While eulogies will not resurrect the dead, contributions to national development will remain indelible and undeniable. We can only be remembered by what we have done. This ought to, in the minimum, motivate the living to carefully number our days so we may daily apply our hearts to wisdom. Innocent has left footprints in the sands of time…
The death of Innocent Chukwuma hit the airwaves early on Easter Sunday, April 4. Coming after the sudden death of another illustrious activist, Yinka Odumakin on April 2, news of the death of Innocent suggested that fate was being unfair to Nigeria by taking away two patriotic and eminent Nigerian activists – Odumakin on Friday and Innocent on Saturday. The sun set for both in a most inauspicious time and in their prime, both being in their mid-50s.
I was a bit close to Innocent Chukwuma within the civil society and development activism space. Long before Innocent became the Regional Director for the West Africa Office of Ford Foundation, our paths had crossed on a number of civil society projects, including serving as joint consultants for DfID in 2008 to design one of its development intervention projects in Nigeria. More recently, Innocent as leader of the Ford Foundation office for West Africa partnered with the MacArthur Foundation led by Kole Shettima and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) led by Jude Ilo, to support the Buhari government’s anti-corruption agenda, especially the work of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in which I served as Member/Executive Secretary from 2015 to 2019, before assuming my current position. Without that strategic funding support from these three notable donor agencies, PACAC and indeed the lift up of the government’s anti-corruption drive would have remained a theoretical idea for quite some time.
That Innocent was eventually ambushed by an unexpected leukemia, a health challenge that sneaked behind the global focus and attention to COVID-19, is indicative of the providential and domineering hand of fate in the affairs of men. Just this January, he finished strong at Ford Foundation as Regional Director and had concluded plans to proceed to Oxford in the U.K. for a fellowship programme. Indeed, his former position at Ford Foundation was yet to be filled by a substantive director before the cold hands of death snatched him.
In celebration of that milestone service at Ford Foundation, a memorable virtual send-forth was organised for him on Friday, January 29. The event revealed that he was a man associated with many firsts, having being part of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), unarguably Nigeria’s first human rights organisation, from where he left to set up CLEEN Foundation, one of the first African CSOs to focus on security, public safety and justice. CLEEN led the advocacy for community policing that has now become one of the inevitable solutions to Nigeria’s current security challenges. Innocent used his gift, knowledge and leverage within the civil society space to lift and mentor a number of other activists and organisations, often working behind the scenes but nevertheless ensuring impact with his eyes on the ultimate goal of democratic sustainability and the development agenda.
Without notice, he suddenly reached his “Bus Stop” and disembarked! Fading away like the star of the early morning and a lighted candle “mistakenly” left in the open and blown out by the wind. Who can question that? As the popular saying goes, “Quo sera sera” “What will be, will be.”
Most recently, the Ford Foundation provided support to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to advance its prevention work around illicit financial flows and associated corruption and money laundering, and to strengthen its capacity to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual harassment as abuse of power, especially in the public service and tertiary institutions.
While eulogies will not resurrect the dead, contributions to national development will remain indelible and undeniable. We can only be remembered by what we have done. This ought to, in the minimum, motivate the living to carefully number our days so we may daily apply our hearts to wisdom. Innocent has left footprints in the sands of time, especially here in Nigeria and in Africa. But, it has pleased God that service at Ford Foundation would be the terminal point of his earthly sojourn. Without notice, he suddenly reached his “Bus Stop” and disembarked! Fading away like the star of the early morning and a lighted candle “mistakenly” left in the open and blown out by the wind. Who can question that? As the popular saying goes, “Quo sera sera” “What will be, will be.” For those left to mourn and reflect these mysteries, we ought to remind ourselves frequently – for whom does the bell toll? The answer as they say “is blowing in the wind”.
I extend my condolences to Josephine, the children, extended family, friends and colleagues, especially in the civil society space. May God comfort all with words that human minds cannot fathom.
Adieu, Innocent the son of Chukwuma, dear friend and brother.
Bolaji Owasanoye (SAN), is the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
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