Dedicated campaigner for Nigeria’s reform
Chima Ubani, who died in a motor accident on 21st September 2005 aged 42, was a leader of the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria and a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Until his death, he was the executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria’s premier human rights organisation.
Born in Abia state, eastern Nigeria, Ubani was the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor. Charismatic and intelligent, he became a student leader in the 1980s. He graduated in crop science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1988, and took an MA in mass communication at Leicester University in 2002. He joined the Civil Liberties Organisation in Lagos as a researcher in 1990 after completing the national youth service. He later rose to the position of Executive Director in 2003.
According to a tribute by Guardian, Ubani came into the limelight in 1993, when the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida annulled a presidential election to return Nigeria to civilian rule. He helped to bring various human rights organizations together under one umbrella group, the Campaign for Democracy(CD), and served as the General Secretary of the group. He also joined the campaign against oil companies in the Niger Delta, supporting such activists as the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995.
In February 1994, Ubani’s house and office were raided by security agents, and a report on women and children in Nigerian prisons which he had co-authored was confiscated. He went on the run, but was arrested and imprisoned in 1995, after which his case was taken up by Amnesty International.
The following year, he was released and went to Britain for medical treatment, before returning to Nigeria. After the death of General Sani Abacha in 1998, Ubani worked to ensure a return to civilian rule. But he refused to accept the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 as a genuine return to democracy, and lampooned what he saw as a corrupt government that disregarded human rights.
In July 2000, in a case he brought against the Nigerian police, he was instrumental in the abrogation of a decree that allowed state security agents to detain people indefinitely. He also campaigned against extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian police and the use of capital punishment. On September 21, 2005, Ubani went to Maiduguri to join rallies held to protest the government’s hike in the prices of petroleum products. He lost his life the following day in an auto accident along Potiskum Road.
He is survived by his wife, Ochuwa, and four children.