By Chim Ogwutum
VC Rivers State University, Prof Nlerum Okogbule delivering the keynote lecture
Activists from various human rights organizations, NGOs and the media converged at Humanity House, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Saturday, May 8, to honour their fallen colleague, Anyakwee Nsirimovu who bowed out last year.
In his welcome address the Institute’s executive director, Mr. Courage Nsirimovu thanked all for coming stressing that the event was a celebration.
He said, “Today marked the one year memorial of our boss, Anyakwee Nsirimovu , who transited this world on May 8, 2020. Today is not a speech making day, it’s also not a day of mourning, but a day to celebrate our boss, his legacies, and what he stood for. We will learn from the legacies of Anyakwee Nsirimovu, especially on Human Rights and Democracy.”
In his lecture on the theme of the event: “Anyakwee Nsirimovu: An Attempt to Change the World through Advocacy for Human Rights and Good Governance”, the guest speaker and chairman of the occasion, Vice Chancellor, Rivers State University, Professor Nlerum Okogbule, recalled that he had known Anyakwee Nsirimovu on the challenging but progressive endeavour for human rights and good governance for over 30 years.
A group photograph
Prof Okogbule noted that Anyakwee’s commitment to the struggle for the respect and protection of human rights in the country was total and, in many respects, infectious, adding that the activist was always willing to make sacrifices, to the extent of self-denial of basic necessities of life.
The vice chancellor further stressed: “That he was able within the short period of his stay on this planet earth to achieve so much speaks to his dynamism, commitment and passion for human rights and good governance.”
He recalled that Anyakwee started his struggle from an uncompleted building along Ikwerre Road, Port Harcourt, in a very challenging situation as Nigeria was then under military rule, and the challenges of human rights activism in such an environment was better imagined than experienced. And in spite of that, Anyakwee was undaunted and carried on with the assignment in the best way possible under the military environment.
According to Prof Okogbule, with the support of funding agencies such as Ford Foundation and Mac Arthur Foundation, Anyakwee continued with the struggle and eventually moved to Railway Close, D/Line, before finally setting up the permanent Humanity Suite.
Mrs Anyakwee (first right), Mr. Celestine Akpobari and Emem Okon
“Within this time frame he was able to put issues of human rights and good governance on the front burner of national and international discourse.
“In the early days, we would be involved in seminars/workshops organized by the Institute as resource persons. For those of us in human rights activism, it was our own way of contributing and supporting human rights education in the country. He organized series of workshops in Port Harcourt, and these were at times moved to other towns outside Port Harcourt. In furtherance of human rights education scheme, the Institute appointed paralegals in all the local government areas of the state, and some towns in neighbouring states such as Bayelsa, Delta and Abia.
“These paralegals served as agents for the propagation of the gospel of human rights as ably articulated by Anyakwee Nsirimovu,” Prof Okogbule noted.
In addition, the professor of International Law pointed out that Nsirimovu was also in the forefront of efforts to end the militancy in the Niger Delta, saying that at very great risk to his life, he agreed and served the Nigerian Government in the disarmament programme for repentant militants.
Celestine Akpobari speaking
The implementation of this programme, he insisted saw Nsirimovu traverse the swamps and mangrove forests of the Niger Delta, to discuss with and convince the militants to lay down their arms, and to the glory of God, he was largely successful in the apparently risky assignment.
The human rights activist stated that Nsirimovu was also in the forefront of the efforts to enthrone democracy and good governance in the country, and worked with other human rights organizations such as Civil Liberties Organization, Committee for the Defence of Human of Rights, and similar organizations, within and outside the country.
“In the quest for the enthronement of democracy, he was arrested severally during the dark days of military rule in the country. It is pertinent to mention that during this period of military rule when he was being harassed and his office and residential house frequently searched, some members of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) abandoned the cause of the Institute. Indeed, one board member specifically requested and insisted that his name be removed from the headed paper of the Institute because of undue harassment by the military. That was how I accepted, and became chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Institute. Nsirimovu nevertheless, weathered throughout all these challenges,” Prof Okogbule recalled.
The university don maintained that the democratic process in Nigeria and Africa in general, has been so terribly compromised and manipulated that what we now practice is not even a semblance of democracy as it’s known in political theory. He added that the present form of representative democracy has been made so alien to the masses that their presence at polling units has become largely irrelevant. The periodic appearance of voters at the polling units, he observed, has become mere ritualized conferment of legitimacy to an obviously illegitimate and pre-determined electoral outcome, he added, pointing out that political offices have become so lucrative that contestation for occupation of such offices is usually a matter of life and death, hence litigations and crises often trail elections in the country.
Together for Anyakwee
“There is an overwhelming need for democratic re-engineering in Africa in order to have a more inclusive political process that sufficiently incorporates the ordinary African in the political governance structure,” he argued.
Prof Okogbule, however, stated that Anyakwee Nsirimovu, having concluded his assignment and departed , it is left to others to see how to extend the frontiers of activism, especially now that the country is going through a very challenging period threatening its corporate existence as a country.
Okogbule, thus submitted: “A large part of this problem can be resolved if the leadership of the country can go back and adhere to the First Principles of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“These national and international instruments have adequate provisions that will guarantee respect for human rights in the country and promote good governance. The challenge had been our utter neglect of the working s and tenets of these very important legal instruments. The government must demonstrate consciousness of the fact that the primary purpose of governance is the security and welfare of the citizens.
“Today, we do not seem to have a government that is genuinely committed to adhering to these basic principles of political governance. It is only when the Federal Government returns to give flesh to these First Principles that the impending implosion of this country can be averted.” Okogbule insisted that the struggle for human rights must continue.
Speaking on the life and times of Anyakwee Nsirimovu, a notable human rights activist, Celestine Akpobari expressed appreciation to God for being with the family of late Nsirimovu, and for giving them the courage to maintain his legacy.
Akpobari stressed that Nsirimovu left behind a very big shoe, creating a gap that would be difficult to fill. He lamented that in Nigeria, life does not matter anymore as the country has degenerated so much virtually in everything, and with frightening level of insecurity occasioned by terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Herdsmen, ESN, Amotokun, and others.
“If Anyakwee was alive, he would have invited people from all over and we would look into what is happening. Anyakwee started this struggle during the military era, and he opened our eyes,” he noted.
The Ogoni Solidarity Front leader He thanked all the comrades present, stressing that it is time to bring in people into the human rights community while a female activist, Emem Okon, who is the Executive Director of Kebetkache Women Resource Centre, recalled that she worked with the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law before starting her NGO in 1996. She said what made the IHRHL unique was its human rights education programme which it pursued vigorously, and advised that the Institute should reconsider going back into main stream human rights like activities like community advisory, and paralegal services.
“For us to consider the legacy, we should introduce short term courses on human rights as it is important, and that way, we can make the Institute live up to its expectation,” she suggested. Emem Okon, also added that IHRHL should also introduce women’s human rights and child’s rights law in its curriculum to make it more effective and resourceful.
She thanked the management for pushing the Institute forward since the exit of Nsirimovu, pointing out that IHRHL is one of the earliest human rights organizations in the country.
Programme Director, Centre for Environment, Human Rights And Development (CEHRD), Styvn Obodoekwe, in his contribution, described late Nsirimovu as a very unique person, adding that his number one legacy is the Institute which he founded. To immortalize him, Obodoekwe said the IHRHL must continue to function. He said the second legacy the human rights activist left behind are his offspring, which according to him, constitute of the mass of those that worked with him, and must keep the work going.
The activist and journalist condemned completely, the horrible issue of herder/farmers clash, saying it is a narrative created to deceive everybody. He lamented a situation where someone is in his farm/ house, and somebody emerges from nowhere to kill him. “We should begin to correct this narrative which they use to deceive us,” he changed.
Other speakers such as the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO zonal leader, Karl Chinedu and chairman of the Rivers State Coalition of Civil Society Organizations and Comrade Enefaa Georgewill spoke glowingly about Anyakwee Nsirimovu, saying he influenced their lives in the humanity struggle.
Giving an overview of IHRHL, executive director of the Institute, Courage Nsirimovu said, “The Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law is a non-governmental organization with a goal to promote, popularize and sustain Human Rights and Democratic values here in Nigeria and globally”.
According to him, IHRHL was instituted by Anyakwee Nsirimovu since 1988, after he returned from Lagos where he was working with Civil Liberties Organization with the likes of Olisa Agbakoba SAN.
Highlight of the event was the presentation of certificates to graduands of the Institute by Celestine Akpobari and wife of the late Nsirimovu.