantern. He was arraigned when he turned 18 years in 2009 and got a legal representation who was said to have volunteered on pro bono to prove his innocence. Despite his lawyer sterling defence, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Omawunmi remained in prison until a Non Governmental Organisation, Legends Anti-violence Foundation visited the prison while preaching to convicts. In one of the group’s visits to Oko Medium Security Prison, Omawunmi was said to have performed on stage as a singer and his performance drew the interest of the group.
Narrating the incident to Saturday Vanguard, Director General of the Foundation, Christopher Kadiri said “We were invited to Oko prison to counsel the inmates because they saw how we were moving round the state counseling people. We have been to schools, churches and we have met with secret cult members in their meeting points. So, on the day we were directed to the prison on May 30, 2019, we observed raw talents and there we were told about the man who thrilled us was Omawunmi. One of his songs ‘stop that crime’ attracted our attention, the song was encouraging and we requested to see the singer. a
After that, we met with the Controller of Prison and we started processing his release.
“We wrote letters to the state governor and we were informed he had been hearing about the case and now that the information had been confirmed by the group, he would act on it. We also communicated to the Presidential Amnesty Programme and we were told that before the end of June they would visit his case. But we were called on the June 13 this year that the young man has been released.
Narrating his experience to Saturday Vanguard, Omawunmi said: “I am 29 years old. In 2002, I was accused of murder and that was what landed me into prison from juvenile custody to adult prison in 2013. I was convicted and sentenced to death. It was not easy in prison, it is not a place of welcome, it is not a place of fried rice and comfort where everybody would want to go.
My experience there was a hard one which the society needs to learn from. But it also reformed my mindset because I learned that the authorities are also trying to reform the mindset of the inmates so that when they go back to the society, the society can accommodate and re-absorb them.”
On whether he actually committed the murder, Omawunmi said “I can’t really tell because I was tender as at that time. I can’t even remember what actually happened but all of a sudden, I was remanded in juvenile custody and that is what I can remember.
From there I was brought to adult prison custody and then put in detention at the pleasure of the governor. Members of my family always came to see me but they never told me what I did. I never knew the person they alleged died. I spent 17 years in prison at the pleasure of the governor. It was in 2013 that the judgment was passed that I should be detained under the pleasure of the governor.
“This Legend Anti-Violence Foundation however came to my rescue. While I was in prison, I was writing and singing my songs and the prison authority gave me the opportunity to express myself. I am a rapper and while in prison, I wrote a song titled ‘say no to crime’. That was what motivated the prison authority to bring a producer who produced the song for me. Two of us dropped that song. We organised shows three times in a year in the prison and people would come from outside to be part of the shows.
We also organised talent hunt for the inmates and that was how this Foundation found me and worked for my release. They related with me and I shared my experience with them and I was surprised when I was called that I have been pardoned by the state governor. I give thanks to God and I thank the governor for his leniency and the good work he is doing.
When I was in prison, I took some lectures because the prison structure is like a school that will make you mentally educated. I am looking forward for support in terms of my music career because that is my calling. If I go out of my calling, it will be difficult for me to trace my way back so I am begging for support as I need producers to help me.”