By Chigozirim Okoro
The passing of my mentor Innocent Chukwuma was devastating and excruciating. It is as painful as the death of my immediate elder brother Bonaventure Ikenna Odinkalu in Feb 2006, the death of my Dad Nnaomadiebube Sir Augustine Sochukwuma Odinkalu in Dec 2015, my elder sister Genevieve Njideka Dike-Okwuaka in Nov, 2016 and Mum Dame Nneomanwereugwu Anthonia Ihunnaya Odinkalu in Feb 2019 respectively. Onwu emenam ihe “death has dealt with me”
This year started on a very sad note for me and the development sector in Nigeria with the death of Barr Esther Uzoma, Former Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room/Founder, Proactive Gender Initiative, so far we have lost five distinguished leaders, social justice activists and nation-builders: Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Wisdom Durueke, Esther Uzoma, Yinka Odumakin and Innocent Chukwuma. One wonders why good people die early in life.
I joined CLEEN Foundation as an intern in Feb 2007 where I met Innocent Chukwuma in his late 30s as the Founder and Pioneer Executive Director. We were six interns at the time: Onyinye Onyemobi, Shola Omotosho, Vivian Njideka Nwodo, Ndubuisi Eberebe and Aramide Amore. Innocent was very strong in knowledge transfer, succession planning, innovation, partnership, institutional strengthening, sustainability and raising a pull of next generation of human rights practitioners till his painful death on April 3rd 2021. He remained committed to these course till his untimely death. Innocent established CLEEN Foundation with a clear mission, vision and strategic priorities. Our early years in CLEEN were the beginning of a solid foundation laid by Innocent Chukwuma and on the job learning. The period was aimed at teaching us the fundamentals and strategically positioning us for career growth and leadership. Essentially, we were exposed to reading, social research of all kinds (Desk review, Qualitative, Quantitative, Expository) writing, production of publications, articles, Op-EDs, Newsletters, project development and management from conceptualization of ideas, development, implementation and reporting. Other tasks we were saddled with were attending of meetings, conferences, seminars & workshops both local and international, in addition to coordinating knowledge sharing sessions from these events. Essentially, our foundation in the sector was deeply rooted and based on CLEEN Foundation core values professionalism, team-spirit, respect for human rights, innovation and partnership. All thanks to our mentor Innocent Chukwuemeka Chukwuma.
CLEEN Foundation was founded by Innocent at a time in Nigeria’s history when policing and law enforcement services were characterized by impunity and human rights violations under a military rule. Innocent was one of the pro-democracy leading activists who stood against the oppression at the time by speaking truth to power; coordinated response with like-minds under the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) – Nigeria foremost Human Rights Organization. They made demands and called a spade a spade. It was at the CLO that he met the likes of my blood brother Prof Chidi Anslem Odinkalu, Olisah Agbakoba (SAN) and Chima Ubani (of blessed memory).
Nigeria has a centralized policing system. What is operational in this part of the world is regime policing, doing whatever the government in power instructs the personnel to do and that’s the context in which our work at CLEEN Foundation is done to try to move law enforcement personnel away from regime policing to democratic policing. The approach of mainstreaming human rights in Nigeria has been accusatory. CLEEN Foundation came in to offer partnership and empathy; not to expose but work with the police to find a common solution while ensuring that community priorities are infused in the police priorities. We want the police to be true professionals, respected for the dangerous work they do and adequately rewarded. That’s the strategy that has helped us in the work.
Throughout my years of mentoring by Innocent, he worked with a pool of great minds who grew up under his personal watch/supervision to be thought leaders grounded in their different fields, they are CLEEN ambassadors and outstanding HR practitioners with great sense of intellect, character and exploits such as Kemi Okenyodo (ED Partners West Africa and Former ED at CLEEN), Isioma Kemakolam, Programme Director, Governance, Justice & Security Program, United States Institute for Peace, Onyinye Onyemobi (Program Associate, Ford Foundation West Africa), Shola Omotosho (Adviser at DFID, Nigeria), Napoleon Enayaba (Progamme Manager Lake Chad Basin at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Nengak Gondi(Former Grant Manager at the US Embassy, Nigeria); Mr. Obo Effanga (INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Rivers State), Nwagu Yves Chinedu (Security Sector Expert/Formal Program Director, Trust, Africa); Nkwachukwu Orji (INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Anambra State) and Oluwole Ojewale, ENACT Program’s Regional Organized Crime Observatory Coordinator for Central Africa, at the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar, Senegal. Others are Mr. Tony Okpara, Dr Geoffrey Anyanwu, Opeyemi Amao, Olakorede Adeleye, Ola Odunola, Nkechi Onyeanisi, Lanre Akinola, Blessing Abiri Program Advisor/Head, CLEEN Foundation Lagos Office, Henry Ofurunne, Gabriel Akinremi Senior IT Officer at CLEEN Foundation; Abena Abioye, Linda Asuquo, Toyin Ibrahim, Simon Sylvester Admin Officer at CLEEN Foundation and several others. Innocent picked some of us as fresh graduates, taught, mentored and transformed our lives completely in the development sector. This he did with pride including sponsorship for education and career progression. Presently, most staff of CLEEN are beneficiaries of this “Education Support” under the Ford Foundation Build Grant for institutional strengthening.
It is pertinent to note that, through the CLEEN Foundation Internship & Training Programme, Innocent raised a pool of great minds within the continent, from Jospeh Blamiyon of the Liberia National Human Rights Commission to Koroma Allieu Vandi of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law/Senior State Council in the Office of the Attorney- General and Minister of Justice in Sierra Leone; to Cecil Griffiths, Executive Director, Liberia Law Enforcement Education; Boniface Rapudo Hawi of Usmala Forum, Kenya; George Abang Tawoh, Founder/ED Association for the Protection of Women’s & Childrens’s Rights (APWCR), Cameroon and Defenders Protection Initiative in Uganda. Through these organizations, CLEEN Model is replicated in Africa by Innocent Chukwuma. From 2015 till date, CLEEN Foundation has produced over thirty interns in Nigeria with vast knowledge in our area of work.
Innocent represents a generation of dedicated pro-democracy activists driven by great ideals, struggles, sacrifice and genuine love for social justice, Nigeria and Nigerians. We look back and wonder what would have happened if we didn’t benefit from your teaching. The greatest accomplishment of Innocent was the opportunity to discover ourselves, the number of lives he identified with, nurtured, mentored and transformed completely and conscious effort at bridging inter-generational gap within the development space. In Nigeria and internationally, Innocent produced world-class leaders to continue from where he stopped, I call them “leading voices within our sector that’s what Innocent did, He molded us to be the best in life, without him, there wouldn’t have been us. Thank you Innocent Chukwuemeka Chukwuma for believing in us, nurturing and mentoring us in life. We are part of your legacies.
Innocent built solid partnerships with donors, civil society leaders, public & private sector leaders globally. He was a founding member of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room; Network on Police Reform in Nigeria; Altus Global, an Alliance of five international organizations working from a multi-cultural perspective to improve public safety, security and access to justice, Afro-Asian Association for Justice & Development (AAAJD) & Association for Research on Civil Society in Africa. He was the founder of CLEEN Foundation; Oluaka Institute of Technology, Owerri, Imo State & immediate Director of Ford Foundation West Africa Office from 2013-2021.
From No 1 Afolabi Aina, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, CLEEN rented office space where we met you to Akinsanya Street, Ojodu, CLEEN Foundation, Lagos Office to No 26 Bamenda Street, Off Abidjan Street, Wuse, Zone 3, CLEEN Foundation Abuja Office to Banana Island Ford Foundation office you continued mentoring me. Thank you Innocent Chukwuemeka Chukwuma for your humility, accessibility, service to humanity, mentorship and love. You were God sent to us, our mentor, leader and one of God’s Finest Creatures. Our prayers and love are with your dear wife, kids, siblings, mentees, friends & folks across the globe particularly the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria.
Your reward is HEAVEN, Adieu our GUARDIAN ANGEL!
Chigozirim Okoro Heads the Public Safety & Security Unit at the CLEEN Foundation and writes from the CLEEN Foundation Headquarters, Abuja.