Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and human rights advocacy group, received with shock the demise of Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, an activist, arguably Nigerian civil society first son, who passed away on April 3, 2021 after losing life’s battle to Acute Myeloid (bone marrow) Leukemia (cancer).
Innocent Chukwuma, it should be known, captures, in every sense, the saying by Ross Perot that: “The activist is not the man who said the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.” The cleansing and then expansion the Nigerian civic space had from the military regime through democracy return of 1999 cannot be aptly captured, written or read without any mention, whatsoever, of Innocent Chukwuma. Such will serve as incomplete ration.
From the 1980s, during his Nsukka campus days, as a student unionist, Mr. Chukwuma would, upon graduation, move to Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO where with kindred spirits like Chido Onuma, Chidi Odinkalu and a few others he dared the repressive military regime of the day and all its obnoxious policies. Still devoting his time and energy to the civic struggle and cause, he served as board member of various organisations like: International Centre for Prevention of Crime, ICPC; African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, APCOF and Open Society Global Criminal Justice Fund.
He was the founder of CLEEN (Centre for Law Enforcement Education, as formerly known) and, until recently, was also the regional director of Ford Foundation for West Africa (sub)region.
His death, tragic, dealt a blow on the Nigerian civil society community. He was always a readily available shoulder for many others to lean on and a stake that enhanced the growth of many other groups within and beyond Nigeria’s civic space. As his bosom friend, Chido Onuma aptly put it, “We have lost our Innocent.”
FENRAD laments that year 2021 alone has been an Annus Horribilis – a horrible year – for the Nigerian civil society community. Only this year have the dogged, indefatigable Barr. Esther Uzoma, the national coordinator Proactive Gender Initiative, PGI also the convener of Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room together with Yinka Odumankin, a foremost activist and national publicity secretary of Afenifere all passed away representing a harvest of tragedy!
FENRAD does not know why it has to be our Innocent at a time like this; when he is needed most, but the saying that the good often die young may have found yet another context or even usability in our own Mr. Innocent Chukwuma. But whatever may, Innocent will forever live and occupy a place in our hearts like he did our civic space.