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This is not a rag to riches tale, neither is it one naturally disadvantaged but made significant by personal struggles. It
is simply about character and focus. Chief Executive Officer of Urban Spaces Innovation, Felix Morka and ex-Chairman of the United Nations Expert Committee on Development-based Displacements discusses how the character learnt through the sterling examples of family bonds, especially his late father’s devotion to duty, facilitated his involvement in noble endeavours that earned him glory till date. His tale uniquely shows what endures out of the things sons learn from their fathers. WITH CHARLES KUMOLU In the beginning I come from a very humble but delightful background. I was born to and raised by, Mr. and Mrs. Catherine and J.D. Morka of blessed memory. I am from the great kingdom of Agbor, Delta State. I attended Agbor Model Primary School and Gbenoba Grammar School, Agbor. I received my advanced level education at the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt. I proceeded to study law at the University of Jos where I obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) Degree. I was called to the Bar in 1989 on completion of my course of study at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos. Subsequently, I obtained my advanced degrees in Law from the Harvard Law School, USA. Felix Morka I was blessed with the most amazing and loving parents. They loved God and cared deeply about humanity. My beautiful mother was a mother in a million who cared for and protected her children with graceful vigilance and prayers. Until his passing, my father was my inspiration, my hero and my best friend. Although it has been 31 years since his transition, I am missing him. He was an embodiment of inspiring humility and contagious intellect.

A Customary Court President for many years, my father dispensed justice with unquestionable fairness and compassion, for which he was widely admired and respected in his community. Transformative value My father understood the transformative value of good education and stopped at nothing to ensure we were educated. Education was so important to him that he would rather have his children be Ph.D. holders and be jobless rather than to be without education. In a way, he compensated for his own inability to complete his secondary school education due to his father’s death. However, he was self-educated and was by far more erudite than many professors of today. Self-respect I was raised with very strong values of honesty, patience, kindness, self-discipline, self-respect and the fear of God. Self-respect is necessary to living a happy and successful life. As Senior Prefect of the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, I discharged my duties in a manner that set new standards for student leadership and won the prize for the most outstanding leadership.

I also won the prize for the best-behaved student and made the best result of my graduating Advanced Level Class of 1985. The lesson here is that you can be anything you want to be irrespective of your present social or economic circumstances. If you want it enough, you can and will accomplish your goals. Poverty in people’s experience Growing up, I was a keen observer of court proceedings. In addition to observing my father conduct proceedings in his court, I was a regular visitor to other courts watching judicial proceedings. I found that very fascinating, intriguing and depressing at the same time. I developed a high consciousness of right and wrong. I also witnessed the intricate role that poverty played in people’s experience of justice. Poverty is a potent hindrance to justice. At the University of Jos, although I was not an elected student leader, I worked very closely with student union officials to demand and secure improvements in student welfare. During my NYSC in Ibadan, Oyo State, I led the Youth Corpers on a strike to protest against the severe beating and wounding of two female fellow corpers by two soldiers. The protest involved the recall of all serving Corpers in the state to withdraw their services and to converge in the state capital. We stood our ground until the offending soldiers were disciplined and the corpers received apologies, settlement of their medical bills and other compensation from the military authorities.

The violence of military dictatorship and the inexplicable poverty and economic inequality visited on our people are two important drivers of my fervor for constitutionalism, development and democratic freedoms. On Harvard experience After my National Youth Service (NYSC) in 1990, in the thick of military dictatorship, I joined the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Nigeria’s premier human rights group, as a Staff Attorney. The CLO, founded in 1987 by Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Clement Nwankwo, was the first organized human rights group in the country. I joined the CLO because of the opportunity it offered as a platform to express my young passion for social justice. Very early on in my life, I gained a high consciousness for justice and held very strong opinions against the brutality and lawlessness of the military dictatorship. I was determined to join other concerned citizens, and dedicate my training as a lawyer, to challenge the reign of terror by the military and reclaim our democratic freedoms. Before joining the CLO, I had a brief stint with a private law firm.

I quit that job after one month because the firm’s fee policy did not afford me the opportunity that I craved to extend free legal services to deserving cases of human rights violations. I went on to serve as the CLO’s Legal Director before joining the Washington, D.C.-based International Human Rights Law Group as the group’s Legal Officer for Africa. Building individuals and capacities Yes, I am a big believer in the power of mentorship to inspire and support others to strive to succeed and attain their full potential. This is especially important in today’s society with all the necessary and unnecessary distractions that our young people have to grapple with. With economic pressures on families, many parents are too busy trying to make ends meet and do not give quality attention to their children to encourage and guide them in making life’s choices. The virtual collapse of the educational sector in the country has also further diminished access of young people to structured programs of guidance and counseling that used to be an important feature of our educational system. In these circumstances, the role that mentorship can play in helping to build the capacity of young people to dream and achieve those dreams is incredibly important. I play that role in the lives of many young people in my community and in many communities around the country. I also have a good number of students that are beneficiaries of my scholarship and entrepreneurship programs. On human dignity I am driven by my passion for fairness and justice. My life’s work is invested in helping people build the capacity to realize their inherent human dignity. I have made a career out of something I am very passionate about – social justice. I trained as a lawyer with a determination to devote my talents and legal expertise in the protection of the liberty of the poor and others that are unfairly treated or denied their basic human rights. I have been doing this now for 28 years. In the various positions that I have held both nationally and internationally, my work has always entailed standing up against injustice and oppression. Achievements so far I have had the privilege of involvement in a wide range of work and initiatives nationally and internationally that have had a tremendous impact on humanity, knowledge, and service. However, I am most proud of the work that I have done with, and on behalf of, urban poor communities around the country. on the platform of SERAC. SERAC stands as a bulwark on the side of Nigeria’s urban poor populations against the social and economic violence inflicted on them by the government and other powerful actors on a daily basis.

They are routinely targeted by unfair and discriminatory policies and actions that deny them access to land, housing, livelihood resources and other economic opportunities. Entire communities are often forcibly evicted and their lands grabbed by the government in favour of affluent developers and political cronies without the due process of law. Almost in all cases, these communities who also bear the disproportionate burden of the country’s crisis, chronically lack access to justice. Through the organization, I have continued to provide a wide range lifeline support services and interventions that have built their capacity to negotiate power and secure the right of these populations to remain. SERAC’s interventions and relentless advocacy that I have led have been largely instrumental to a drastic reduction in the incidence of large-scale forced evictions in the country. I have also litigated and won several landmark cases within domestic and international courts, including SERAC v. Nigeria, a decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which affirmed the validity and justifiability of economic and social rights. You are reported to be nursing the ambition to contest for a senatorial position in your state, what actually inspired such ambition having achieved much in the private sector?

I have dedicated nearly three decades of my professional life as a human rights, democracy and development expert in service of some of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of our country. I have devoted that entire time challenging arbitrariness and lawlessness of the government at all levels. I have also devoted that entire time working on different legal, policy and development platforms in search of solutions to the challenges that impede our development. I am in search of a broader platform to scale up my service to our people who have been grossly underserved by legislative and public officials in our democracy. The betrayal of the public trust by elected officials has been particularly acute in Delta state. I hope to make myself available to serve our people, as they deserve to be served. What are the cherished values that have so far aided your rise to the top? I believe that hard work, tenacity, discipline, self-respect, charity, good imagination, and prayerfulness make dreams come true. Prayers fill you with divine the grace to find opportunities or for opportunities to find you, and to be able to recognize those opportunities when they come.


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