By Okeke Jane
Foremost human rights and constitutional lawyer, Chief (Barr.) Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has been inducted as the first National Grand patron of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA.
Speaking at the induction ceremony, National Coordinator of HURIWA, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the decision to appoint a national grand patron was necessitated by the ever rising intricacies and complexities of challenges facing human rights defense and advocacy in Nigeria, particularly at this present time, when issues of freedom of expression is under threat in the country.
Onwubiko added that the choice of Ozekhome was informed by the fact that the group needed, at this auspicious time, a versatile human rights veteran who has been in the battlefield for more than two decades, who can serve as a model and one who can from time to time give the group a sense of direction and also support it intellectually and otherwise.
He stressed that, “In Nigeria today, there is no doubt that Chief Mike Ozekhome has stepped into the big shoe left behind by the father of human rights, Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi.”
“Everybody knows that Chief Mike is a voice of the voiceless and when he speaks, the authorities listen. He doesn’t speak for the rich alone but speaks for the poor.
“We are here to draw from his fountain and wealth of experience, and we are very delighted that he accepted the request,” Onwubiko stated.
The rights group also commended the Senior Advocate of Nigeria for what he did during the Christmas period where he gave empowerment tools to young people of his community.
It stressed that if every other highly successful individual can emulate Ozekhome’s gesture, it will go a long way making life more bearable for the people at the grassroots and also reduce unemployment.
In his reaction, chief Ozekhome thanked HURIWA for the great honour bestowed on him.
The human rights lawyer, who described Onwubiko as one of the best journalists and human rights writers ever produced in Nigeria, also said that he is a genuine nationalist who should be encouraged and supported to excel in his chosen cause.
Ozekhome recalled the dark days when Onwubiko was still a senior editor in the guardian newspaper and how he joined them in the trenches to fight the repressive rule of the then military dictatorship.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria responded that though it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for him to fit into the shoes of the late sage, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was an icon of human rights, he would however do his best possible to live up to the responsibility placed on him by this honour.
He bemoaned the present regime of General Mohammadu Buhari (Rtd.) for suppressing people’s freedom of speech and human rights upon which it rose to power saying it is unfortunate that Nigerians now talk in whispers because they are afraid to freely express themselves in public.