We believe Kelechi was wrongly jailed for 6-months for travelling on an expired visa and lodged amongst hardened criminals, the Nigerian High Commission in India should have intervened on his behalf but then, most Nigerian High Commissions abroad are just there for the dollars, no direct benefit to the citizens. However, Kelechi seems to have brought joy and happiness to the inmates!
For the past six months, Soren and dozens of others among the jail’s 512 inmates have been learning to play football . They play bare feet.
“Playing football makes me very happy. I will continue to play and teach others when I leave the jail ,” said the 31-year-old from Barpathar.
The change in Soren and others like him can be attributed to Henry Oja Kelechi, a Nigerian lodged in the same jail following his arrest in March for travelling with an expired visa.
The football enthusiast from Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, claims he was busy travelling to different places in Assam for football coaching in schools and small clubs and forgot to extend his visa.
“I was very upset about landing in jail. But everything changed after jail superintendent Dilip Saikia gave me a football,” the 27-year-old said.
Henry began playing in the small field within the jail and soon was joined by many male inmates, most of them convicted for murder and drug dealing, eager to learn the most popular sport in the world.
But there was a problem. The jail only had a small area for the inmates to play volleyball. So the jail authorities and Henry and his gang of wannabe footballers decided to improvise.
Henry Oja Kelechi, a Nigerian lodged in the jail was arrested in March for travelling with an expired visa. (HT photo)
“We extended the volleyball court and prepared a field 60 metres in length and 35 metres in breadth. The size of the goal posts were also decreased,” said jail superintendent Saikia.
Instead of regulation 11-man teams, eight teams comprising seven players and three substitutes were formed and playing time was reduced to two halves of 20 minutes each instead of the usual 45 minutes for each half.
Last month, Golaghat organized the first ever football tournament inside a jail in Assam. The final of Independence Cup on August 15 was a nail biting affair with Team A defeating Team B in a tie breaker.
“We spent around Rs 5,000 in organizing the event. Besides a trophy to the winners, the losing side got a shield and awards were presented to the best player and goalkeeper,” said Saikia.
The tournament may be over but the passion for football still runs high and every afternoon, Soren and other inmates wait for Henry’s arrival to learn a few more tips.
“A lot of people feel very depressed inside jail. But it is nice to see how football has brought change among he inmates,” said the proud coach who has learned a bit of Assamese and also hums few Bihu songs.
Henry has almost completed his 6-month jail term and will soon be eligible for release.