By Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny
I am getting ready for work in the morning while listening to Andy Barrie on CBC Radio One. There is a big day ahead of me, starting with a scheduled interview with Glendon alumnus Vincent Del Buono, who was recently awarded Nigeria’s top honour, the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFRN). And suddenly, there he is on Radio One, being interviewed for the same reason by Andy Barrie. He is warm, accessible, passionate, a charming person speaking with great conviction.
Right: At the award ceremony (l-r): Vincent Del Buono a newly minted MFR,; Dr. (Mrs.) S.I. Muhammed, OON, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Special Duties, Government of Nigeria; and prominent Nigerian documentary-maker Yusufu Mohammed who was made an Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) the same day
When we meet a few hours later, he is much the same. How does an Italian child immigrant and Canadian citizen receive such an honour?, I ask. The answer is simple. Six years ago, he responded to an advertisement in The Economist for a new position as head of a development program created to support the reform of the police and justice systems in Nigeria.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Del Buono took up leadership of a $60-million, seven-year Access to Justice/Security, Justice and Growth program in Nigeria, a project funded by the British government's Department of International Development and implemented by the British Council. He moved to Abuja with his wife, Jennifer Pothier, an Ontario lawyer who, during their stay in West Africa, worked with UNICEF to improve juvenile justice, as well as with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, developing an anti-corruption program for Nigeria. Del Buono made a point of wanting to be more than an outside advisor, and demonstrated his intention to become a member of the community by always ‘dressing African’ while there.
During the more than five years he spent in Nigeria from 2002 on, his program collaborated with Nigeria’s federal and state governments, as well as non-governmental and community organizations on numerous initiatives intended to ensure that the poor were better treated when seeking justice. These included modernizing the country’s legal and judicial systems, reforming the legal aid system, and introducing a community policing training program for Nigeria’s 320,000-person police force, one of the largest in the world. He and his colleagues also supported the creation of electronic case management systems, a radical move forward in maintaining government and police records.
The Nigerian government’s citation for this national honour, read at his investiture in Abuja, detailed Del Buono's achievements in promoting justice sector reform and human rights, especially for the poor. “[…] these efforts constituted a significant contribution to the attainment of the national objective of enhancing respect for the rule of law and human rights”, it stated. The citation also recognized his contributions to the ‘upliftment of humanity’ internationally, through his previous work as United National Inter-regional Adviser on Crime and Justice, and Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International. In accepting the award, Del Buono commented that it recognizes not only his work, but also honours the achievements of the many colleagues he worked with in Nigeria.
Left: l-r: Jennifer Pothier, wife of Vincent Del Buono; Vincent Del Buono, Member of the Order of the Federal Republic [of Nigeria]; His Excellency Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, Officer of the Order of Niger (OON)
Del Buono was particularly eager to make a difference in fighting Nigeria’s rampant corruption and in supporting the efforts of those Nigerians who were committed to honest practices. “With the advent of democracy [after several coups between the 1960s and the early 1990s]”, said Del Buono, “some donor governments shifted to working directly with the federal and state governments [of Nigeria], rather than funneling their money just to NGOs. Democracy has transformed Nigeria on many fronts, with the judiciary earmarked for strengthening by none other than President Yar’Adua [himself].”
It is not often that one person can make a real difference in the activities of an entire country. But that is indeed the case with Del Buono. Prior to receiving the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his impact was also recognized by two traditional Nigerian titles, Eze Oka Iwu (The King's Law Maker), Abor Community, Enugu State; and Wakilin Sulhu (The Emir's Chief Mediator), Dutse Emirate, Jigawa State. “It feels great to receive this [honour]”, said Del Buono, a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake, speaking of the OFRN in a recent interview with reporter Eddie Chau of Niagara this Week.
Del Buono, who is not only a Glendon graduate but also a senior fellow of the newly launched Glendon School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), has a lifetime of achievements in the field of human rights and the rule of law (please see the section “More about Vincent Del Buono” below). In a 2000 Millennium Lecture he delivered at Glendon’s Millennium Alumni Homecoming ceremonies, he stated that “[…] as I get older, I am becoming more radical. I am becoming more and more outraged by the growing inequalities in the world, which were already great at the start […] When we see that poverty around the globe has not diminished in 30 years but rather grown in spite of unprecedented prosperity in certain countries, that outrage grows.”
In that Millennium address, Del Buono also expressed his feelings towards Glendon. “[…] raking through the emotional embers of my Glendon years, I was at first surprised, and then overwhelmed, by how warmed I am still by their glow.” He credited his Glendon experience and, in particular, the influence of its first principal, diplomat and eminent political scientist, Escott Reid with awakening his interest in diplomacy, human rights, the international order, and in finding ways to live his life dedicated to the realization of his ideals.
Right: The medal of the Order of the Federal Republic
Since his return to Canada last year, Del Buono has been involved with the growing Nigerian community in Toronto. Over the years, he has also continued to maintain his close ties with Glendon and York. “The Nigerian connection is significant for York University”, he commented. “The Keele campus has a growing number of faculty members and students with Nigerian roots.”
40 years after being a student here, Del Buono expressed his great pleasure at returning to Glendon. As a senior fellow of the new School of Public and International Affairs, he advises principal McRoberts on its executive development program and occasionally gives lectures. “This campus is an ideal point for entry into wider discussion of Canadian and international affairs in both English and French”, said Del Buono, who credits Glendon as the place where he first learned French. “The bilingual capacity of Glendon and its multicultural community form an accurate cultural prism of Canada’s society. That is why my return to Glendon is such a perfect fit, through my participation in the school’s study of human rights, immigration policies, and through the active examination of how a dominant culture should integrate minorities.”
Del Buono had a message for today’s students: “Learning several languages opens up tremendous opportunities. Together with competency in the area of information technology, those are the most important and most sought-after skills for getting on in the world today.”
As Vincent Del Buono prepares to leave at the end of our interview, I ponder his words of advice to students. We are so lucky at Glendon to be able to benefit from the wealth of experience, knowledge and the humanity of such an alumnus. And he is right – our bilingual and multicultural campus is the right environment to prepare for careers which will make a difference in our society and in the world at large.
More about Vincent Del Buono
In addition to his Glendon B.A. (1972), Vincent Del Buono holds an M.A. (University of Toronto, 1974), and a D.Jur. (University of Toronto, 1975). He was called to the Alberta Bar in 1976. Between 1977 and 1994, he was a full- or part-time law professor at various universities, notably McGill University, the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia and Southwestern University of Los Angeles.
Del Buono was Deputy Secretary-General (Political) of Amnesty International (1999-2001) and the United Nations International Adviser for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in the UN Office for Drugs and Crime in Vienna (1994-1998). He also served briefly in Bosnia in 1998 with the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations. Del Buono is the founding president of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform & Criminal Justice Policy in Vancouver (1991-1994) and founding president of the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law (1988-1994). From 1982 to 1991, he served with the Department of Justice of Canada, first as counsel and then senior counsel. From 1980 to 1982, he was with the Law Reform Commission of Canada working on the reform of the Criminal Code.
Del Buono is the recipient of several awards recognizing his significant contribution to justice, the rule of law and human rights. These include the International Society of Criminal Law Medal, and The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson Laureateship in Public Service from Massey College (2004).