It was a packed hall in New York in 2002 when Alfred Ilenre addressed the First Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum For Indigenous Peoples. He spoke as the Secretary-General of the Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa, a Pan-African organisation dedicated to the prevention of discrimination and protection of the rights of ethnic minorities, indigenous and local communities all over Africa.
“It has always been stated that one of the problems Africa faces is that of ethnic and indigenous community pluralism,” Mr. Ilenre told the audience.
“Africa nation states are creations of colonial intervention. Different ethnic groups and indigenous communities were brought together to meet colonial economic exigencies without any platform for the nationalities to dialogue on the basis of their common objectives.”
13 years later, at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Lagos, it was time again for Mr. Ilenre to speak: he was to deliver the goodwill message at an event to commemorate the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
But when his name was announced, a lady came out to read his already prepared speech.
Mr. Ilenre had suddenly become unconscious.
“As I stood up, my legs started wobbling and I just blacked out,” he recalled days later.
A test examination the next day revealed a disorder in his left lung, a condition he said he sustained in a life-threatening accident in Ghana in 1998 during the NADECO crisis.
Mr. Ilenre spent most of his adult life advocating for equal rights and justice.
As secretary-general of EMIROAF, he pushed for gender equality.
“The domination of women is the most nagging moral question confronting Africa today,” Mr. Ilenre said in New York in 2002.
“Women everywhere, even in the advanced countries are relegated to secondary status. Very often they are subjected to violence both at domestic and public places, offences which largely go unpunished.
“The situation in Africa is beyond reason. Indigenous and local communities like the people of the Niger Delta of Nigeria are among the poorest of the poor in Africa. Even among the poorest populations, indigenous women suffer more deprivation than men. There is a higher rate of female mortality among indigenous communities, which is more fatal among, illiterate women.”
As chairman of the June 12 Coalition of Democratic Formations, he campaigned for the immortalisation and posthumous recognition of M.K.O Abiola as Nigeria’s president.
“This criminal annulment of the election was an assault on the collective sensibilities of millions of Nigerians who freely gave their mandate to late Chief M.K.O Abiola via the ballot box,” he said during an event to mark the 23 years anniversary of the annulled presidential election.
“Thus, the failure of successive governments since the advent of democratic rule in 1999 to address the issue of June 12 on the side of justice has resulted in sundry crisis bedevilling the Nigerian state such as Boko Haram, Indigenous People of Biafra, corruption, militancy in the Niger Delta, Fulani herdsmen menace, kidnappings and others.”
Often referred to as Ken Saro Wiwa look-alike, Mr. Ilenre also served as director of mobilisation for the Pro-National Conference Organisation, a group advocating for a “truly representative” sovereign national conference to decide the future of Nigeria.
He campaigned actively for true federalism, resource control, and minority rights alongside Mr. Saro Wiwa (who was executed by the military junta led by late dictator Sani Abacha), Anthony Enahoro and Beko Ransome-Kuti.
Following his collapse at the 2015 June 12 event, Mr. Ilenre was taken to a Chinese Hospital In Ghana.
“They gave me prolonged treatment. I spent six weeks there,” he said during an interview in November of that year.
“Now I feel better than what I used to be. If it was in those days, I would not be able to speak for more than ten minutes. I may not be as eloquent as I used to be when I was in my 30’s and 40’s, I will be 76 by January next year and that means a lot.”
A native of Edo State, Mr. Ilenre passed away on January 12 at his residence in Ikorodu, Lagos.
He was aged 78.