It’s so hard to write about Mr. Innocent Chukwuma in the past tense. I have since accepted the maxim that great people are like shooting stars.
In February, 2017, Chukwuemeka Afigbo introduced me to Mr Chukwuma and we bonded instantly as though we had known ourselves far longer. At our first meeting at Protea Hotel, Ikeja, it was clear immediately why we easily connected – we both wanted the same things for Nigeria. We both agreed that success of individual constituent components was the most assured route for Nigeria’s growth. He knew that Youth development and harnessing of each region’s core strengths was the way to go. He poured his energy (or so it seemed – because he was still able to do even much more) into this.
Though I met him only a few years ago, our lives were already connected as far back as 1988. As a preeteen in Primary 5, I participated (even if all I did was carry leaves in solidarity, without knowing the issues nor the main actors) in the IBB Riots back at Nsukka. I would later learn he and others (including Olisa Agbakoba (SAN)) were central figures in that riot.
It became a ritual to see him when ever he was in the East, when I visit Lagos or we were in the same city by chance. I bounced off ideas on him regularly and sometimes wondered how he’s able to make time for me despite his busy schedule. At one of such meetings in 2019 at Rockview, Owerri, his views that “except we found a way to engender social re-engineering at the grassroots, we’d struggle to make desired change” led me on a path that became #ReImagineOguta (www.re-oguta.com.ng).
At #StartupSouth, one of our biggest and most impactful project till date remains the #MadeInAba Hackathon and it was completely his brainchild borne out of his unending desire to see the East (by extension Nigeria) become better.
He told me he looked forward to returning to the East after his time at Ford Foundation and looked forward to making himself available to mentor more young people like me. He wanted to help build sustainable and professionally ran impact businesses in the East led by young people – leveraging his extensive experience. I looked forward to this. Same way I looked forward to running several Impact Funding Sessions with him hoping to get more East resident and experienced founders to invest in/mentor upstarters.
I am not sure how to say good bye to you Mr. Innocent Chukwuma. I don’t know how your wife and children are taking this or how they’d fare in your absence. May God grant all your immediate, extended family and friends the fortitude to bear your irreplaceable absence. May the lights you lit in your lifetime continue to shine. From this end, we’d do our best to immortalize your ideals.
May you find rest eternally. Rest in peace Sir.