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A tribute to Innocent Chukwuma

By Ruth Olofin Words fail me to express how I feel about your death and to think that you have truly crossed over. Since the…

By Ruth Olofin

Words fail me to express how I feel about your death and to think that you have truly crossed over. Since the 3rd of April 2021 when I received the most shocking news in recent times, I have picked up my pen a few times to write this tribute but my tears have never stopped flowing. Am I really writing about you this way? You, who supported ideas, dreams and gave young people around you opportunities to thrive and be leaders? You who would pop into the office a few occasions you were in Abuja and just say hello and move on because you trusted us to manage the organisation the way you would do? At other times, we would only hear you came to Abuja and didn’t even get to the office. At the CLEEN Foundation’s 20th Anniversary night in 2018; you beamed with so much happiness and laughter at attaining that milestone. Who would not be happy seeing a baby that was conceived as an idea, birthed into existence and has grown to this stage and still going strong? Oga Innocent, it shouldn’t have been now.

My first contact with you was through a phone call in June 2015 which turned out to be an interview of some sorts for an advertised role in CLEEN Foundation. The outcome of that interaction got me an invitation to Lagos for the physical interviews. Although you were not on the panel, as you had to attend to other important business, you left me in the capable hands of other panel members. These were mainly Board members to engage me and determine the suitability for the position. A second internal interview for a higher position had you on the panel with some Board members and external persons. I could not imagine how you threw in a joke or two during that process to make it less tense. The rest they say is history and we are here today because you believed in us.

Your thoughtfulness as a leader is exceptional. I remember when I first introduced my spouse to you; after the usual pleasantries, you came close to me and whispered: I hope you reciprocate the same gestures to your husband? For me, that was profound! You knew the pressures of the sector and what that meant for working mothers with young children. Having to stay late in the office on some occasions to meet up with deadlines, travel and relying on the support of your partner to care for the home front amongst other demands of the sector. These are real issues and for me, it takes a considerate leader to look this direction. I recall also a meeting where you delivered a presentation. During the tea-break, you walked up to me and asked: how was my presentation? I think I was babbling! We both laughed and I said to myself: look at this walking encyclopaedia ‘wining’ me. I will miss your good humoured self.

As a Founder, you carried yourself with utmost level of humility and grace despite the global relevance you have attained. Each contact with Innocent Chukwuma at staff retreats and board meetings were moments of inspiration; moments that challenge you to think big and outside the box. A meeting with you is never complete without a section on the agenda to discuss ‘Next Big Ideas’, and maintaining thought leadership etc. From your vision alone to set up the CLEEN Foundation, many careers have been shaped. CLEEN is where it is today because you gave it the wings to fly.

As a scholar, your contribution to the literature on policing and justice sector reforms at the global, continental and national levels are outstanding and one that cannot be waived aside by every scholar of police studies especially. Who is writing or reading about policing in Africa for instance and haven’t come across some of your works? I was really looking forward to furthering a discussion with you now that you were supposedly retired from paid employment. Well, while I might have lost that opportunity through a physical interaction, I still believe you are alive and here with us through your works and your legacy. One would only need to turn to the literature to commune with you and see your line of thoughts on germane issues of public safety and security and how we can improve service delivery especially by officials of the Nigeria Police which you relentlessly supported.

Sir, I take solace in the fact that you lived a short, positive and impactful fifty-five (55) years. What your death has taught me is that, it is not how long but how well a man lives. Your death has caused us to reflect on the ephemeral nature of this life and what we need to do within the short period we are here since nothing is guaranteed. I will miss you dear Founder and I thank you for the beautiful times together. They were truly inspiring. I am here today because I stood on the shoulders of giants. One of those giants is Innocent Chukwuma.

Hmmm, the sun has set. A great man has retired.

Rest in peace, Rest in Power

Olofin is the Program Manager, CLEEN Foundation

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