PRIZE OF REPENTANCE
Bishop Kayode Williams is the Director General of Prison Rehabilitation Mission International. He is also the presiding bishop in charge of Christ Vessel of Grace Church. From the name of his ministries, you would sense that he had an instinct with the prisons. He told Saturday Sun how he was innocently lured into robbery while in form four in secondary school. He played along with the robbers and became a member of the dreaded Oyenusi robbery gang until the long arms of the law caught up with him.
He was on awaiting trial list for 18 months before his 10 years sentence was handed him, though it ran concurrently. He served his jail term in Agodi Prisons in Ibadan, before he was transferred to Sokoto where he gave his life to Christ. Ever since that confession with sincere tears and remorse in his prison room, you would agree that old things passed away in his life and he became a new life. He has maintained the 'new leaf' status till date.
By his words, Williams was an outstanding student, the school's number one goalkeeper being groomed to be the next senior prefect. He is from a famous family, born to Pa JTO and Mrs. Oluwaremilekun Williams of Abeokuta. His mother was a wealthy textile merchant alongside Mama HID Awolowo and Mrs. Ogedengbe at Gbagi in Ibadan.
He was an only surviving and consoling son of his mother who showed signs of greatness after losing 13 children. He was born with a silver spoon. He belongs to the prominent and privilege families who are classified as aje-butter. A teachers' and students' delight, you cannot but admit his good looks with avalanche personality at the age of 17.
But then, that man in every young boy did not allow Kayode to live up to expectations. He disappointed his entire family, school authorities and neighbours. While his other relatives were busy in the university, he had already dropped out of school and was busy smoking Indian help.
He told the story this way… 'I was unable to complete my secondary education because I was in Form 4 when I ventured into the crime world through peer group which made me to become a member of the late Ishola, Oyenusi robbery gang.'
He did not wake up to join a robbery gang. It was during the holidays, he was not aware that the body was a dreaded gang. It was so shocking because they were not even his friends. They were all his seniors, and he was a student. He respected the values of seniority by answering their call. 'They gave me one pound to buy a packet of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, while the cost of the cigarette was two shillings, six pence. I always bought it and returned their balance. So when I gave them the money, they asked me to keep it. It was a lot of money because my teachers then never earned that amount. I could not imagine why I should have that kind of money with me. But the greatest mistake I regret was that I never disclosed it to my parents. I didn't know how to show it to mother so as not to cause unnecessary panic.'
The next day, he went back to their secluded hideout to thank them for a kind gesture, and that encounter was the genesis of the problem that he found himself in
On getting to the joint, they asked him to sit among the 22-man gang who sat in a circle. He was not forced to sit among them but the environment he found himself did. They were passing Indian hemp round, the same way they sat. It amazed Williams that nobody rejected the offer, and he never knew it was Indian help. It later got to his turn, a first timer, he innocently drew it in and puffed out the smoke, the feeling was not comfortable. The feeling was as if the place he was sitting down was having problems according to him. He managed to suppress the feeling with the hope that someone would stand up so he could join to escape. Nobody stood up. He wanted to shout, he couldn't shout, he kept it to himself
And something was ringing bell and making noise in his head. When they started going out, he joined them and on his way home, he felt terribly uncomfortable because he was seeing potholes where there were no potholes. He managed and staggered home.
The first person he met at home was his mother who was a highly intelligent woman. 'She looked at my movement, looked into my eyes and called my name Kayode, Kayode what is wrong with you? She asked. All this time, I was looking for an opportunity to express my new condition. Now the opportunity has come. I started shouting on top of my voice, my mother was also scolding me with shouts.' Their voices attracted people in the neighbourhood before his elder sister dragged him inside the house.
In the morning, he went back to explain his terrible condition. 'I started explaining myself with tears to them that you gave me a lot of money two days ago, yesterday, you gave another thing. They told me that what they gave me yesterday will not make me mad or abnormal. It was because you drew just once that was why you felt the way you did.' They encouraged him to smoke more, which he did. From that day, Williams made that place his abode.
School has resumed, he found it very difficult to concentrate. The teachers thought he was still their old and faithful Kayode Williams not knowing, a whole lot has happened during the holidays. He began to have problems in class. He lost concentration outright. The teacher noticed the strange behaviour in class and couldn't condone his attitude again. He reported to Mr. Taiwo, the principal of the school. who was like a tin god but then, had great confidence in Williams.
Mr. Taiwo acted like an old teacher who believed in strokes of cane as a corrective measure. He called on some students to hold him to receive 17 strokes, Williams looked at him eyeball to eyeball and warned him with a rotten language, 'Oga, No try am'. Next he drew an empty bottle of coke and smashed it before Taiwo. That was when the school authority gave up on him. Taiwo tried to counsel him, but that was not what he needed. He abandoned school.
At this point, Williams went down memory lane and remembered his super quality life style before he strayed. That genuine repentance almost drew tears. 'In school, teachers were proud of me. I was an exemplary brilliant child. I was the school goalkeeper. I kept the goal for the old Western United before it became IICC. I was the second best national goalkeeper but for my age, I would have been keeping for the national team. My mother monitored me and followed my activities closely because I was her only son. She was regular in school and all the teachers and principal knew her. She also noticed that something was wrong with me but could not pinpoint exactly what it was. His principal gave him double promotion. They saw in me a potential man.' The school authorities tried to intervene but never knew his matter was out of hand.
Another deceptive act was the spirit of sportsmanship in him. 'If I was not a sportsman, all those anomalies would have been arrested at an early stage.' His innocent mother would think he has gone to play football not knowing his only son was in the lion's den.
Listening to Williams carefully, you could discover that his innocence was the reason for his genuine repentance. After three decades, he told his story innocently without mincing words as if it happened yesterday.
He never knew his newfound friends were armed robbers. 'I was taken aback when I visited the next day and saw guns, long cutlasses, blood stained clothes, and their dressing was completely different from what I was used to. I wanted to withdraw, they said, no sit down, you cannot go back.' He obediently sat down, they gave him ten pounds that probably was pierced by their gun when they were robbing to go and change. He smartly carried out their instruction and came back with good notes. Ten pounds in 1970 entrusted into the hands of a teenager is better imagined.
As he managed to return to school, he lived as a large boy. 'I used to take my Housemaster out for a drink, and he defended his drinking title.' He squandered ten pounds just like that. His newfound masters were still in touch with him.
At this point, Williams had become their full member. He received training on personal defence, physical attack. He gained a little confidence and started going out. In a little time Oyenusi, the leader and Babatunde Folorunsho were arrested. That was when the scale fell off his eyes and he realized that he was not in the midst of small boys. It became difficult to go back to school.
You wonder how his mother felt at this stage of his life. She had been deceived to believe that his son is a sportsman. To prove his deceptive innocence, he comes back home with the sports kits and football.
His inquisitive mother was still uncomfortable and made efforts to take him to pastors for deliverance and prayers because she was not getting what she sowed in her only son. His mother was his mentor and a great instrument to his life. 'What are you saying Kayode, I must know what is happening. Unfortunately, that was the week we were arrested.'
What led to your arrest? 'I had an Igbo girlfriend who was our member, she introduced me to an Igbo man who normally comes from Onitsha to Lagos to buy electronics in trailers then. The man had promised to set up a business for her after shopping. Unknown to the businessman, he had called to inform her that he was coming as planned with a huge sum of money. My girlfriend mentioned it to me and we planned how to rob the man.'
The lady was instrumental to the perfect robbery because she checked in with the man in his hotel room and promised to keep the door ajar for the gang to gain access to the man. As smart as they thought they were, they never knew that the man followed his instinct and went straight to do his business before calling his girlfriend. In the dead of night, seven of them stormed the place and took the man to an isolated place called 'Gulf course'. Discovering there was no cash, they carried the man's trailer full of his goods and went to where Hausas trade and sold everything.
'While we were doing our business, one of us was arrested and he made a confessional statement. In the morning, the robbed man went to report at the police station. Our arrested member was linked with the complaint of the businessman, police beamed their searchlight and arrested us.'
Williams' case was a complication of youthful exuberance and dangerous teenage peer group. That was his first and only attempt in robbery. He also confessed that 'I never killed, never shed blood, never maimed.'
The law then was very strict on robbery. The punishment was death. It was then his mother realized the son he had put all her hope on, was a robber.
But then, a mother would always be a mother. Williams was on awaiting trial list for 18 months and that seemed like 18 years. 'My mother brought breakfast, launch and dinner everyday for the eighteen months in Agodi Prisons in Ibadan. She never allowed me to eat prison food.'
The case was celebrated and I was sentenced by the late Justice Olufemi Odunlami, Chairman, Western Region Firearms Tribunal for ten years. On sentencing me, God used him to make a prophetic statement. 'I am hereby sentencing you for ten years, maybe by the time you come out, you would have been reformed.'
Ten years was a long journey. Now he was a convicted inmate of the prison and that was another journey for his mother. She was still sending food until he was transferred to Sokoto Prisons. 'My mother never allowed me to wear prison uniform because the doctor discovered whenever I put them on, I react to infection. My mother campaigned seriously about that just to remove the stigma of not being in prison.'
In prison, he was the provost, the head of chief of staff. He developed tough skin and that gave him an edge to survive among the hardened and diehard criminals. It was in prison that he gave his life to Christ.
'I was in my room that afternoon, someone came and preached and left a tract and said I should change. I was thinking of how to organize bigger crime when I came out not knowing that God was on hand to rescue me. He felt like using that tract to wrap his Indian hemp. Finally, he was looking through the tract and it was as if the writer was speaking to him directly. That write up said 'your repentance will not come like fire from heaven, it is just a simple saying: 'God forgive me.' Reading further, it commanded me to kneel down and confess my sins.'
Williams came down from his double bunk and knelt down. Remorseful and sincere tears flowed freely. 'I cried like a baby'. I called on the warder, surrendered all the Indian hemps under my pillow.'
Nobody believed his repentance. 'I got to the church, the congregation saw me and ran away because I targeted to destroy the church in my heydays because of my past experiences with pastors. It did not deter me. I was set and ready to answer the call and do the will of that who has saved me. I grew from strength to strength in God's glory and rose to become the pastor of the church.
'Everything became new in my life, I started remembering all the beautiful Christian songs of our Sunday School in those days. I was singing, rejoicing and thanking God for his love unto my life. The prison officials thought something was wrong with me.'
Williams at this point encountered God in a special way and that became his great turning point.
'One day, I was on my bed, and fell into trance. I saw the deck of my roof open and this huge man came in sparkling white apparel and his head far above the building, the leg did not touch the ground. He called me: Kayode, Kayode, Kayode, get up. I saw myself stepping out from myself. I was asked to kneel down and the clothe I was wearing was removed and I was dressed in another clothe. He gave me a Bible and church bell. Immediately he gave me that Bible and the bell, I opened my eyes and he disappeared with the Bible. The next, I just heard my name from the prison gate, Kayode Williams you have a visitor. 'I got to the gate, the security told me that an elderly man with grey hair came to see me, he dropped this Bible for me and stepped out to bring the other things he brought, behold the man was no where to be found. God gave me this Bible.'
The prison officials wanted me to be released before my tenure, but God did not allow it because His revelation was for me to serve all my 10-year jail term so that I would be thoroughly reformed.'
Finally, he was out of the hooks of prison life and faced the greatest challenge of his life. 'Everybody rejected me except my old mother who spent fortunes while I was in prison.' I have dragged the name of my father's family in mud. Reformation, rehabilitation, re-integration and re-settlement became an issue.'
He finally found solace in the hands of pastors. He was encouraged to marry so as not to go back to crime. But then who would marry an ex-convict? He finally saw his wife and told her his life journey. The lady took a second look at him and went back to tell her mother who refused vehemently. Prof. L. O. Kehinde, Emeka Nwapa who were pastors of the church went to plead with mama, she drove us all away. We still got married after much pressure and are blessed with a boy and a girl.'
God began to work in his life. God agreed that Williams made a mistake, but he was a victim of innocence. He began to replenish him. That which the cankerworm ate all these years, He replenished in a thousand folds.
'Since the inception of Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (PREMI) in 1982, God has proved his words in my life.' He later attended the University of Lagos as an adult student.
The Board of trustees of PREMI include Chief Afe Babalola, Oba Adedapo Tejuosho, Justice Shogbola, Olisa Agbakoba and Alhaji Hamza. These people accepted him and never looked at his past record. One of the greatest miracles to prove God's mercy and love on Williams was when President Olusegun Obasanjo granted him amnesty. Even though Obasanjo is not in the good book of Nigerians, he is Williams' role model for accepting him back with other people. They are so dear to him for accepting him in the society. PREMI is here to rehabilitate freed prisoners so they do not go back to crime