Tribute: The Innocent Chukwuma I knew
By Tony Opara
Writing a tribute for one so impactful as Innocent Chukwuma can indeed be daunting. I met Innocent Chukwuma through my friend and someone I have abiding respect for, Edetaen Ojo. Ojo, whom we fondly call Edet was a very close friend and later close neighbour of Innocent’s.
They came to see me one fateful Sunday afternoon at Champion Newspaper Group where I was Senior Judiciary Correspondent. We had some discussion centred around my coming over to CLEEN Foundation to take over editing the CLEEN Law Enforcement Review. I gave my employers the required notice and thereafter resumed at the Afolabi Aina office.
Interestingly I resumed alongside the newly recruited accountant, Gloria and we moved over to Abuja for a mmeting. It was the early months of the President Obasanjo administration. Innocent being a law enforcement strategist sought to lay the foundation for what was called Policing a Democracy. That one week meeting in Abuja led to the book titled Policing a Democracy which he charged me to write though he and another friend and brilliant lawyer, Ogaga Ifowodo proof read the book. No one can deny that Innocent can encourage you to fight a lion while he will be by the sidelines encouraging and cheering you on.
As soon as we came back from Abuja he asked me to represent CLEEN at another training programme in the Gambia. Innocent taught me how to focus. He was single minded and will give full attention to any matter that is in focus at the moment. Though I was hired to edit the Law Enforcement Review, he made me into a Programme Manager with focus on Police Community Partnership and under his strategic thinking we criss crossed Nigeria establishing Police Community Partnership Committees.
That he was a hard worker is incontestable. He led from the front. Together we went to such interior locations like Ipokia, home of former Chairman of CLEEN, Ambassador Maliki who also joined us in the establishment of some of these Committees. Ambassador Maliki was a jolly good fellow who liked Innocent like a son. He always told me how he loved Innocent’s tenacity and focus. Another person I recall that loved Innocent was former Police PRO, Frank Odita.
My years at CLEEN will remain indelible. It was while I was at CLEEN that I saw and married my wife. I remember clearly that Innocent my boss and his delectable wife Josephine presided over the cutting of our wedding cake some 18 years ago. Innocent will always be in my memory. Last time I saw him physically was at Edet’s fiftieth birthday. At that occasion he told the story of their friendship. I noticed that Edet and Innocent shared an uncommon bond of friendship. He was a man that was always there for his friends. While I edited the LER both of us also conducted some critical interviews.
I remember getting to his Ikeja home one early morning at about 6.30 am. When I got there he was ready and waiting for me. That early, we went to interview General (rtd) Ishola Williams at Iju. The interview was for an edition of LER. Later when he needed me to focus on being a programme manager he asked me to find a good journalist to take over editing LER hence Chijioke Odom, an award winning journalist from the Guardian came on board and brought an intellectual bent to LER.
Innocent Chukwuma was simply an iconoclast. He was an activist with a difference, a man who was comfortable in delegating responsibilities. I remember a programme we ran in conjunction with the Lagos State government to support the Neighbourhood Watch. He had an invitation to attend a programme in Israel. He left the entire programme in my care and I recall Major Panox who was Adviser on Security matters to Jagaban Tinubu scoring CLEEN very highly on our support to the state government. Innocent was an enigma. His death is painful and the human rightsand civil society community has lost a strategic thinker of no mean repute. Indeed he is a force of nature according to his friend and other half.
Tony Opara contributed this tribute to his boss, Innocent Chukwuma, founder of CLEEN Foundation who died at the age of fifty five years on April 3rd 2021.