Innocent Chukwuma was Nigeria’s most authoritative voice on policing —Olisa Agbakoba
I WAS founding president of Nigeria’s first and premier human rights organization and at the time the third busiest NGO in the world, Civil Liberties organisation, CLO, behind Amnesty International, AI, and Human Rights Watch, HRW.
We started off in 1987 with a small team, not clear of the future direction until a bundle of talents arrived, brought along by the late Emma Ezeazu, successor secretary to co-founder of CLO, Clement Nwankwo.
The teams that came are too many to mention here but late Chima Ubani was first in, then Lanre Emma Ogaga and many more like Felix Chidi Joe. Much later along came new intakes. That’s when Innocent Chukwuma came in as an NYSC intern. He was assigned to police research, single-handedly writing our important Annual Police Reports. I recall he wrote one of the early reports in seven straight days without break.
Absolutely committed to his work, he was to demonstrate uncommon zeal during the June 12 protests. CLO, in collaboration with CDHR with late Beks (Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti) as chair, created on the inspiration of Emma Ezeazu and Chima Ubani, the massive protest vehicle known as the Campaign for Democracy, CD, where I served as deputy chair.
Now, we had a big protest when June 12 was annulled. So we formed the protest secretariat at the boys’ quarters of Professor (Itse) Sagay’s house at Alaba Estate, Surulere, manned by Ogaga and Chima. Deployment of our people then followed with Innocent named as Commander of Apapa Axis. We absolutely took control of Lagos.
The legend, which I have never confirmed, was that when Innocent was engaged with the police in a massive street protest in Apapa, he got arrested, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police van. Now, it is said that Innocent disassembled the handcuff, regained freedom and escaped. I don’t know if this is true but escape he did with a mark on his left hand to show for it!
The protest movement played a significant role in the liberation of Nigeria that led to democracy in Nigeria in 1999. Innocent was right in the thick of all this and this is something that will remain on our record in perpetuity.
Of course, as a result of Innocent’s skills as a specialist in Police reforms, it was no surprise that NOPRIN and CLEEN came along. Without question, Innocent was very easily Nigeria’s most authoritative voice on policing. It was no surprise he became appointed, if I recollect, the first Nigerian head of the Regional Office of Ford Foundation. He was involved in so many projects around Nigeria including his pet project to empower the youths at Owerri. We often discussed the need to write our story. Ayo Obe and Abdul Oroh took part in these discussions. I hope soon enough one of us will tell our story as there is so much to say.
I was close to one of Innocent’s daughters, Chidinma. I know how devastated she is. I know her sisters are devastated. I know that Josephine, Innocent’s absolutely loyal wife, and a human rights champion in her own right is devastated.
A couple of lessons we must take from this. Life is fleeting. Very. Imagine. Innocent went about his daily life apparently full of health but without an incline of what was going on inside him. I almost suffered the same. So, regular checks is advisable. Second is we in the human rights community will need to think about a process to tell our story. What we did needs to be recalled and shared for all to realise the herculean role we played in the 1980s. This will be a fitting memorial to Innocent . May the memory of Innocent’s life be a blessing and perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.
- Dr Agbakoba, SAN, was president of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA
The Innocent Chukwuma that I knew —Rommy Mom
I CANNOT pretend to be of the Chukwuma breed that fought the military junta from campus to activism with badges and relics of what that generation of activists suffered or went through in birthing democracy. “Fate had thrown me quickly into mingling with these icons faster than I would imagine. I had successfully challenged the electoral body compelling it to conduct LG elections as against simply appointing LG chairmen by state governors. In a rare show of government compliance with court judgements, OBJ ordered for and released funds for local government elections.
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At the next Annual General Meeting of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, the Chair, Festus Okoye, applauded my courage as a fresh member and immediately helped facilitate my election into the Coordinating Council (Board) of the TMG. I was on the same board with icons like Oby Nwankwo of blessed memory, Innocent Chukwuma, Edet Ojo, etc. Thus began the journey of my relationship with Innocent, who perhaps was not aware of how he impacted on me most, the ethos, values and expectations for an activist and development worker.“At meetings he was the most removed from emotions, strategic and very deliberate at planning. I listened and I learned. Hanging out occasionally with him was some classroom as he would go into stories and lessons of what it takes to make a difference and survive in a civil society world gradually losing its identity in search of dwindling funds, in efforts at a better Nigeria.
I recall, as the next chair of the TMG, he refused to accept funding from international bodies if the funding was to be warehoused by international organizations in Nigeria. He politely stated that TMG will not accept funding with strings.“I got closer to Innocent just before the 2007 elections. Angela Odah, the national coordinator of TMG at the time, was leaving just before the elections. There was a need to get a trusted hand at the TMG secretariat.
Alongside other civil society leaders, Innocent approached me to “midwife” the TMG during the elections and then step back post elections, for a substantive National Coordinator to be appointed. I accepted. Events were however to take an unexpected turn as per our mutual agreement and understanding. When the dust had settled, various CS leaders came to my room to make me understand what had happened.
Innocent asked me to walk with him later that evening, and 20 minutes into our stroll, I was glad things turned out the way they did. That walk cemented our relationship and made me see Innocent as the raw, sensitive, jovial and down to earth person I had always known. Only this time, I could also sense the empathy and kindness he was imbued with.“Post our TMG years, we spoke and related often even though we lived in separate cities. When I was appointed member representing Human Rights groups on the Police Service Commission, PSC, Innocent called for a meeting during which he gave me invaluable insights into challenges of the police and policing from the CS perspective. He assured me of his ever-present assistance and emphasized that challenges would arise, but that it was equally an opportunity to contribute to that which affects Nigerians most: security.
Perhaps, only Dr. Otive Igbuzor has done as much in giving me deep insights into the workings of the PSC having once been a board member himself. I approached Innocent twice in his capacity as Ford Foundation’s West Africa Regional Director to support the PSC in holding Strategic Planning Meeting, and to assist the Commissioners in the PSC supervise Police conduct in providing security during the 2019 elections, a request to which he gladly obliged on both occasions.“In the dying days of the #ENDSARS protests, I was invited on AIT to speak about the protests. I was happy to discover that Innocent was also on the panel via Zoom. As the interview progressed, I learned as I listened to him. Every occasion with Innocent for me, was an opportunity to learn something new. Immediately after the interview he called while I was still on the AIT premises and discussed the NPF/PSC and the protest. We agreed to work together on quick wins to ensure the return of normalcy, and also to enhance citizens’ confidence in the Police. He rightly believed the PSC should be in the forefront of this.“My last official encounter with Innocent was post the COVID-19 lockdown. The Decriminalization of Petty Offences Forum in Africa was organizing a three-day Regional Conference on the impact of management of the pandemic by African governments. I was to facilitate Day 3 of the Forum under Lawyers’ Alert, alongside the Pan African Lawyers Union, PALU.
Part of my task was to identify and secure experts across Africa to speak. Naturally, Innocent came to mind. We spoke, he had a prior engagement on the day, I explained the audience and that the request was very personal. He successfully pleaded with the other organizers to reschedule the earlier engagements, and spoke at the regional conference, in the way only Innocent can.“Weeks before his passing, we spoke and lamented on the activity-based activism taking root in West Africa with no time for reflections on impact. He sounded very passionate on this and I made a mental note to take the discussions forward with him, depending on his new assignment post Ford Foundation. How was I to know it was the last time I would hear the soothing, reassuring and laid-back voice of Innocent, dripping with all wisdom, experience and lessons he was all so ready to always share?“A week before his passing, he made a posting on Facebook, on kidnappers calling on God to judge the person who had paid them ransom in fake currency. I laughed my eyes out. Typical jovial Innocent. I made a point of calling to banter but sadly did not.“Persons like Innocent walk this space only once in a while.“This was the Innocent I knew. I deliberately left out his monumental achievements across the globe and Africa, just so the world can see, how in all of this, he related to everyone around him from a place of humility, grace, sensitivity and understanding.“Rest on Great Man. The Lord is Happy to receive you home. We are sad to say goodbye, yet we remain comforted by the memories we have of you and the grace to have been part of your life. May the Lord, Maker of Your Soul, console Josephine and your daughters in the way only He can.
Adieu my Oga and friend.
- Rommy Mom is Commissioner, Police Service Commission
Yinka Odumakin didn’t betray his generation —Issa Aremu
THE bi-partisan out pourings of grief following the death of the late Afenifere activist, Yinka Odumakin, shows that Nigerian elite can and must find common ground to transform Nigeria and Africa for the better. A foremost labour leader Comrade Issa Aremu made this observation in his condolence message to the family of the late human rights activist.
Aremu who is is vice president, IndustriALL Global Union , and 2019 Labour Party governorship al candidate in Kwara State, said Nigerians “need solidarity and cooperation alive as much as at death to banish poverty and underdevelopment. The best tribute to Yinka Odumakin would be a new narrative for peace and justice for all, inclusion and partnership for a progressive Africa.”
According to him, the passage of Yinka Odumakin on the eve of Easter “is a reminder of the received wisdom: It is not how long but how well!
Yinka lived well in a relatively short time on earth,” he observed that common to Yinka, the students’ activist, human rights/pro-democracy activist, and Afenifere, a Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group partisan, was the commitment to uplift and add value to humanity.
“Yinka in fullest of time out of “relative obscurity discovered the mission of his generation and commendably stood for justice, democracy and inclusion! He was far from being perfect but all attest to the fact that he did not betray his generation in relative opacity. He volunteered and was truly counted on the side of nation building.“
”May God comfort and strengthen his widow and comrade, Joe Okei-Odumakin, to continue where Yinka stopped.”
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