Innocent Chukwuma: Rare Breed In The Class Of Fighters

It was at UNN – the University of Nigeria Nsukka – that Innocent mounted the stage of the theatre of struggle as a Lion. Being the 1980s, it was a period of radical and revolutionary waves across campuses; waves that meant that at lectures, symposiums or rallies, you were likely to have one or two speakers quoting Frantz Fanon’s famous words: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”.

Such words probably motivated Innocent to begin his life of activism with the Marxist Youth Movement (MYM) at the University. The trajectory of his life from then on till he breathed his last was such that we can say that he did discover his mission, stayed faithful to it and impactfully fulfilled it across Nigeria.

The MYM could not but have embraced his intellect and boldness. With such attributes, it was not an accident of history that he became the Speaker of the Students’ Representative Council and later the Deputy Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). In those capacities including membership of the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN), the then umbrella body for leftist, anti-apartheid and radical students groups, he was a local and national leader of diverse campus mass movements against violation of the right to independent students’ unionism. The struggles were also targeted at terminating military rule due to its trampling of fundamental rights and commercialisation of education as dictated by the IMF and World Bank. We must salute Innocent as a hero of those landmark struggles in the history of Nigeria.

Like some other members of his generation, aluta did not stop on the campus for Innocent as he rooted himself in the human rights and pro-democracy community after leaving school. He operated from the flank of the civil society movement as staff of the Civil Liberties Organisation from where he moved on to establish the CLEEN Foundation. Thus, in the mid-90s, he was a foot-soldier and field commander of the street battles to end military rule especially in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections won by Bashorun MKO Abiola. The role that he and the likes of Chima Ubani, Olisa Agbakoba, Clem Nwankwo, Emma Ezeazu, Arthur Nwankwo, Chidi Odinkalu, etc., played in that struggle helped to give the June 12 struggle a pan-Nigerian character. The courage that Innocent displayed in the face of risks to his life until the military were forced to exit in 1999 certainly qualifies him as a genuine hero of Nigeria’s democracy, which unfortunately is being toyed with today.

It is regrettable that his assiduous efforts at ensuring fundamental reforms of the police and policing in the country have not yielded the expected level of results. Successive governments since the return of civil rule in 1999 have simply not demonstrated the political will to build a functional and people-friendly police as he advocated. The #EndSars in this regard was simply a protest waiting to happen, even as it marked a vindication of the position long maintained by him that toying with policing was toying with the destiny of the Nation. So bad is the situation now that policemen and police stations have become targets of killing and arson in the Eastern part of the country.

Immortalising Innocent therefore is about upping the scale of his struggle for a society built on social justice, an essential component of which is the rebuilding of the police force to produce motivated and reoriented officers and personnel. This task makes it imperative to revisit our ideological roots and work towards building a mass movement and a people-oriented revolutionary political alternative to the ones that have proved incapable of taking the Nigerian society forward.

Although he has left indelible footprints on the sands of time, Innocent will be greatly missed. He radiated friendship while maintaining firm positions or holding opposing views. He spoke brilliantly with clarity of thought. He punctured holes in others’ positions with smiles. He was as tough as a Tiger, but gentle like a Dove. The streams of tributes in his honor cannot but turn into oceans of ovation.