Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
The Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, fetes inmates of the Nigeria Correctional Services in Onitsha, Anambra state, three times every year; on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and every October 20, his birthday.
These dates are very important to the inmates having been etched on their calendar as periods of merriment.
Archbishop Okeke has always made his birthday memorable to the extent that the inmates usually burst into emotional songs urging him to stay back and have more time with them even when it is time to end the celebrations.
Another of such dates came recently as the Archbishop turned 66. The premises of the Correctional Centre was filled to the brim with several dignitaries who came to felicitate with him and also lend their support to his prison apostolate.
There were numerous Catholic priests, politicians, religious leaders, businessmen, groups and individuals in attendance, while the inmates were also showered with various gift items.
Preaching the homily during the Holy Mass, Archbishop Okeke urged the citizens to desist from anything that would increase the population of the prison but rather strive towards acts that would deplete their numbers.
He expressed sadness over the recent petrol tanker fire incidents in Onitsha that led to loss of lives and property. He prayed for the eternal repose of the dead and comfort for the victims and announced that the archdiocese has slated a Sunday for special fund collection in all Catholic churches and institutions in Onitsha Archdiocese, towards cushioning the effects of the losses suffered in the inferno.
The Archbishop also implored citizens to be stewards of God’s grace by their actions, urging those who had drawn God’s favour and power to be humane in their conducts and actions. He recalled that Moses always used God’s favours to plead for the cause of his people in Israel instead of oppressing them or asking God to kill all of them for disobedience.
He presented various gift items to the inmates ranging from mattresses, mats, food items, cakes, cow, toiletries; detergents, among others.
He said mattresses were added in the donated items when he learnt that some inmates were sleeping on the bare floor because of inadequate number of sleeping materials and asked the authorities in the correctional centre not to hesitate in notifying him if the 250 pieces provided could not make up for the required numbers so that provisions for more can be made.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige who was present felicitated with the Archbishop on his birthday, thanking him for his continuous assistance to the inmates.
He announced a monetary donation and bags of rice to complement the Archbishop’s gesture to the inmates and also lauded the celebrant for building a skill acquisition centre for them.
Controller General of Nigerian Correctional Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed, represented by the zonal coordinator, Zone G, Benin, Tina Okereke, described the skill acquisition centre built for the inmates by the archbishop as the first of its kind in the history of the service.
Okereke said: “This beautiful church which is among the biggest in any Custodial Centre in Nigeria was erected by you for the spiritual development of the staff and inmates. You have always assisted us with vehicles when we needed it most. Recently, you once again came to our rescue by providing a vehicle for use as an ambulance in the case of emergency for this centre. Your Grace, we are grateful. The sinking of borehole, cells renovation with tiles and showers cannot be forgotten among others, in the history of this Centre.”
Wife of Anambra State Governor, Mrs Ebele Obiano, represented by the Commissioner for Basic Education, Prof Kate Omenugha, also presented various items to the inmates including bags of rice, garri among others.
The birthday celebration also featured the presentation of prizes to winners of the Archbishop’s birthday cup in a football match competition among the inmates. The football match competition was sponsored by the Maria Consolata Society led by their Chaplain, Rev. Fr Richard-Mary Umeike.
The State Controller of Correctional Service, Emma Nwakaeze and the Chaplain of the Maximillian Kolbe Chaplaincy in the Correctional Centre, Rev. FrNnamdiOkpalaugo all lauded the Archbishop’s gesture praying that God would grant him more blessings for future birthday celebrations in good health.