By Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, Ph.D.
Words had failed me to express my shock at Innocent ‘s untimely passage. Only a day earlier, I had written a heart-rending elegy, mourning my friend and our fallen irrepressible hero, Comrade Yinka Odumakin
Shortly thereafter, Innocent joined him. Who next ? No one knows. Innocent was not so innocent when it came to fighting injustice and societal ills.
He was thoroughly ruthless. His ever smiling face,calm mien and admirable carriage were ready tools he deployed to demolish institutional decadence and governance decay.
We had spoken only in February ,during which occasion he told me about his home-return after completing his Ford Foundation assignment.
He had been the West African Representative of Ford Foundation. At this Foundation, he took on headlong, pro-masses causes across Africa.
Innocent did not however forget his own roots, the causes of his beleaguered country folks, including local Aba folks.
He attracted projects that put a smille on many wrinkled faces. When we spoke in February, Innocent had promised to see me at a later date. To compare notes.To review the struggle. The struggle for the soul of Nigeria.
A country rapaciously messed up by roguish leaders. But, Innocent is gone now. Innocent was one of the earliest staff we employed after late Emma Ezeazu, when six of us, patriotic young Nigerians, pioneered the first ever human rights organisation in Nigeria – the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), on the 15th of October, 1987.
Olisa Agbakoba, SAN (President); Clement Nwankwo (Secretary); Mike Ozekhome,SAN (Director of Legal Services); Abdul Oroh, then of the Guardian (Director of Organisation); Richard Akinola, then of the Vanguard (Director of Publicity); and Emmanuel Erhakpotobor, a lawyer (Treasurer).
Dedicated and extremely hardworking, Innocent stood up when others sat; and flew when others stood up. He literally singlehandedly wrote CLO annual reports bordering on unwholesome Police activities.
This headstart may have propelled him to venture later, into deeper Police reform matters, leading to his CLEEN Foundation to promote public safety, security and access to justice. And he excelled in this new passion.
Chukwuma was lucid and prolific. He possessed breadth and depth in analysis. Innocent was simply luminous and incandescent in his relationship with his seniors and colleagues at the CLO. He wore humility like a second skin.
The founder of CLEEN was indeed CLEAN. Innocent, you and Yinka who went shortly before you, do us a favour ;just one favour. Help us convey our sorrow, tears, blood, pains, pangs and groans as a beleaguered country, to our earlier fallen heroes.
Tell Mama Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo and Gambo Sawaba that Nigeria is today a laughing stock before international circles.
Tell Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Abami Eda) that one akara ball or dodo slize is no longer “20 kobo per one”, as he once sang in the 80s. Each now sells for 10 naira and above. Tell him that the Kobo (the lowest,once-upon-a-time proud denominator of our National currency) is now extint.
Shock Fela with the ugly news that even the Kobo’s elder brothers, the 5 naira, 10 naira and 20 naira notes, are no longer in circulation. They are almost non legal tenders.
Tell him that the 50 naira and 100 naira notes are hemorrhaging, struggling for existential survival in a badly ruined economy virtually on a recession (is it depression? ) life-support machine.
Go and look for rights Activists, Emma Ezeazu and Chima Ubani (both former Executive Directors of CLO), Bagauda Kaltho (one of the earliest martyrs of the struggle), Baba Omojola (of the “Kuje 5” national embarrassment), Public Interest Litigation lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, and Comrade Ayodele Akele, that Nigeria is miles worse off today than they left it.
Go out in the spirit world, and take our pains to Labour leaders, Dr Michael Imoudu, Nduka Eze, Gogo Nzeribe, Mayirue Kolagbodi, et al. Ask of Educationist, Dr Tai Solarin; leftists Mogwugo Okoye, Dr Tunji Otegbeye, Festus Iyayi, Eskor Toyo, Edwin Madunagu, Arthur Nwankwo, Ikenna Nzimiro, Niyi Oniororo, Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, Kunle Adepeju, Balarabe Musa, Comrade Ola Oni, Bade Onimode, Molara Ogundipe, Adebayo Olukoshi and Buchi Emecheta and narrate our woes to them.
Inform Chike Obi, Chinua Achebe, J.P. Clark, General Murtala Muhammed, Dora Akunyuli and Okwudibia Nnoli about our state of nadir.
Specifically, tell Achebe that his epic, “The Trouble With Nigeria ” is now Children’s playbook when compared with the present monstrosity of Nigeria’s troubles.
Prompt People’s Lawyer, Kanmi Isola-Osobu, Dr Tunji Otegbeye, Dr Tunji Braithwaite, Prof Sam Aluko and Chief Chris Okolie, about Nigeria’s unending travails. Cry to the then Consiece of the Nation, legendary icon,Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM, that Nigeria is more battered today than he reluctantly left it on September 5, 2009.
Seek out fire-spitting Bekolori Ransome-Kuti, founder of Campaign for Democracy (CD) and let him know that after his exit on February 10, 2006, his medical turf where he started his radical activism, first, as Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos Branch, and later as its National Chairman, is now in shambles.
Impress on him that even President Muhammadu Buhari is currently sojourning abroad in the UK for medical treatment, because he knows Nigeria’s medical facilities are in comatose.
Tell him that even First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, once claimed that Aso Villa Clinic which is annually funded with billions of naira did not even have ordinary bandages and panadol.
Tell the angels to show you the abode of “Mr Farewell to Poverty “, Chief M.K O. Abiola, (whose life was brutally cut short inside Aso Villa in questionable eerie circumstances), that even his ultimate price of redemptive messianism, and for messianic redemption, has not satiated nor propiated the bacchanalian appetite and propensity of the gods, deities and Chief Priests that adorn our corridors of power.
Seek out the Nigerian version of the Ancient Greek Queen of Halicarnassus, Artemisia 1 of Caria (480 BC), Mrs Kudirat Abiola,and reassure her that her innocent blood that was cruelly spilled through a dastardly assassination, near the old Lagos toll gate, on June 6,1996, while her husband MKO,was held in captivity, will never be in vain.
In case we are not tasking you too much, tell MKO, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, that more blood is being spiled today, more than ever before, surpassed perhaps, only by the 3 year bloody Nigerian-Biafran civil war in which over 3 million lives were gruesomely sacrificed on the alter of a fundamentally fractured contraption called Nigeria.
Ask Abiola to wake up Flora Louisa Shaw (later Mrs Lord Lugard), and ask her how and why she conjured up the name “Nigeria” for the British Protectorate formerly called the Royal Niger Company Protectorate, in an article she wrote in The Times, on January 8,1897.
Yinka and Innocent, exhume the bones of Lord Lugard,wake him up, shake him, and ask him why he forcibly cobbled together ill-prepared, unwilling and divergent Nations and Nationalities who were already proudly autonomous and independent with their globally respected systems of government.
Remind him of the historic exploits of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of the great Benin Kingdom, who had beaten the British with bare knuckles, leading to the Benin Punitive Expedition of February 9,1897, made up of 1,200 British Force under Sir Harry Rawson.
Drum it to Lugard that there already existed in imperial splendour, King Nana of Itsekiri, Queen Idia, King Jaja of Opobo, Queen Amina, Ile-Ife, the Oyo Empire, the Kanem-Bornu Empire with El Kanemi of Bornu and Ibn Idris Alooma.
Educate him that King Kosoko, Madam Tinubu, etc, were already well known as great historical icons. These people, Kingdoms and and Empires already reigned supreme in their various domains without let, hindrance or external manipulations.
Don’t feel we are troubling you please. Kindly open your history books and teach them about the independent Hausa and Igbo City States that were self-sufficient before the January1, 1914 forcible amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates to found Nigeria.
With tears in your eyes, knock at the doors of our forebear Nationalists, Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli, Nnamdi Azikiwe,Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Anthony Enahoro (who moved Nigeria’s motion for independence on 1953); Aminu Kano, K.O.Mbadiwe ,Ladoke Akintola, Mbonu Ojike, Adegoke Adelabu; Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, Dr Akanu Ibiam, Dr Michael Okpara Oba Akenzua, Dr Dennis Osadebey, Jereton Mariere, Kensington Momoh, Okotie-Eboh, Gaius Obaseki, etc, and show them your bloodied bodies.
But,let me assure you, Yinka and Innocent, that beyond these litany of woes and sea of lachrymal effusion, those of us that you left behind are now more determined than ever before. We may be quite few and in-between. But, I can assure you that you left behind a human rights and pro-democracy movement that is resolutely unbowed, uncowed and undeterred.
Be rest assured that the values you both stood for whilst alive will be nurtured and jealously guarded, because they are inerasible. We mourn both of you. No doubt, we are pained by your early departure. But, we are consoled that your lofty legacies will outlive you .
Rest in peace, Yinka and Innocent till we meet on resurrection day, to part no more. Adieu, Mr Afenifere mouthpiece.Farewell Mr CLEEN🙏🙏.