Innocent’s advocacy for more accountable government, together with his brave and innovative activism against Nigeria’s military junta, earned him friends and admirers across Africa and internationally.
He was also Africa’s leading expert on police and law enforcement reform.
In a country in which civic activists are rarely respected by the authorities, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buahari and vice-president Yemi Osinbajo have led the lamentation of Innocent’s passing at the untimely age of 55.
Innocent’s energy and intelligence lit up the rights movement in Nigeria from the moment he joined it. One bright morning in May 1991, a squad of men from the Nigeria Police Force invaded a family home in Oko-Oba, Agege, a crowded suburb of Lagos. They claimed they were searching for a dangerous robber.
By the time they left, less than an hour later, they had killed an entire family: father, mother and their six children.
Innocent credited his father, a produce dealer from south-eastern Nigeria who died while Innocent was still an undergraduate in 1989, with the inspiration for his civic advocacy and passion for social justice.
In his final year in high school, Innocent led a protest of students against the theft of their food by a joint enterprise of the food contractors and school authorities. When Innocent was expelled, his father intervened to inquire from the school authorities what crime his son had committed.
After patiently listening to the school principal’s version of events, the old man asked the question: “But did he lie?” His father’s intervention persuaded the school authorities to allow Innocent to take his final examinations. That experience taught Innocent the first lessons in civic advocacy and the need to ask the questions that matter.
Culled from Homage: Nigeria’s Innocent Chukwuma, voice of a generation written by Prof. Chidi Odinkalu
Photo Description/Credit: Demonstrators protesting against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 15, 2020.
© 2020 Sunday Alamba/AP Photo via hrw.org