MOKWUGWO SOLOMON reports that as he does yearly during his birthday celebrations, the Archbishop of Onitsha, His Grace, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, visited the Onitsha Prisons on Thursday, October 20, 2016, where he celebrated his 2016 birthday with inmates of the prison.
There was great jubilation among the inmates and management of the Onitsha Federal Prison as the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Maduka Okeke celebrated his 63rd birthday anniversary with the inmates on Thursday, October 20, where he splashed gift items on the inmates, celebrated Holy Mass and admonished them on life after prison terms.
It has been the prelate’s tradition to celebrate his birthdays with destitute, but this year’s event was exceptional as he came with packages that was aimed at transforming the prison and its inmates.
In his homily during the Eucharistic celebration to mark the event, Archbishop Okeke tasked the inmates and the entire faithful gathered at the St. Maximilian Lole Chaplaincy, Onitsha Federal Prison, to imbibe the culture of gratitude and thanksgiving; stating that thanksgiving moves God into action. He added that praises and thanksgiving worked wonders in the Bible times, and said that with gratitude, Christians today can equally replicate such feats.
He told the inmates that “prison room is not your final destination” but that after their prison terms, they could as well, fulfill their destinies to the fullest.
“Don’t be bitter because you are here today. We have cases of prisoners who later became presidents of their countries. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa after serving prison term of 27 years. Obasanjo became a civilian president in Nigeria after he was released from prison; therefore, the next president could be you!
“Thank God that you are in the prison. Here, you have the opportunity to organize yourself and become better citizens”, the prelate told the inmates; adding that before his 64th birthday, by the grace of God, he would make sure that the inmates start classes for WAEC and NECO examinations within the prison.
“I will also set up skills acquisition centre here very soon. Come November this year, those of you who are ready to sit for their GCE will have the opportunity to do so, because, you cannot afford not to be fully transformed while learning this place” he added.
Prof. Joe Asike, the Chief of Staff, Government House, Awka, who represented Gov. Willie Obiano at the occasion, commented the Archbishop for numerous good works he has been doing, especially in assisting the state government. He recalled that recently, the state government gave N1 million to each of the prisoners granted pardon in Anambra as a way of helping them start good life; and added that the state government would do everything constitutionally possible to transform inmates of prisons within the state.
In her own remark during the occasion, the Anambra First Lady, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano, represented by the Hon. Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Dr. (Mrs.) Victoria Chikwelu, thanked Archbishop Valerian Okeke as well as the state government for their strides in developing the human person; especially what they have been doing to transform prisons in the state as well as their inmates.
She said that, to support the Archbishop’s birthday and assist the inmates, Mrs. Obiano sent her and her team to bring 50 tubers of yam, over 500 slippers, ten bags of rice, 30 cartons of malt drinks, several cartons of laundry and bathing soaps, 200 bags of sachet water, cartons of noodles and condiments, toilet tissues, etc.
She said that the donation was in line with the mission and vision of CAFÉ, the First Lady’s pet project geared towards ensuring better life for Ndi Anambra.
In his vote of thanks, Mr. Alex Odita, Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP) in charge of Onitsha Prisons, said, “Archbishop Okeke is a visitor worth having in the prison because, each time he comes, he brings gifts and blessings. You come here every year for your birthday celebration.
“I thank you for your good advice to the inmates and I want to inform you that your pieces of advice had helped to transform a lot of them.
“Most of these inmates here have taken their WAEC and NECO examinations. Some of them are students of the National Open University. We thank God for their lives, and also thank God for you who God uses to impart positively in their lives”.
The birthday celebration attracted notable clergymen, government functionaries, politicians and who is who in Anambra.