My Name is Dr Olisa Agbakoba, founding President of Nigeria’s first and premier human rights organisation and at the time the third busiest NGO in the world, behind Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
So we started off in 1987 with a small team, not clear of the future direction until a bundle of talents arrived brought along by the late Emma Ezeazu , successor Secretary to co founder of CLO, Clement Nwankwo.
The team that came are too many to mention here but Late Chima Ubani was first in, then Lanre Emma Ogaga and many more like Felix Chidi Joe. Much later along came new intakes.
That’s when Innocent came in as an NYSC intern. He was assigned to police research singlehanded writing our important Annual Police Reports.
I recall he wrote one of the early reports in 7 straight days without break. Absolutely committed to his work, he was to demonstrate uncommon zeal during the June 12 protests. CLO in collaboration with CDHR with Late Beks has Chair, created on the inspiration of Emma Ezeazu and Chima Ubani, the massive protest vehicle known as the Campaign for Democracy (CD) where I served as deputy Chair.
Now, we had a big protest when June 12 was annulled. So we formed the protest secretariat at the boys quarters of Professor Sagays house at Alaba Estate, Surulere, manned by Ogaga and Chima. Deployment of our people then followed with Innocent named as Commander of Apapa Axis.
We absolutely took control of Lagos. The legend, which I have never confirmed was that when Innocent was engaged with the police in a massive street protest in Apapa, he got arrested handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police Van.
Now it is said that Innocent. disassembled the handcuff, regained freedom and escaped. I don’t know if this is true but escape he did with a mark on his left hand to show for it!!! The protest movement played a significant role in the liberation of Nigeria the led to democracy inNigeria in 1999.
Innocent was right in the thick of all this and this is something that will remain on our record in perpetuity. Of course as a result of Innocents skills as a specialist in Police reforms it was no suprise that NOPRIN and CLEEN, came along.
Without question Innocent was very easily Nigeria,s most authoritative voice on policing . It was no surprise he became appointed, if I recollect, the first Nigerian head Of the Regional Office of Ford Foundation.
He was involved in so many projects around Nigeria including his pet project to empower the youths at Owerri. We often discussed the need to write our story Ayo Obe and Abdul Oroh took part in these discussions. I hope soon enough one of us will tell our story as there is so much to say. I was close to one of Innocent,s daughters, Chidinma. I know how devastated she is. I know her Sisters are Devastated. I know that Joesphine, Innocent’s absolutely loyal wife, and a human rights champion in her own right is devastated.
A couple of lessons we must take from this. Life is fleeting. Very. Imagine. Innocent went about his daily life apparently full of health but without an incline of what was going on inside him. I almost suffered the same. So regular checks is advisable .
Second is we in the human rights community will need to think about a process to tell our story . What we did needs to be recalled and shared for all to realize the heerculean role that we played in the 1980,s . This will be a fitting memorial to Innocent . May the memory of Innocents life be a blessing and perpetual light shine upon him Amen