When I heard of the death of Innocent Chukwuma, I preferred not to believe it. I first saw a media report on it posted on a WhatsApp platform. I responded to that post by asking, ‘Is this fake news?’ I did not want to read more of news trying to confirm this on the WhatsApp platform. I dreaded receiving any confirmation from the TV or radio.
I decided to make some phone calls, hoping that somehow, it will be confirmed not true. Josephine was not the one to phone at a time like this for confirmation of such news. I was able to reach Okey Nwanguma. He confirmed it. I cried. I could not hold the tears. I thought about all the good and positive seeds Innocent Chukwuma planted in people’s lives.
Innocent Chukwuma helped so many – The sick, the family of the bereaved; promoted the careers of many ; motivated so many; connected many ; transformed many individuals and organisations, etc, help he provided in a very discrete and humble way. I recall one instance I discussed with him the information I received about the need to help Leo Dibia towards his medical treatment and the fact that I had just heard about this request for financial contributions for Leo’s medical treatment and that we all needed to try and support Leo, Innocent told me that I should not worry, that the problem had been taken care of.
I later learnt of the key role Innocent played in facilitating Leo’s treatment abroad. Few days before his death, he also made contributions to Leo’s Family Support Fund for Leo’s wife and children. I know that he also provided some support to late Chima Ubani’s wife and children. At Emma Ezeazu’s burial in Onitsha, I attended the burial with Innocent Chukwuma, Chino Obiagwu SAN, Prof Joy Ezeilo, Nma Odi, Okey Nwanguma etc, I saw the role Innocent Chukwuma played. It was on our way from the burial that he told us how he met Emma Ezeazu and Chima Ubani; their students days; activism in school; his activism in secondary school and the lesson he learnt from his father on this, etc. This was the first time I heard all these.
Beyond helping individuals, Innocent also helped many institutions. He established some, he nurtured some, he guided some, he transformed some, he facilitated funding for some, etc. He was strong on innovation, capacity building, institutionalisation, succession planning and sustainability of institutions both in terms of processes/systems and funding. He saw the need to ensure that professionalism is promoted in the sector and the need to facilitate the partnership and synergy building between the academia and civil society, between research and practice in the sector.
We spoke many times about these. He requested and facilitated my involvement in AROCSA (Africa) and ARNOVA (USA) these were the two main vehicles he used to push for this. I was selected as one of the 15 persons for the cohort. Innocent was very keen on the need to document the history of civil society organisations and civil society struggle in Nigeria. He encouraged and supported me to document the story of Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) – the successes, impact and challenges.
I know that he was committed to personally contributing to this himself. This his dream is already accomplished through the various tributes documenting the history of his work, contributions and many more. Speaking of seeds, I know that every seed begets its kind and that the harvest is always greater than the seed. Surely the seeds that Innocent planted in this regard are speaking and will yet speak more. I have not seen such an outpouring of support, emotions, contributions, and prayers before.
The several ways and forms Innocent helped many people and institutions have been recounted in many tributes from different persons and institutions. He helped individuals – the young and the not too young, the poor and needy, the not too needy, the beginners and the established, the leaders and the led, etc. He helped institutions – the emerging and old organisations, struggling organisations and established organisations, urban and rural based organisation, organisations linked to police reforms and organisations working on other sectors, etc.
I first met Innocent Chukwuma when he was working at the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO). This was before he married Josephine Effah who was then working at the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP). CLO’s office was then at 24 Mbonu Ojike Close Surulere, CRP was also located then in Surulere and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) had its office then at 12 Olukole Street, Off Olufemi Street, Surulere.
I recall many of our travels and participation at the Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The team often consisted of Innocent Chukwuma, Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, Edeatan Ojo (Founder/Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda), myself and a host of others. His intellect, hard work, strategic thinking, and jokes were difficult to miss.
I listened to the interview he granted on International Women’s Day, 2021 to an organisation co-funded by Ndidi Nwuneli and he spoke of the four women in his life – his wife and three daughters. Innocent is truly a He4She. He is indeed a great supporter of women. He had in many instances encouraged and motivated many women to enhance their careers. It is a great delight to see him and his lovely wife Josephine Effah-Chukwuma at occasions.
You need to see him listen to Josephine’s presentations in workshops and meetings. I saw that in the US at an ARNOVA conference as well as in Ghana at an AROCSA workshop. It was a delight. He was certainly a husband who was proud of his wife’s intellect, hard work and accomplishments. He celebrated his wife and provided support and opportunities for her to enhance her work.
Innocent Chukwuma was happy to see women emerge in leadership positions and provided guidance, advice and support to enhance their work wherever and whenever possible. I recall many of his advice and guidance at various intervals in my career. I can recall some instances when he visited various PRAWA offices including PRAWA Lagos office in those early days at 12 Olukole Street Surulere, and later at 1 Bode Thomas Street Onipanu.
He was also at PRAWA Enugu office (51 Nza Street, Independence Layout) to attend the Eastern Agenda Meeting – an initiative he birthed. When I was at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as the Programme Coordinator of the Support to Justice Project in Nigeria he visited my office during one of his trips to Abuja. On each of these occasions, his insights and advice provided a good guidance to me. I know he wanted me to continue to succeed and was interested in contributing towards this. So also, he did to many. Not many have such kind and generous dispositions. He was indeed a great supporter of all – males and females. He was not intimidated by the accomplishments of any. No doubt he accomplished a lot himself.
Innocent Chukwuma may you continue to be remembered for your love for your family, your support and celebration of your wife and children, for being a great encourager of women to actualise their potential, and for being a strong voice in all these.
I strongly believe that every seed Innocent Chukwuma planted shall germinate to entrench his legacy on this front. He will not be forgotten in a hurry! Many yet unborn will read of him. Many will still be guided by his work. Innocent came and conquered. He came and made his impact on the sand of times.
His legacies will live on …. we will see it in institutions, in his dear wife and children, and in many that knew him and many that will yet read about him. You were indeed a man of distinguished pathway. You came, made your impact and your legacies will live on. Your dear wife – Josephine and your children will surely reap the benefits of your goodwill and kindness. Your work and legacies will continue to inspire many. These will not die. In these you will live on. You will not just live in the minds of many that knew you or worked with you but you will live on through your works, through your story and tributes told by various persons. You will live on through the lessons your life will teach many. You will live on.
*Agomoh PhD is the Founder, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Founder, Development Voice and Convener, National CSO Forum on Corrections and Detention Issues.