One of Nigeria’s civil society leaders, Innocent Chukwuma, died Saturday evening in Lagos.
Newsmen report that his close friends said that he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, an aggressive cancer of the blood.
He was 55.
“With profound shock and sadness, I regret to inform you that Innocent Chukwuma passed away a few hours ago, in the evening of April 3. May his soul rest in peace,” announced Edetaen Ojo, a frontline freedom of expression advocate and executive director of the Media Rights Agenda, who was a friend of Chukwuma.
Chukwuma, 55, came to public attention first as a student union activist at the University of Nigeria. He read religious studies in the eighties when Nigerian students led relentless campaigns against military autocracy.
Upon graduation, he joined a cluster of young activists who came to bloom at the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria’s first human rights organisation led for most of the nineties by Olisa Agbakoba, now a member of the velvet rank of the legal profession called senior advocates of Nigeria.
At CLO, Chukwuma, a father of three daughters, graduated in law and was called to the bar last year, met people like Chidi Odinkalu, a lawyer, academic and former chairman of Nigeria Human Rights Commission.
Odinkalu remembered the departed civil society leader, Sunday morning, in an interview with newsmen, as a treasured companion and faithful friend. “I knew him for nearly 35 [and] I am grateful for the privilege,” Odinkalu said, recalling that “In all things, as my late Mum always said, we must learn to give thanks … he was a man of decency.”
He said Chukwuma’s diagnosis only came through Friday night. Though he was booked to begin chemotherapy sessions Saturday night, Odinkalu remarked that his friend “passed before the needle could be inserted.”
Orphaned at a young age, both of Chukwuma’s parents died young. Friends say he was fastidious with matters of his health, going to great lengths to take care of a cardio-vascular degeneration and High Blood Pressure situation he managed with courage and seriousness. Both his parents were killed by cardio-vascular degeneration.
Chukwuma, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Leicester in the UK, served from January 2013 until recently as the Ford Foundation’s representative for West Africa.
He also served as a member of the boards of many global nonprofits and initiatives against crime and violence, including the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC), African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), Open Society Global Criminal Justice Fund and the Africa Advisory Council of Human Rights Watch.
Before joining Ford Foundation in 2013, Chukwuma founded and led the CLEEN Foundation to promote public safety, security, and accessible justice in West Africa.
CLEEN was the first African non-governmental organisation to receive the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.