Happy Birthday to My Mentor Chidi Odinkalu – Orji A. O. Chinedu

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As an Alumni of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), having Professor Akin Oyebode sing your praise should be counted as a great achievement, yet for Chidi Odinkalu, Prof could not hide how impressed he was with his performance as the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

Described as a leading member of the new generation of African legal minds  and one of Africa’s leading human rights lawyers, by a leading African newsweekly and Ike Okonta of Oxford University respectively, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu heads  the Africa Programme of the Open Society Justice Initiative and is the immediate past chairman of the  National Human Rights Commission.

Born on the 12th of June 1968, Chidi was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in November 1988, after obtaining his first degree in Law from the then Imo State University. He had his Masters Degree in law from the University of Lagos and his Ph.D. in law from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Following the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria, Odinkalu, a principal mover in the civil society response to the annulment as the then legal Director of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), was exiled to the United Kingdom where he pioneered the Africa and Middle East Programme of the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, INTERIGHTS.

The author of four books and over 60 other scholarly articles, Odinkalu is widely known as an authority on international law, including human rights, international institutional law and international economic laws affecting African countries. He is a
visiting Professor of law at the International Criminal Law Centre at the Open University of Tanzania, and was formerly Jeremiah Smith Jr. visiting Professor of Laws at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge Massachusetts and Brandeis International Fellow at the International Centre for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at the Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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Among his other affiliations, Odinkalu founded the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples Rights based in Arusha, Tanzania. He is a member of the Boards of Directors of the Fund for Global Human Rights in Washington D.C.; the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva; and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) in New York and a Trustee of the International African Institute (IAI) of the University of London. He is also a member of the Human Rights Advisory Council of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York. Odinkalu is also Co-Chairperson of the Darfur Consortium, a campaign coalition comprising over 400 African and international civil society organizations in support of the people of Darfur in Western Sudan and co-Chairperson of the Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative, CRAI based in Kampala, Uganda.
Between 2004-2006, Odinkalu led the Campaign against Impunity (CAI), to press for accountability by former Liberian President, Charles Taylor. The campaign was ultimately vindicated with the transfer of Mr. Taylor to the custody of the UN-supported Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone in April 2006. He is also a leader of the FoI Coalition whose efforts were crowned with the enactment of Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act in May 2011.
A member of the Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, Odinkalu was also the Co-coordinator of its Practice Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) from 2006-2010.

To me, Chidi Odinkalu is a father, a mentor, a teacher and a friend. A humanitarian per excellence. The first thing I observed at our first meeting at his office in Abuja was his passion for people. We bonded like we had known each other long. I learned humility from him as he chatted and spoke to me like we were mates. He is a man without superciliousness or any of its kind! So humble, firm, kind and polished!

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His level of rectitude is highly commendable too. As the chairman of NHC he set the bar very high both in morals and relevance, in a society where morals and service are at their ebb. He is a worthy role model in a society where real role models are scarce! He told me not to make money my prime focus in life, he told me that people will say a lot of good and negative things about me even when they shouldn’t, he said I shouldn’t be moved but let my conscience and my God guide me at all times

His three days visit to Jalingo for my Workshop despite his busy schedules further demonstrated the extent of his love for me personally and the youth in general. I recall him say to me “Chinedu, if others don’t have faith in the youths, I have faith in you”. I invited him to my workshop and he sponsored himself and rejected all attempt by us to offer anything except our attention and commitment.

Prof. Odinkalu is a professor in creed and indeed. It is therefore not a coincident that a man like Odinkalu celebrates his birthday today, now finally recognized by Nigeria as a remarkable date. A date that now commemorate the cause he fought dearly for, even as a very young lawyer. I could go on!

Today I celebrate Prof. Chidi Odinkalu and join the rest of Nigeria to wish him a Happy golden jubilee celebration and many more years of blessings from God, long life and sound health.

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