#Article (Archive)

Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme: Born Human Rights Champio

Mar 26, 2008, 1:22 PM | Article By: By Augustine Kanjia

Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, born in a family of nine and the second in his family. One would say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth taking the fact that his parents had enough financially and educationally to see the family through. The family though hoping for their children to become priests in the Catholic Mission could not get little Edwin to become one he rather chose the path his parents were on, that is Human and Peoples Rights activist, for what his father was killed. Inside Gambia in an encounter with Edwin tells his story as to how it happened from the beginning to now. He points out his desire for the continent and shows his mentor among leaders. Read on wards to reach this wonderful Human Rights worker.

EIG: What about your early beginnings in line with your job sir?

Edwin NN: I was born in a royal family in Nigeria. I had the best of education parents can give to their children. I am married with two boys and two girls. My dad had wanted me to be a Catholic priest, which is common among the Igbos. I entered the Seminary and bagged a BA in Philosophy from the PontificalUniversity in Rome. I left the seminary and went to the University of Calaba, CrossRiverState of Nigeria. I wanted to read International Relations by then it was not offered there. I then switched to Political Science.

EIG: What were your interests in the University?

Edwin NN: While in the University, I was the coordinator of the Amnesty International. I formed the Pan African Youth Movement in the University as well you can now see my interest.

EIG: Why only Human Rights?

Edwin NN: The essence of this was due to the human rights abuses that was going on in the campus, both from the students, lecturers and lecturers' attitude towards lecturing, was a serious cause for concern.

EIG: Who are your mentors in your career?

Edwin NN: I have so much love for the likes of those who fought for the rights and dignity of Africans, in the likes of Kwame Nkruma, Doctor Nnandi Azikiwe, Patrice Lumumba and Saikou Touray. These people had a special vision for Africa as to how Africa can move as one block and how to see how the youth of today can be the reality future leaders of tomorrow. All these are what made me change from Pan African Youth Movement to Africa in Democracy and Good Governance - ADG. This was born to be able to go beyond the youth and to broaden it to cater for all aspects. My parents are very active human rights workers, infact my father died as a result, they inspired me a lot.

EIG: What did you start doing after your university studies?

Edwin NN: I worked with the Civil Liberty Organisation at River State Branch as Deputy Coordinator. I also worked with Social Communication, at the Archdiocese of Onitsha, South Eastern Nigeria. I moved to the then Justice and Peace Commission now called Justice Development and Peace Commission and worked as deputy Coordinator at the Apapa zone. I have also worked with street children in Cameroon. It was a kind of difficult task. I was moved by news about Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her passion for street kids. I picked it up then. It is not easy to work with street children. One needs lots of capital. Some of them come from broken homes gripped with poverty. They would run away if they are not cared for. Others were on the street because of extreme poverty and others were orphans.

EIG: How did you make a head way then in the midst of small resources?

Edwin NN: During the period, I received encouragement from His Eminence Bishop Christian Cardinal Tuni, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cameroon. Most of these children were forced to prostitution, stealing, some tried to form robbery gangs. I for saw their rights were violated in many ways.

EIG: Where are the kids today?

Edwin NN: Well, I left them with some Sisters called Daughters of Divine Love (DDL). I left them when I decided to take up my Human Rights job. But I believe one day I will be able to let my organisation grow to have a rehabilitation home.

EIG: What is the motivation behind your desire for Human Rights work?

Edwin NN: In today's world, what is called social and political injustice, I told you my university experience. I come from a place where police brutality was often perpetrated. Let me tell you a story, of a true-life experience that I had in Lagos. A man and his wife were in a car when suddenly a military man came and hit them. The military man came down and beat the man with "Koboko" (A string). He knew that the man was a helpless civilian he beat him and broke his windscreen. No one could help. It pained me a lot.It is a clear manifestation of the violation on human rights. Some cases are unjustly treated in the police many are in prisons innocently. Coming to power they go down to shake the electorates hands but when they become presidents they change.It is also in our family. My father died in the same human rights activism. My mum is fighting for the rights of families. She heads Family Rights Initiative in Nigeria. All these help to get me into Human Rights activities.

EIG: How big is your organisation?

Edwin NN: The organisation is called Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG). It is established in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and South Africa. It will eventually take root all over.

EIG: Since you got into defending Human Rights have you made any impact?

Edwin NN: You know change comes gradually. We have made steady changes though we have not gone on air. We write letters to governments and we dialogue. It's not easy! Most governments see human rights workers as from the West that are paid to go against them. We are not like that. We don't believe in confrontation we believe in dialogue.

EIG: How do you see the challenges of your university day in terms of abuses that you stood for and the broader ones today?

Edwin NN: I must say that things have changed a lot. There was no democracy then. It was the military. If you say something the SSS would come by you. They often see that you are expelled, but due to democracy and the training and sensitisation, people are trying their best. This is the result of development in democracy.

EIG: Have you added your voice to Africa's woes in the international community?

Edwin NN: Not necessarily to the international community because they support most of the acts. The international community includes mostly the United States and Europe. Where does the gun and ammunition come from? It comes from the West. I have said that the West must stop supplying arms to Africa. They always give flimsy excuses. They could stop the genocide in Dafor but due to but due to the oil they will do nothing about it. They exchange food for oil. Like what happened in Iraq. Africa lacks the political will. If they see a person trying to bring development they class him as an opposition, they try to put him or her down. ECOWAS came together and cub the rebel invasion in Sierra Leone and Liberia led by Nigeria. That was a good sign for Africans to solve their own problems.

EIG: Whom do you think should be blamed for Africa's problems then?

Edwin NN: Africa should be blamed for its own problems. This deals with common sense and pure initiative, if you don't make use of your initiative you should not shift the blame on others even when others cause it. The white people play a greater part. Take Nigeria for example; Britain undermined democracy in Nigeria. They are mostly responsible for some tribal conflicts in that country. You can't continue to arrest people cause you have the barrels in your hands. We have enlightened Africans today, they could say no. We can be reawakened and pursue the goals of our founding fathers. They succeeded in killing our striving people, e.g. Patrice Lumumba, John Garrang and more. They use your people against you.

EIG: Any advice to governments that are against Human Rights?

Edwin NN: They should uphold the integrity of their constitutions, which they swore to while assuming office and have a profound respect for the rule of law. They should encourage an open society and public participation. The issue of transparency and accountability should be their watch - word and moreover, they should come with tangible programmes and policies that will empower the youth to take over the democratic and governance system while they would be there to guide them.

EIG: Any advice to the citizens of the continent?

Edwin NN: They should be able to stand up for their rights. They should try to resist all forms of intimidation and come up with ideas that can promote government policies and governance structures. The issue of citizenship should be done away with by Africans but also try to work hard towards the promotion of regional integration. It is pretty difficult to travel through the sub region.

EIG: Have you raised your voice in line with difficulties faced at borders in the sub region and Africa as a whole?

Edwin NN: At the AU Summit in Accra recently, I sounded so different. I said the problem is not one African government. As I had stated in the magazine that governments are wasting their time and money. Africans find it so difficult travelling on road. I always ask what is done with the money they collect, is it for a visa fee or what? This is not only in West Africa but also all over. They need to harmonise African integration first.

EIG: Anything else you want to talk about that we left out?

Edwin NN: Yes! The problem of Africa today is the failure of leadership. The rule of law is a bastard, it is born of many wayward fathers, it itself socially delinquent and morally bankrupt.

We need people who can help us at the frontiers of our borders and they should help us safeguard our nation. These are the government and its agencies, the law - makers and the judiciary. It is only to learn to respect the rule of law and uphold our constitutions, then Africa would be nearing the target of democracy and good governance.

EIG: Thanks a lot sir.

Edwin NN: You are welcome!