About Innocent Chukwuma

Early Years

Innocent was born on February 6th, 1966 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Umuahia (now capital of Abia State) to the family of late Pa Dennis & Eileen Chukwuma of Umuodia village in Umuegwu-Mpam in Ahiazu local government area of Imo State. The fifth in a family of seven, Innocent had his primary education at St Stephen’s primary school; and secondary education at Holy Ghost College in Umuahia before proceeding to University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus for his undergraduate studies.

Like every child who grew up after the civil war, where every family had to start life with £20, regardless of how much they owned before the war, Innocent never had a childhood. He had to help from an early age in augmenting the family income through hawking and assisting his mother in trading. Helping his mother and putting a smile on her face daily, was Innocent’s joy. He did this in the mornings, and went to school in the afternoon. Through this, Innocent cut his tooth in entrepreneurship, which helped in later in life in being a serial social entrepreneur.

University Days & Student Activism

Innocent gained admission into UNN in 1986 to study Religion & Philosophy. In his second year he joined the radical student movement known as the Marxist Youth Movement, and through that joined students’ union politics and got elected Speaker of the UNN Student Union, as well as Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. Watching late Chima Ubani, then the President of the Students Union Government, SUG speaking at Zik House, influenced his joining the student union activism. He was among the student leaders across Nigerian campuses that led the national anti-SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) protest of 1988/89 which was the first organised national resistance against the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Structural Adjustment Programme that destroyed the social welfare movement in Nigeria.

As a result of the protest, Innocent and other student leaders from UNN were expelled and had to fight it out in court, to get re-instated in school. It was the late Gani Fawehinmi and Civil Liberties Organization, CLO that gave him free legal assistance, which got him back to school, and enable him graduate.

National Youth Service & CLO

On graduation, Innocent was posted to Monguno in Borno State for his National Youth Service, NYSC. He spent only a few months there, before deciding to relocate to Lagos, to join his friends and mentors in the students movement – Chima Ubani and Emma Ezeazu (both of blessed memory) – who at the time were working in Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, the foremost human rights organization in Nigeria. He got to Lagos and squatted with his friends at their two bed-room apartment in Fadeyi. He followed them to work daily, as a volunteer because he felt it was his way of saying thank you for the assistance rendered him. It was a year after that CLO employed him when they saw the report on police human rights abuses that he put together.

Innocent had thought his stay at CLO would be a brief stint. However he ended up working in CLO for six (6) years, rising from the position of an Assistant Programme Officer to Acting Executive Director before resigning in December 1997, to found CLEEN Foundation in January 1998.

While at CLO, Innocent was actively involved in various pro-democracy groups such as Campaign for Democracy, CD; Democratic Alliance, DA; Women in Nigeria, WIN etc. He was one of those who lobbied for sanctions against the military before the US Congress, the 1st Extraordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Kampala; the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, UNCHR etc.

The various international campaigns against the military, won him the prestigious Reebok Award in 1996. The award had a cash component of $25,000. Innocent when accepting the award, stated that it would be dedicated to setting up an organization that would focus on policing and law enforcement in Nigeria.

CLEEN Foundation

Innocent disengaged from CLO in December 1997, to found what was known then as Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria in January 1998. In the course of trying to register the name with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC the name was considered to be a challenge to government coming at the military rule and Abacha’s transition. So he had to settle for CLEEN Foundation (CLEEN still meaning Centre for Law Enforcement Education in Nigeria).

The idea to found CLEEN, was based on the identification of the need for an organization that would not only be chronicling the police abuse, but on that would also work with the police to change the police from a military police, to a civil one. He recognised the fact that years of military rule had militarised the police and that had to change. Running the police project of CLO for years, and learning that there were individual police officers that were not sadistic in their intentions to the community they served; that they lacked proper training which would enhance their capacity to deliver on the job; and admission of severe human rights abuses, under Coommassie during the first National Workshop on Law Enforcement & Human Rights in Nigeria, Innocent had his focus in setting up CLEEN Foundation, clearly cut out.

Cleen Foundation

Innocent set out in CLEEN to build partnerships between civil society and law enforcement agencies; pioneering institutional researches into law enforcement issues and sustaining it; and introducing COMMUNITY POLICING in Nigeria. He it was who took the then IGP, Tafa Balogun to Chicago on the bill of McArthur Foundation to visit and understudy community policing as practiced in the United States. CLEEN under him, carried out a review of the legal framework of the police in Nigeria. He set up an endowment fund/investments for the sustainability of CLEEN Foundation.


Innocent as a Serial Entrepreneur

Innocent had the MIDAS TOUCH. Anything he touched, turned to gold. He founded several platforms and groups which he handed over to other people to run. They include:

  • Transition Monitoring Group (with Clement Nwankwo, Edetaen Ojo, Festus Okoye etc)
  • Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria, NOPRIN
  • Altus Global Alliance
  • Alliances for Credible Elections, ACE
  • Oluaka Institute of Philanthropy
  • Impact Investors Foundation

Ford Foundation Years

In January 2013, Innocent joined Ford Foundation as the Regional Director for West Africa. Innocent was the first Nigerian to hold that position. In 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari was elected President, Innocent coordinated a strategic funding by Ford Foundation, McArthur Foundation and Open Society Institute for West Africa, OSIWA for the anti-corruption agenda of the government, and especially the work of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, (PACAC).

Under his transformational leadership, the West Africa office supported critical work with government at federal and state levels; and pioneered the hosting of difficult but important conversations on the civil war in Nigeria, its impact and the way forward. He also initiated ground-breaking work in the area of impact investing in West Africa with the sole purpose of leveraging resources from the private sector towards meeting the Sustainable development Goals, SDG. This led to the launching of the Impact Investors Foundation. He was a skilled grantmaker.

When COVID-19 struck in March 2020, Innocent reached out to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC and was a member of the ANAP Foundation COVID-19 Think Tank. Ford Foundation under him, supported the Lagos State government with vehicles to assist with contact tracing.

He recently retired from Ford Foundation (January 31st, 2021) after 8 years of meritorious service.

Marriage & Family

Innocent met his lovely wife of 23 years, Josephine (a feminist and women’s rights activist) in September 1996. Referred to as the 1st human rights couple in Nigeria, as they were the first activists to meet on the job and get married, Josephine and Innocent to all who knew them were inseparable.

In planning their wedding, they operated on the philosophy of equal founders and equal joiners’’. They both moved from their respective apartments into a place they jointly found and set up. Josephine and Innocent are blessed with three lovely children – Chidinma Ekanem, Amarachi Itu, and Nkechi Ama.