‘Secret’ Service: Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RPCM) withholds details about Nigerian inmate’s funeral

Chijoke, a Nigerian Graduate who first came to Singapore for a football trial, was executed for trafficking Marijuana yesterday.
Chijoke, a Nigerian Graduate who first came to Singapore for a football trial, was executed for trafficking Marijuana yesterday.

Chijioke Stephan Obioha, Nigerian who was first arrested in 2007 for trafficking Marijuana, was hung at dawn yesterday in Changi Prison. After his last ditch criminal motion was thrown out by the Court of Appeal on Thursday evening, it was confirmed that, bar a miracle, he would be hung when the sun rises again.  Chijioke’s execution brought an end to his 8 years on death row – an ordeal, which Human Rights advocate, Mr Ravi, described as ‘unprecedented mental anguish.’

After the appeal was turned down by Singapore’s apex court, Chijioke’s lawyer, Mr Joseph Chen Kok Siang, was contacted by the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM). RCPM sought Mr Chen’s authorization for the Prison to release Chijioke’s body to them after the execution. In turn, Mr Chen sought the views of Chijioke’s younger brother. Chijioke’s brother was agreeable to RCPM conducting the funeral rites. Chijioke’s brother also Mr Chen to pass a message on behalf of Obioha family to the Church. The Obiohas last saw Chijioke when he first left Nigeria to come to Singapore almost 10 years ago.

The Roman Catholic Prison Ministry
The Roman Catholic Prison Ministry

“Thank you for being there for us,” Chijioke’s brother told Mr Ravi. Mr Ravi assured the younger Obioha that he would be present at Chijioke’s funeral. He then gave RCPM the green light.

Calls from many International and Local Human Rights groups to halt the execution fell on deaf ears. On Friday, at 6am, Chijioke breathed his last. He was executed alongside Devendran A/L Supramaniam, a 31-year old Malaysian who was also convicted for drug trafficking.

Mr Ravi contacted Mr Jimmy Yuen, RCPM’s Chairman, at about 10am on Friday morning to request more details about the mass and burial. Mr Jimmy replied that it would be held on Saturday and promised to give Mr Ravi the details once it was finalized. As Mr Jimmy did not get back to Mr Ravi, Mr Chen contacted RCPM’s Spiritual Director Fr Kenny Tan in the evening to seek confirmation. The Priest reassured Mr Chen that he would let him know of the details, which were still being firmed up.

At about 9pm, the Priest confirmed that the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) would release Chijioke’s body to the RCPM who will hold a funeral mass service for him in the afternoon. However, he admitted to Mr Chen that he had to keep the details of the funeral confidential. Mr Chen then questioned the Priest about as to why it had to be kept Confidential but he didn’t reveal any more.

Mr Ravi, who has been fighting death row cases since 2003, shared that never before had there been such a bizarre situation where a client’s lawyer isn’t not privy to information about his client’s funeral. This, in spite, of the fact that Mr Chen is in contact with Chijioke’s family and was the one who gave authorization, on behalf of the Obiohas, to let RCPM conduct the funeral in the first place.

In a Facebook post, Mr Ravi broke the news and asked Catholics to try and “reach out to the church” to find out the details.

I have been contacted by some friends of Chiijioke’s from Nigeria on Facebook, who would like to know more details about the funeral mass so that they can hold their own prayer service simultaneously in Nigeria.

I can only do so much and I hope our Catholic friends will reach out to the Church to find out which church the mass will be held.

On the Facebook thread, some commentators, expressed surprise and disgust at the actions of the RCPM and the source of the “threats”. Others, in a more conciliatory tone, begged the RCPM to be more sensitive and open to people’s need to grieve.

As of 2.30pm on Saturday, despite many Catholics ringing up their churches and the Ministry to ask about the details of the funeral, any concrete information on the mass service hae yet to materialize.

It was only at about 3pm that Mr Ravi was directed to a listing on the Mandai Crematorium website which stated that Chijioke’s body was going to be cremated at 1530hrs.

Chijioke's body was cremated at 3.30pm. His name is misspelled as Chijoke in the listing.
Chijioke’s body was cremated at 3.30pm. His name is misspelled as Chijoke in the listing.

Update at 1830hrs: Mr Chijoke’s younger brother has confirmed that neither he nor the Obioha family had expressed any desire to RCPM to keep the details of the funeral ‘confidential.’ He also said that it was RCPM’s decision not to disclose details of the funeral was ‘wicked.’