Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi has, through his Half-Way Home, accommodated over 300 ex-inmates who had nowhere to go after their release from prison custody.
Half-way home is an initiative of the Centre for Justice Mercy and Reconciliation, which has reconciled 20 ex-prisoners with their families, freed 14 wrongfully convicted prisoners from the death toll, and helped over 350 illegally detained prisoners.
It all began over two decades ago when Olujobi preached to inmates at Ilesha Prison. Some of the inmates who had been going in and out of prison told him how their relatives had rejected them and, having nowhere to go, they returned to crime.
Olujobi had spent six years in the same prison. After reporting a group of criminals who beat him and stole his money to the police, he had returned to the police station on hearing of their arrest, only for one of the criminals to point him out as a member of the gang. He was remanded at Ilesha prison until his father secured his bail in 1993.
Olujobi’s parents were pastors. His mother was a sibling of Prophet Joseph Ayodele Babalola, the renowned Nigerian revivalist and first General Evangelist of Christ Apostolic Church. But despite strong ties to Christianity, he was not a strong believer until he had an encounter with Christ while in prison.
He would describe himself as a ‘wayward child found by Jesus’. Out of prison, he went to Bible College and was ordained a pastor in Christ Apostolic Church. His initial intention was preaching Christ to inmates, but on hearing of their rejection stories, he decided to help. That signaled the birth of CJMR in 1999.
“By the time I was called to prison ministry, I didn’t have the intention of starting an NGO; I had the intention of preaching to inmates and return,” Olujobi told FIJ.
“But along the line, problem began to introduce itself to me. I asked some of the prisoners why they were going in and out of prison and they shared their stories of rejection.
“I decided to take them in and reconcile them with their families. That way, people started joining the ministry and along the line they said we needed to register as an organization. A mentor helped with the fund for the registration.”
Success stories followed the registration of CMJR with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2009. Apart from the several times the organization stood up for illegally detained prisoners and reconciled some with their families, the Half-Way Home arm of CMJR admits prisoners facing accommodation challenges, re-orients them, identifies obstacles before them and tries to help them out.
The organization has about 10 volunteers across four states and operates in four prisons: Ilesha in Osun State, Agodi in Oyo State, Ibara in Ogun State and the Maximum Security Prison in Lagos.
“Some of the inmates must have been in detention for so long that their landlord must have ejected them out of the house. We house them till the problem of accommodation is fully solved,” said Olujobi.
According to him, the crime rate will reduce drastically in the country if government can provide more Half-Way Homes fore ex-inmates.
Funding has been a huge challenge for CJMR over the years. The organization has thrived on the donations of individuals and churches.
CJMR hopes to improve the Nigerian criminal justice system by proffering sustainable solutions to some of the problems, especially that of prison congestion. Plans are also in the works to empower ex-inmates through farming and other businesses in the nearest future. The ‘wayward child found by Jesus’ is on to something great, and long may that continue. May he never get lost again — because, as it is, the fate of hundreds of inmates rests on his shoulders.