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Tributes as Odumakin, tireless rights activist, goes to rest

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Yinka Odumakin

He was “…a committed fighter for democracy, dedicated civil society activist, courageous and outspoken defender of whatever ideals and principles he believed in and a patriotic citizen in every sense of the word.”

These were some of the words with which the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu described the late Yinka Odumakin who breathed his last on Saturday, April 3, following complications from COVID-19.

Indeed, Tinubu’s words succinctly captured Odumakin’s life and what he stood for. At every point in time, he spoke and defended his convictions without fear or favour, no matter whose ox is gored. In the many battles that he fought – and he did fight a handful, he was bold, fearless and stood tall.

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The death of Yinka Odumakin, national publicity Secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, who is also one of the spokesmen of Southern Middle Belt Leadership Forum (SMBLF), has continued to shock many Nigerians, especially members of the various human rights groups across the country. And while many commentators keep recounting fond memories of the deceased and their engagements, one common thread in all being been said of Odumakin is that he is the least person expected to depart the struggle for the restructuring of the nation at this auspicious time.

Born on December 10, 1966, Odumakin was a human rights activist, who actively participated in the struggle for the return of democratic rule following the annulment of June 12 1993 Presidential election when Nigerians rose against military dictatorship, especially the regime of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.

He started his early education at Saint Augustine Primary School, Ondo State, before moving to CAC Grammar School, Edunabon, Osun State and Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, Osun State. He graduated at Obafemi Awolowo University with a degree in political science, and also graduated at the University of Ghana.

Odumakin played a key role in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which fought the regime of Abacha after the annulment of the election, acclaimed to have been won by the late M.K.O Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was the spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari when he contested the 2011 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In 2014, Odumakin and his wife, Joe, were the only couple among the 492-member 2014 National Conference convoked by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

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Odumakin, who later became an ardent critic of the Buhari-led administration and the APC, was once an adherent of Buhari. Buhari, as at then, promised to restructure Nigeria by giving vent to true federalism if he wins the election. This endeared him to Afenifere and Odumakin, who supported and campaigned for him (Buhari) prominently at Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan. But the incumbent lost to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

In 2011, Odumakin accepted the position of spokesman to President Buhari and his running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare. CPC again lost to former President Jonathan and the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Four years later, Odumakin joined the camp of Jonathan, who also organised the 2014 National Conference with a promise to restructure Nigeria if re-elected.

Although the ruling APC had included restructuring in its manifesto, Odumakin refused to pledge his loyalty to Buhari on the grounds that some characters that formed the APC could not be trusted. Despite criticisms, Odumakin stood his ground and later became an ardent critic of President Buhari, especially when the President shunned the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, which he described as ‘best for the archives.’

His last public outings
ON Wednesday, February 17, Odumakin was part of the Afenifere group that paid a condolence visit to the family of late Alhaji Lateef Jakande, a former governor of Lagos. At the event, he looked emaciated. In fact, his state of health became subject of discussion among some of his close friends in the media, who urged him to take things easy and take care of his health. After supporting him into his waiting SUV, he assured them: “I will be alright.” Some of the reporters told The Guardian that was the last time they saw Odumakin.

However, his last outing was when the Yoruba freedom activist, Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, visited the residence of the new Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo on February 26.

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According to a source, “It was at that event that some elders prevailed on Odumakin to go and take care of his health. It had become obvious that he was critically ill and could not continue with the struggle.”

Tributes
IN his tribute, Tinubu recalled that ever since his student days, Odumakin had been fearless and unrelenting in speaking up to promote the cause of justice and what he perceives as the best interest of Nigerians. “He participated actively at the forefront in the various students and youth struggles against successive military dictatorships in the 1980s and 1990s. In the process, he was arrested, harassed and even detained several times. Yet, he never allowed himself to succumb to tyranny or be pressured into submissive and pliant silence,” he recalled.

According to Tinubu, “In the struggle against the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election and the perpetuation of military dictatorship, Odumakin was never found wanting. He was at the vanguard of the battle even at the risk of his life and liberty. It is impossible to credibly tell the story of the emergence of the democracy we enjoy in this dispensation without emblazoning Odumakin’s name in gold. He was a doughty fighter for freedom and the rule of law. He was rock solid in his commitment to Afenifere, the Yoruba people and the several other civil society groups in which he played active roles.”

Though Odumakin never held public office, Tinubu maintained that he was a constant feature and part of public consciousness over the last two decades of this unbroken democratic dispensation, adding that he epitomised the true definition of the citizen; a patriot who was ever conscious of the fact that his life could not be complete or his humanity meaningful if he did not take an active interest in and join likeminded fellow citizens in seeking always to promote the common good of his community and country.

Chairman of Council, Yoruba Global Alliance, Akogun Tola Adeniyi, who said Odumakin’s death is “shocking, unbelievable and absolutely a cruel timing,” described the deceased as a study in courage and fearlessness.

Adeniyi noted that Odumakin’s commitment to the Yoruba struggle for liberation and emancipation was never in doubt as he put his life on the line for the crusade.

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“He stood stoutly against the recolonisation of Nigeria and the entire Nigerian indigenous Nationalities. By his death, all the free peoples of the world have lost a roaring voice, the Yoruba nation has lost a champion, and all the self-determination organisations have lost an icon,” he added.

In another condolence message, former presidential candidate, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim described Odumakin as a man of extraordinary courage that stood by his words. He expressed deep shock over the activist’s death, saying Nigeria had lost one of her greatest.

Olawepo-Hashim said: “I was so shocked with the news of his passing because a few days earlier he was engaged in a very passionate exchange with some opinion writers. I had no inclination that he had been sick all the while. I tried getting confirmation from the wife but I did not get a feedback until some hours later, at a time the media was already awash with the tragic news. To say Nigeria has lost another great is to put it mildly. He was one of the greatest.”

Olawepo-Hashim recalled that he met Odumakin 33 years ago when the deceased was Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Obafemi Awolowo University Students Union and he, Hashim, was the PRO of the Students Federation, National Association of Nigerian Students.

“It was a testy period as we were engaged in a very intense struggle against the Military Government. Great Ife had invited me to speak on Alternative to SAP, the economic policy of the regime that we were campaigning against. Odumakin remained on the platform in the radical movement while I was to the centre left. But like most of his comrades from Ife such as Lanre Arogundade, Raskeey Ojikutu (Lagos) Adewale Bashar (Ibadan), we were allies in the struggles of the mid and late 1980s.”

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Lamenting that Nigeria has lost a courageous voice, Comrade Deji Adeyanju of the Concerned Nigerians for the Protection of Human Rights and Rule Law Initiative, described Odumakin as an activist who was never afraid to speak truth to power.

Adeyanju said; “Our heartfelt condolence goes to the family, friends, allies and colleagues of Odumakin. We have lost a fierce advocate and a stalwart of progressive causes. Odumakin was indeed an icon of hope to many young defenders and he was as well, a distinguished leader in Nigeria’s civil rights movement. It will be extremely hard to fill the vacuum he left behind in the civil rights movement. His death is a clarion call to all of us at Concerned Nigerians to keep fighting for a better Nigeria and a country that works for all, irrespective of gender, religion or ethnic affiliation.”

Adeyanju also said Odumakin was the kind of civil rights activist that didn’t just speak against injustice, but put his life and everything he holds dear on the line, fighting against injustice. This is a devastating loss and we pray God almighty to continue to comfort our sister in the struggle, Dr. Joe Odumakin and the children.”

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