Live Full, Die Empty – In Memory Of Rotimi Sankore (1968 To 2024)

Live Full, Die Empty – In Memory Of Rotimi Sankore (1968 To 2024)

Live Full, Die Empty – In Memory Of Rotimi Sankore (1968 To 2024)


Nigeria and indeed Africa lost another social justice advocate to cancer, Rotimi Sankore (Rotimi Johnson) born on June 5, 1968, in Lagos, Nigeria. In the last few years, the country has lost many of its bright minds but sadly not replacing them as quickly enough. This loss cuts deeper especially at a time when the continent is in dire need of heroes, advocates, and cerebral leadership.

According to a memorial website in his honour, Rotimi was a brilliant development and policy expert, journalist, human rights advocate, and on-air personality. Most importantly, he was a humanist, imbued with a thirst for justice and equity. Rotimi worked as a journalist in Africa and across the globe and until recently he was Editorial Board Chair of Nigeria Info Radio Group; Part of AIM Media Group with 13 stations in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Onitsha (incorporating Nigeria InfoFM, WaZoBia FM, Cool FM, Arewa Radio Stations) – where he also contributed to program development on sister TV station WaZoBia TV.

As a broadcast journalist he hosted The Public Square, a flagship program on Nigeria Info Radio focused on democracy, development, governance, and policy issues. He was Executive Director and Editor in Chief of the Africa Centre for Development Journalism. Some of his previous journalism, development and human rights work includes founding Editor In Chief of Africa Human  Social Development Information which pioneered use of data and statistics for journalism and policy advocacy on Millennium Development Goals (2000 – 2015), Pioneer Editor in the 90’s of the Belgium based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) website for African journalists reporting on public accountability, corruption, democracy and rights related issues, IFJ Africa Media and journalism development trainer, researcher and Publication’s Editor at UK Based Article 19.

Rotimi was also an Executive Committee member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of the UK, Ireland, and Chair of its Black Members Council. He worked for the advancement of journalists from minority communities and as an anti-racism advocate. In the 90s, he worked with and contributed to notable print publications including The News Tempo Weekly Magazines (Nigeria), and Guardian Newspapers (Nigeria), The Guardian UK, Global Index on Censorship, Mail Guardian South Africa, the Global New African Magazine, The Journalist (UK), and New African Woman Magazine.

A Passion for Social Justice
Rotimi’s work was both global and local working with international development partners including UNFPA, UNAIDS, WHO, Geneva Based Global Partnership for Maternal, Newborn Child Health, Africa Development Bank and African Union Commission. He was Secretary of the Africa Health, Human  Social Development Parliamentary Network, a Network of Chairs of Parliamentary Committees of Health, Finance, Gender and Development issues that worked with UN agencies and Regional bodies of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East Africa Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Commission (SADC), UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union Commission to advance Heads of States and  Ministers of Finance Commitments on Development Policy and Investment. He also Coordinated the Africa 15% Plus Campaign on Development Health Financing – Chaired by South African Democracy Rights Advocate, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In 2023, he launched the Inequalities Reporting Fellowship of the Africa Centre for Development Journalism (ACDJ) as part of efforts to expand the field. The fellowship launched with 12 journalists drawn from various media houses including Arise News, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Trust Newspaper, The Guardian Newspaper, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) – Radio One, The Eagleonline, ThisDay Newspaper, Forbes Africa, Ripples Nigeria, Punch Newspaper, Vanguard Newspaper and Voice of Nigeria.

The Fellowship focuses on training, mentorship, and implementation of a special inequalities report by building the capacity of journalists to report on inequalities at sub-national levels. The Fellowship follows closely on the heels of the 2023 ACDJ World Development Information Day Lecture held on October 31 where the keynote speaker, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria Matthias Schmale stated “Storytelling is the media’s strength. By telling the stories behind the statistics, you can help mobilize support for solutions to development challenges, which are ultimately the challenges citizens must overcome to live more fulfilling and dignified lives.”

A Feminist to the Core
Rotimi was a feminist, an advocate for gender equality and social inclusion focused on women’s rights in sustainable development and democracy. In the early 90’s during military rule in Nigeria he was a founding member of the Women’s Rights Project (WRP) of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He was a co-founder and board member of one of Nigeria’s leading women rights organisations, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), with his close friend and activist, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi. Rotimi remained committed to and helped shape the organization’s ideology and principles.

He worked with women groups in Southern Africa to develop the SADC Gender Protocol and with African women’s rights organisations to advocate for Africa wide ratification of the African Union Protocol for the rights of women in Africa. As a student of Communication and Language Arts at University of Ibadan, he was a student union leader during Nigeria’s military dictatorship in the mid 80s to mid 90’s and was expelled along with 26 others for students’ welfare and pro democracy and anti military protests, and only reinstated after a lengthy lawsuit.

He led an experience rich life from a young age and stayed true to his convictions of the equality of people everywhere and their rights to fulfil their full potentials. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him. His spirit will live on in the memories and vast collection of his thoughts and deeds. His passion for women and girls was exemplified in the way he used data and evidence to push for policies and system change on girl child education, maternal mortality, gender-based violence and insecurity.

A Lifetime of Activism
Rotimi was always in a hurry, it appeared he knew he had limited time on this side of eternity and could not wait to be the change he wanted to see in the world. He has been called a precocious polymath because he had a unique insight into almost every discipline with extensive knowledge that spans politics, history, health, education, governance and many more. A firm believer and advocate for telling stories with numbers, he believed that data and evidence don’t lie and the only way for Africa to get out of its underdevelopment quagmire was for policymakers to address development challenges with informed data.

Another close friend of over four decades Prof. Chidi Odinkalu wrote that “he had an honest, thoughtful, well read, independent, dependable streak that was rare in our milieu and, his needs were not many.” He was the “intellectual and strategic leader of the argument that won through into the nation-wide shutdown that followed the annulment of the June 12 elections in 1993, ultimately forcing Ibrahim Babangida to “step aside” from power in August of the same year into infamy.”

As social justice advocates, Rotimi’s life should be an example ensuring our advocacy transcends generations, geography, and gender. He once said he was “grateful to have been given a fighting chance” and reminded us that “there is no time to be lax with public interest rights and development work that we all do.”

Rotimi is survived by a daughter, brother, and mother. He died too soon. However, our consolation is he lived full and died empty. His story and those of others like him, are waiting to be told for posterity.

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