The Nicholas Opiyo I know by Robert Kirunda.
“Tall, dark, gentle, soft-spoken, and deeply caring. Selfless to a fault, and loyal in every way. Deeply reflective and thoughtful in every task and time. Never to shy away from a fight and yet as carefully strategic and methodical. This is the Nicholas Opiyo I know.
Nicholas pursues very specific goals and works for the common good of anyone he will encounter. In all the years we have known each other, I have not known him to pursue material or personal gain at the heart of his work. “My father told me, every time you are in a position to do some good or to help someone, please help them.” This is one of the countless things he has said to me over and over in our conversations. And the outpouring of love and support that he has received in the wake of his arrest is a testament to this. People who live for money rarely inspire such heartfelt concern. It is thus kind of ironic that he is charged with an offense that relates to both money and morals. But then again, sometimes life does feel like a series of ironies.
I have lost my cool once in a while on media platforms and he has counseled me after those shows, almost immediately and as honestly as possible. On some occasions when I have wanted to opt-out of those media spaces because I have felt that it is often like “speaking to a wall,” Nicholas has counseled me on the need to not despair and to make our contribution, however small. So I know that he will not despair or be despondent about his detention. He will squeeze some humor out of it.
When the Anti Money Laundering Act came into force in 2014, he was the only leader of a civil society organization who heeded our clarion call about the impact the law would have on civil society. He quickly mobilized and invested institutional and personal resources in equipping NGOs to comply.
I also know that Chapter Four is run with the highest compliance standards and internal controls that I have seen in any NGO in Uganda. I could write a whole post about how to prove or disprove a money laundering charge, but this post is about the man, not the charges he faces.
I will only say I know he did not commit the crime he is accused of. Not only because he said so and I believe him, but because he is consistent and both the motives that drive the man and the actions that come from them prove that he did not do this. So I am confident that he will beat these charges.
Like many people who know him, I have spent these days with many thoughts on what is going on in his deeply reflective mind. I will never forget the words he said to me that morning at SIU on the 24th. and how he said them. You can always tell a man who is telling the truth when you look him in the eye. He is resilient and unwavering in commitment. In that gentle towering unassuming son of Pawel is a man with the heart of a lion. I am sure he is alright and will come through this with many jokes and thrilling stories, but also having counseled more people pro Bono that he would have done during the festive season.
Tomorrow his Bail Application will be heard. I am praying it goes well. But regardless of the outcome, I know Nicholas will be fine. I know he will ask himself if his captors are drawing any lessons from his experience as he is drawing from the whole episode. Then he will sing to himself a song or two from his vast collection, which I am sure he misses listening to. The sun will set and rise again, and on one of these days, he will be free. And he will trudge on with his work, unwavering in commitment.
The one question I believe he would probably never have an answer to and might never seek is: what does his arrest and detention teach you and me about life, work, and the state of the country we all claim to love?
That is the Nicholas Opiyo I know.”