Who is Nicholas Opiyo?
Who is Nicholas Opiyo?

Who is Nicholas Opiyo?: Flash Uganda Media looks at his biography, age, family, wife, work and experience, politics, lawyer career, crimes, early life and education of the executive director of Chapter Four Uganda.

Nicholas Opiyo is a Ugandan attorney, businessman, renowned human rights lawyer, activist and politician. Opiyo is the executive director of Chapter Four Uganda

He is the leading human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights organization Chapter Four Uganda.

Opiyo has worked tirelessly since 2005 to defend civil liberties in Uganda, often for free (Pro Bono) on behalf of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized. 

He has campaigned for civil rights and political freedoms and his clients included National Unity Platform (NUP) leader, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine who came with a price.

He is much known as a lawyer who is willing to handle sensitive topics that many of his colleagues are afraid of. He progressed to civil leadership under Chapter Four Uganda. Opiyo is committed to observing constitutional order and the rule of law in an increasing autocratic environment. 

Opiyo has been outspoken about electoral law, the restriction of freedom of assembly and the clampdown on freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Opiyo is a soft-hearted man and his heart breaks at a certain point. However, he can stomach many things.

Early Life and Education

Nicholas Opiyo was born on 15 November 1980 in Gulu District, Northern region of Uganda where he was raised, at the height of the deadly conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army. 

He was born with a twin sister.

He grew up on the outskirts of Gulu, Northern Uganda. 

The centre of fighting between President Museveni’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that was notorious for using child soldiers, terror and sex slaves. 

Opio grew up avoiding Uganda’s brutal rebels and witnessed injustices inflicted by the government. “I saw terrible things happen to my family and I said no.”

As a child, Nicholas Opiyo would walk miles from his home in northern rural Uganda to sleep in town every night. They called kids like him “Night Commuters” a group of children who would walk miles each night to avoid being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced into its ranks. 

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His sister was kidnapped and spent several years with the rebel before her escape, many children and young people in the region suffered the same.

As a result, Opiyo channelled these difficult childhood experiences into advocacy for human rights.

The rebel group was fighting a fierce battle against the government of President Yoweri Museveni in the 1980s and 1990s and was infamous for its use of child soldiers.

Opiyo attended Unifat Primary School in Gulu District then St. Joseph’s College Layibi for his Senior Four and later M.M Wairaka in Jinja where he sat his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE).

After secondary school, Opiyo joined Uganda Christian University (UCU) Mukono where he attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Law.  

Opiyo trekked long distances to avoid abduction by the LRA, the conflict is known for extreme brutality meted by both government and rebel forces, which abducted thousands of civilians – including Opiyo’s sister, who spent several years with the LRA before escaping to serve as soldiers, labourers, or sex slaves.

executive director chapter uganda
Opiyo is the executive director of Chapter Four Uganda.

Work and Experience 

After attending Uganda Christian University Law School, Opiyo channelled his childhood experience into a passion for defending human rights for all, in the country.

Opiyo has worked on a broad range of critical human rights issues in Uganda and was a key leader in drafting and advocating for Uganda’s law criminalizing torture. 

In his practice, he has a diverse clientele, including anti-corruption and pro-democracy activists and social media activists charged with offending the president. 

He has successfully argued several high-level constitutional challenges, including the fight against the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013, amounting to life imprisonment if convicted against the crime, which was declared null and void in August 2014.

Opiyo has faced verbal attacks and even death threats for defending Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in Uganda (LGBT). Taking these cases come with a cost; Opio was ousted as general secretary of Uganda Law Society.

This was after the Uganda Christian lawyers fraternity campaigned against his leadership because of his challenge to the anti-LGBT law. But according to Opiyo, fighting these kinds of fights is why he became a lawyer in the first place.

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Later, Opiyo won another high profile case, getting the constitutional court to block Museveni’s reappointment of the chief judge after he had exceeded the mandatory retirement age. 

In total, Opiyo has argued more than six cases before the constitutional court. 

Opiyo’s commitment to justice and non-discrimination, his passion and positivity, is infectious. Those who work with him and benefit from his knowledge and dedication are better off for having listened to him.

He created Chapter Four Uganda in 2013 to sustain and allow him to take on high litigation challenging new laws that restrict freedom of assembly and expression, among other rights issues. 

He is currently involved in challenging the Public Order Management and Anti-Pornography Act, which restrict people’s basic rights, and is defending several human rights activists facing criminal charges in Uganda.

Human Rights Watch honours Opiyo for his unfaltering dedication to upholding the human rights of all Ugandans, including LGBT people, by challenging discriminatory laws and speaking out for universal human rights principles.

Opiyo is passionate about human rights. 

This in connection to his childhood life where he recalls his potbellied father, holding onto the trouser of another man and being marched to Pece Stadium because he had been accused of supporting Kony a rebel leader by then.

He got arrested on Gen. David Sejusa Tinyefuza’s orders in 1988.

This in addition to the loss of his father’s cows ferried away because of being suspected of being a Kony war supporter awakened the need and passion to defend the vulnerable weak group in Uganda.

He was until March of 2017, a member of the Team of Expert to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Peaceful Assembly and Association. 

He is also a visiting scholar at the Centre for African Studies, Stanford University, CA, USA and the Global Health Program at the University of San Francisco (UCSF), California, USA.

Nicholas Opiyo is the Board Chair of Action Aid Uganda, a member of the Human Rights Advisory Board Benetech. A Silicon Valley human rights and tech company based in Palo Alto in California and African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL), a Washington, DC-based think and action group.

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Crimes

In December 2020, Nicholas Opiyo was charged with money laundering. According to Opiyo’s lawyers, he was detained incommunicado and the charges were political because of his support for Bobi Wine. 

They alleged that Opio was being persecuted for his activism.

Opiyo’s other clients include; Stella Nyanzi, a Ugandan academician who was charged with cyber harassment and offensive communication following her comments about Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Bobi Wine who was Museveni’s immediate rival in the 2021 presidential elections.

The State alleged that on October 8, at a branch of Absa in Kampala, Nicholas Opiyo acquired $340,000 in the name of the human rights organization Chapter Four. Prosecutors said at the time, he knew the funds were proceeds of crime.

According to Chapter Four, at the time of his arrest, Opiyo was working on collecting evidence surrounding the killings and arrests of the November 18 and 19 2020 protests.

Opiyo was later granted cash bail of 15m shillings after more than a week in custody.

nicholas opiyo biography
In December 2020, Nicholas Opiyo was charged with money laundering.

Awards and Recognitions

Nicholas Opiyo is the recipient of the German Africa Prize, 2017. He was credited for defending civil rights and political freedoms in Uganda.

Voices for Justice Award from Human Rights Watch, 2015 

The European Union Parliament Sakharov Fellow Prize, 2016

Opiyo is the 2015 recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for extraordinary activism. 

Human right watch’s Award celebrates the valour of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. 

Human rights watch collaborates with these courageous activities to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression. 

Favourite food

  • Silverfish (Mukene), Okra, Eggplants and sweet potatoes

Drinks

  • Nicholas Opiyo is a teetotaler

Favourite Music

Nicholas Opiyo is a fan of country music. It is soulful and groovy to him. Opiyo also loves traditional Acholi music as it connects him to his roots.

Favourite Movie

Nicholas Opiyo is not a movie person really, but he has watched three movies that made him shed tears; The first is John Q; it showcased the plight of the poor.

The second movie Opiyo has watched is a movie that speaks about the discrimination against homosexuals. It is called Pariah.

Football Team 

  • Sports Club Villa