…Court & prison officials, inmates sing praise of founder
By Melody Akhigbe, Ecowas Ojodu, Jude Elemah, Benin City
Freedom, sweet unexpected freedom, came the way of 25-year old Godwin James yesterday at the famous Oko Prison (correctional centre) in Benin City.
This took place when a team from the founder and president of One Love Foundation (OLF), Edo born millionaire property magnate, Lagos hotelier and frontline human rights activist, Chief Patrick Eholor, fully paid off several conviction fines as options to harsh terms of imprisonment handed down by court judges to minor offence convicts and first offenders in the South of Nigeria.
The team was led by Evang. Tony Akeni, a veteran journalist, media consultant, development politician and prison evangelist, who is also the convener coordinator of Nigeria Cannot Continue Like This (NCC-LIT). The evangelist-politician was accompanied by mental health activist and civil society reporter Ms. Melody Akhigbe, among others.
Shock, awe and unbelief are still insufficient to describe the excitement and sense of wonder by court officials and registrars of Eriaria magistrate court and, later, Oko prison officials as the foundation’s team arrived early morning before court sittings to process payment of various fines with funds generously provided by the founder, Chief Patrick Osagie Eholor, from his Ajah-Lekki Lagos hotel base.
First to benefit from the large-hearted programme which rolled off in Benin city yesterday Thursday January 27 was Godwin James, a youth from Akwa Ibom.
James, the fifth and only boy among five girls of very poor parents in Akwa Ibom makes and hawks local hair and body creams. From his furniture-less one-room squat with another youth, located at the popular Wire Road part of Benin, James who arrived Benin for the first time to “hustle” only a few months ago and has no relatives far and wide, hauls and hawks his products in the busy Ring Road metropolis.
In November 2021, the poor cream maker had an argument with a female customer which took a violent twist when the girl attacked him. Carried away by provocation and youthful underthinking, James fought back. A patrol team led by a Sergeant Ewanta, which was passing by, descended on the brawling couple and promptly arrested them to the Fire Safety police station at Oba Market where only James was charged with “two-fighting” and locked up. For reasons best known to the police, the girl walked away without consequences.
After several days without anyone of means to raise “bail-is-free” money to spring him from police detention, his poor family far away in Akwa Ibom and unable to contact them, having lost his phone and sim during the brawl, Godwin James was charged to court for affray and remanded in prison.
Again without contact, friends and relatives of means to rally round him, on December 1, 2021 the magistrate of Oredo Court 9 under His Honour J.O. Uwoghiren sentenced the 25-years old first offender to 12 months imprisonment with a #30,000 option of fine.
As Evang. Tony Akeni and the One Love Foundation team drove Godwin James out of prison into the sweet air of freedom yesterday, first to a refreshing meal in a class restaurant at Ogbelaka, opposite High Court at Sapele Road, and then his bare-floor room at Wire Road, James who looked dazed all the time as if in a fairyland dream, finally opened up in pidgin.
“Sir,” he began, “when you first came to the prison yesterday and the wardens called me out that I had a visitor, when they brought me out and all of you were strange faces I had never seen, I swear I thought that you people were mistaking me for another prisoner.”
“Why so,” Ms. Melody asked.
James, whose thanks of gratitude were endless, replied, “Because, Ma, from the very first day of the fight at Ring Road to the police custody, then throughout my trial and prison sentence till yesterday, I have nobody who knows me, and no-one has ever visited me to ask about me or give me #10 pure water. Not even during the Christmas which I spent here.”
James continued, “My parents and sisters have no idea of what has happened to me and what I have been passing through since last year because we have totally lost contact with each other. I have lived here everyday on watery prison beans since that day till now. So when you said you are a preacher representing one foundation and that your foundation had raised #30,000 to pay off my fine and set me free, immediately I got back to my cell I completely dismissed and erased you from my mind. I said to myself that such things are not possible in Nigeria. I did not think about it again even once until the wardens called me out today and said the people of yesterday have come to take me home.”
Evang. Tony told him, “The whole world may not know you but Jesus knows you and came to prison to see you yesterday through the spirit and large heart of Chief Patrick Eholor. So, why do you think such visit and your freedom now is not possible?”
The freed convict insisted, “Sir, Ma, till now as I speak with you and until I sleep in my room again and wake up tomorrow morning (today Friday January 28, 2022), I will not believe that this is happening to me!”
The foundation team burst into laughter, then began his detailed counselling on the need to give his life a second chance through Christ, to obey the laws of the land and keep planet distances from sin, offence and crime.
It will be recalled that in a January 14 correspondence with the Nigeria correctional service across many states of the federation, One Love Foundation announced its Second Chance humanitarian programme
and social work schedule for the year 2022. Second Chance is a programme conceived, designed and financed by the human rights activist Patriot Patrick Eholor to give a second chance to convicts to reform, learn life-sustaining skills while in prison and receive counselling from seasoned pastors and imams to encourage and empower offenders to pick up the pieces of their lives again after doing their time in the harsh walls of prison.
For the programme’s execution the foundation informed the correctional service authorities that it has drawn a curriculum of prison visitation by reputable humanitarian pastors and imams for preaching visitations, moral instructions, rehabilitation and post-prison skills acquisition training for correctional centre inmates.
According to the founder and president of the foundation, Chief Patrick Eholor, the objective of the One Chance programme was to give hope, a new life of purpose, deep soul cleansing reform, rehabilitation and a second chance of love-empowered life to serving inmates and ex-convicts who are depressed, image disadvantaged and and have lost hope for a decent life or a future of harmony with themselves and order with society.
Chief Patrick Eholor’s foundation team will be led to Ehor in Edo North Central district today in respect of another first offender convict, Mr. Michael Origho.
Mike Origho stood surety for a friend who took a loan of #400,000, vanished to Europe and cut off all communications. Origho was arrested for inability to produce his friend and sentenced by an Ehor lower court to nearly one and half years prison term but with a more lenient fine of #20,000.