According to close relatives, one of Nigeria’s civil society activists, Innocent Chukwuma, died Saturday evening in Lagos after being diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer.
He was 55 years old.
“I regret to inform you that Innocent Chukwuma passed away a few hours ago, on the evening of April 3rd, with deep shock and sorrow. Mr Chukwuma’s friend Edetaen Ojo, a frontline freedom of speech supporter and executive director of the Media Rights Agenda, said, “May his soul rest in peace.”
Mr Chukwuma, 55, rose to prominence as a student union leader at the University of Nigeria, where he studied religious studies in the early 1980s, when Nigerian students waged a concerted campaign against military dictatorship.
Following graduation, he joined a group of young activists who blossomed at the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Nigeria’s first human rights organization, which was headed for the majority of the 1990s by Olisa Agbakoba, who is now a member of the legal profession’s velvet rank, the Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Mr Chukwuma, a father of three daughters, one of whom earned a law degree and was admitted to the bar last year, met Chidi Odinkalu, a lawyer, scholar, and former chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission, at CLO.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday morning, Mr Odinkalu remembered the departed civil society leader as a treasured companion and loyal comrade. “I knew him for nearly 35 years [and] I am grateful for the opportunity,” Mr Odinkalu said, recalling that “we must learn to give thanks in all things, as my late mother always said… he was a man of decency.”
Mr. Chukwuma’s diagnosis was only received Friday night, and despite the fact that he was scheduled to start chemotherapy sessions Saturday night, Mr. Odinkalu said his friend “passed before the needle could be inserted.”
Mr Chukwuma’s parents both died young. Friends agree he was health-conscious, going to great lengths to treat a cardio-vascular degeneration and High Blood Pressure condition that he handled with bravery and severity. Cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of both of his parents.
Mr Chukwuma, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, was the Ford Foundation’s delegate for West Africa from January 2013 until recently.
He has worked on the boards of several global nonprofits and anti-crime programs, including the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC), the African Police Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF), the Open Society Global Criminal Justice Fund, and Human Rights Watch’s Africa Advisory Council.
Before joining Ford Foundation in 2013, Mr Chukwuma founded and led the CLEEN Foundation to promote public safety, security, and open justice in West Africa.
CLEEN was the first African NGO to win the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.