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Innocent Chukwuma (1966–2021)

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Late Chukwuma

The rude shock that astounded the human rights community recently was further amplified by the sudden death of Innocent Chukwuma. Until his death on the eve of Easter Saturday, Chukwuma was the head of the Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria (CLEEN) Foundation, a civic advocacy group he founded 20 years ago as a think tank to monitor policing. While he nurtured that foundation to become one of the most credible social advocacy groups in the country, Chukwuma worked in coalition with other notable human rights groups to carry out law enforcement and citizens’ education as well as police reforms.

Described as “Africa’s leading expert on police and law enforcement reform,” Chukwuma was weaned into activism by his participation in Student Union activities. With the same quiet but locomotive energy he had dispersed in his activism in his university days, Chukwuma naturally warmed his way into the pro-democracy community that eventually became the nemesis of the Abacha regime. Starting first as an intern at the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO), Chukwuma, by associating with forces supporting anti-military kindred spirits, honed skills and sense of strategies that made him somewhat indispensible in the human rights community.

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A landmark of his career in advocacy was his appointment in 2012 by Ford Foundation as its regional representative for West Africa. In this capacity, Chukwuma made an exemplary show of inner lying potentials by transforming the foundation’s operations to accommodate novel areas such as art, political memory and impact investing. He was also the vice-chair of the Impact Investors Foundation of Nigeria, “whose members channelled a portfolio of over $4.7 billion in investments, creating jobs, strengthening communities and developing skills and technology since 2015.” He was said to have also chaired the Resilience Fund of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.

Smarting from the fallouts of the infamous 1991 Oko-Oba Massacre that saw the brutal extra-judicial killing of a complete family by police officers, Chukwuma, who was a young graduate working for the CLO resolved to make prevention of police atrocities his area of emphasis in human rights campaign.

The 55 years ago Chukwuma was educated at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, where he earned a Bachelor degree in Religions. He also had a Masters degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom. He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he designed and taught a course on the management of nonprofits for the Global South.

Like Yinka Odumakin, Innocent Chukwuma was also married to an activist Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, who is the founder of Project Alert, a women advocacy group. Chukwuma was effectively creating an efficient succession management plan for mentees and young admirers through the Oluaka Institute of Technology, a vocational institute he struggled to build “as a hub for incubation of innovation and entrepreneurship.” He will be solely missed in the social activism circle.

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