My heart is heavy but heaven is one star brighter.
Those were the exact words of Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin while mourning the loss of Sadiq Daba, the Nigerian thespian who died in March. Okei-Odumakin was one of the persons who rallied round Daba when he was struck with cancer four years before his death.
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Less than a month after expressing grief over the demise of Daba, death came close home as Yinka, her husband, drew his last breath at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, on Saturday morning.
The comrade fighter and activist reportedly passed on after battling coronavirus. Yes Odumakin has crossed to the great beyond but his memory lives on. One thing he was known for in his lifetime was courage. He spoke the truth and damned the consequences.
JUNE 12 HERO WHO FOUGHT FOR A BETTER NIGERIA
Odumakin was one of the influential figures who championed the emancipation of democracy. His love for a Nigeria where justice, equity and unity hold sway knew no bound. This, unarguably, was the driving force behind his numerous struggles for the country. The human right activist was an integral part of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought the regime of General Sani Abacha after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. He was also among the voices that led campaign for the recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day in honour of Chief MKO Abiola, self-acclaimed winner of the June 12 election.
In an interview with The Guardian, Odumakin spoke about how he felt with the move of President Muhammadu Buhari to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day.
“June 12 was also about ethnic and religious harmony; it was a day that all Nigerians spoke across the country irrespective of tribe or religion. In fact, in predominant Christian areas, they voted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Is that what we have today in Nigeria? The president is taking Nigeria to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The spirit of June 12 is about the integration of Nigeria. Today, Nigeria is much more divided than we were before 2014.
“Unless we go back to these ideals and virtues, we would just be mocking Abiola by marking June 12 as Democracy Day. What demands should Nigerians make from the government if, as you noted, all that is going on now is in negation of what Abiola stood for? We need a critical mass across Nigeria to use June 12 to make poignant demands from this government. Across the states of Southwest and Southeast, you cannot travel safely. All these cannot be happening without anybody calling them to order, and you say you are celebrating June 12.”
BUHARI’S EX-SPOKESMAN TURNED CRITIC
Odumakin served in various leadership capacities before his death. The activist was the spokesman of the Apex Yoruba group, Afenifere. For over two decades, he coordinated the publicity and public relations activities of the group. He was also one of the spokespersons of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), the body representing ethnic nationalities in the South-West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt. Using these platforms, Odumakin spoke startling truth to power and engaged in constructive criticisms of political leaders.
A clear evidence of his unwavering passion for truth could be seen in how he became one of Buhari’s harshest critics, despite previously serving as his spokesman. On numerous occasions, Odumakin called out Buhari over his handling of the herder-farmer crisis, corruption, insecurity among others.
In 2018, Odumakin told Buhari that things had worsened under his watch. He had said: “We had thought that if he comes to power, things would improve. But in the last three and a half years, not one thing has been done to improve our electoral process. In fact, things have gotten worse.”
The activist also defended Afenifere’s criticisms of the Buhari-led government in 2019, while dismissing claims that the group was opposed to his leadership. He had said: “When they do good things, we say it. We are not mad people who will see (a) good thing and say it’s bad but we are also not sycophants who will see (a) bad thing and say it’s good.”
While assessing Buhari’s efforts to tackle insecurity in the country, he had said: “I will rate them (the Buhari administration) three over 10 based on the state of insecurity, the whole country is ungovernable. We must face the brick; we must have a country. We are losing the country at the moment.”
DID NOT SPARE TINUBU
If Odumakin chastised Buhari, what he did to Tinubu was far much more. Call him a demi-god in the South-West and you may not be wrong; the Jagaban Borgu, Asiwaju of Yorubaland, is a revered entity in the region as the high and mighty cower to him but not Odumakin.
Both men were allies in the days of NADECO and he played a significant role in the emergence of Tinubu as the gubernatorial candidate of the Alliance for Democracy for the 2007 election. But after they fell out, Odumakin never looked back. He pummeled, knocked, blasted and literarily tore Tinubu into shreds.
In a letter he wrote to Tinubu in 2019, he said: “Was it that you didn’t have money when I told you in December 2006 that it was over between us politically? Have I ever looked in your direction ever? There are men who may not be able to give N10,000 to a cause but if they say they want to see me at 8am I would be there at 7am. Can you summon me with all your bullion vans?”
TEN BOMBS OF TRUTH FOR EVERY LIE
“For every dart of lie you guys throw in my direction, I will return 10 bombs of truth,” Odumakin told Tinubu.
Continuing, he said: “I am Yinka Odumakin and nobody can say he had known me under any identity in my life. I have led a straight life unlike you that people know under different identities depending on where they met you in your about 80 years on earth .Yes, 80! Those of us who are knowledgeable about you cant buy your 66 claim for so many reasons. The current governor of Osun is the son of your immediate senior sister from Iragbiji and he is 63 while you are claiming 66. Your first wife died in Lagos recently unannounced at 74.
“When the son she had for you died many moths earlier his age had to be doctored to fit into the lie that you live. And there is a photograph of yours at the palace of Soun Ogbomoso in 1974 when the current monarch was installed with a bottle of beer and packet of cigarette in your front. You mean you were 20 when you were drinking and smoking in a palace?
“There is no school I have attended in my life that my classmates would not come out in droves to say “yeah, we were there together!”. At your end St John Primary School, Aroloya you claimed may be created by your new governor in Lagos. The old boys of Government College, Ibadan, were planning a reception for you when someone asked which set you belonged to. There has been no answer to that till date and the reception was cancelled. The tales by moonlight on Chicago State University and University of Chicago are all over the place.”
ACCUSED TINUBU OF WORKING FOR ABACHA
“I have lived my political life on the basis of the fact that an adversary today can be an ally tomorrow and vice versa. I am not beholden to any person outside the core beliefs we share. One of the men I had an open disagreement with was President Obasanjo and when we reconciled it was an open thing. That differentiates me from you who walk both sides of the streets simultaneously. You were with NADECO and also in bed with Abacha through whom you forged friendship with the Chagourys who are your business partners till date.
“The political buffoons around you would hold you out as an anti-third term person today but you know what happened between us on May 2, 2006. We had a meeting at Airport Hotel in Lagos where you were dictating the communique against third term unknown to participants you were at a meeting till wee hours of that morning to work third term in another way.
I was reading the communique to the press when you called me. I gave the phone to the late Rev Tunji Adebiyi but you told him you wanted to speak with me. We didn’t get to talk till late in the night. I had with me in the car as you spoke with me from VGC to Ikeja then President of Egbe Omo Yoruba in North America, Mr Odusanya. Let me quote you verbatim :
“I hope you have not released that communique. We need to manage this third term carefully. Obasanjo is a blind cat. If he causes problem now and they kill one Yoruba graduate in Kano and we kill 200 people selling onions in mile 12 it is not equal. I am therefore proposing that we have a win-win situation. Instead of outright third term we can have the confab recommendation of one six-year tenure starting with the incumbent having 2 extra years and so with we the governors. We can use the two years to empower people like you and handover to one of you. I have asked General Alani Akinrinade to come and I am going to meet Prof Soyinka to discuss it. I want you to think about it”
“I told you as a matter of fact that the proposition was unreasonable and there was nothing for me to think about as I would prefer outright third term where we would have elections to automatic two years extension. But my eyes were opened to how unreliable you are that night. Here was a man dictating communique against third term in the morning having this conversation with me at night.”
‘AMBODE RAN ERRANDS FOR TINUBU’
In a column entitled, ‘The Portrait of The Tiger Ambode Rode’, the deceased narrated how Tinubu publicly humiliated former Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, Ambode is the only Lagos governor who has served one term in office. Odumakin said the fate which befell Ambode awaits incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
“I have met Ambode only on three occasions and all in the presence of Tinubu and the indignities he went through all made me pray to God not to be that type of governor in my life,” he had written.
“My first encounter with Akinwumi Ambode was at the Ikeja home of late General Adeyinka Adebayo the day after his transition. I was exchanging pleasantries with Otunba Niyi Adebayo when he walked in. As the governor offered his hand to greet me, a convoy screeched to a halt outside. To my consternation, the governor dropped my hand and “pick am for race” muttering “Asiwaju is here” and ran out like a kid whose father just arrived after a long absence from home.
“The second meeting with him was at the Bourdillon home of the tiger; the day I joined Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the Leader of Afenifere, late Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo to visit Tinubu. Unknown to many of us then , Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was already in the departure lounge and was trying to fix the fixable before boarding and suggested at an Afenifere meeting that there should be a meeting with Tinubu to bring some harmony to Yoruba political establishment.
“Tinubu had Ambode, Alake and Prof. Bayo Williams on his side for the meeting making eight of us in the room. As the meeting proceeded Tinubu, looked in Amode”s direction and said “Iwo,lo ba mi so fun Kabiyesi ki won mu suru”(You, go and tell Kabiyesi to exercise patience). Amode got up and went to meet Olubadan in the sitting room like a schoolboy dispatched on an errand by his teacher. I couldn’t hide my disgust at such situation and a frown descended on my face .Tinubu must have noticed my look , he said: “If Kabiyesi saw that I sent a governor, the message will look serious” by way of an explanation.
“The third encounter with the Governor was at the Church service for the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme in Anambra State. Ambode sat next to Tinubu in the church as the latter was being interviewed by a TV reporter. As I passed by where they sat, he beckoned to greet and said “thank you” to me and looking over his shoulders as if Tinubu would give him a knock on the head if he saw him greeting me.”
TINUBU’S CAMP FOUGHT BACK
Known for not backing down easily, Tinubu has responded to Odumakin’s wild allegations on a few occasions. Once when Odumakin tackled the APC leader whom he accused of attempting to supporting the north while endangering the lives of the Yoruba people, Tinubu’s media team had said: “The only deserving response to Yinka Odumakin is that he needs a cure for his seeming selective comprehension. Asiwaju Tinubu did not mention South West in particular and what he said had a context to it: ‘Unoccupied, isolated land can quickly be turned into grazing areas in the affected states.’
“It is not only some states in the South West that are affected but several states across the country. Why Odumakin suddenly gets hot under the collar may not be far-fetched. The usual frenzy and self-righteous mentality he portrays is on full display. Perhaps next time he should read through the whole submission and caution himself from self-righteousness and displaying in full glare anarchical emotions. And if Odumakin’s delusion still allows him to read, perhaps a read though of the full chunk of what was said by Tinubu at the summit will educate him better.”
THE TIRELESS ACTIVIST WHO FOUND LOVE IN PRISON
Odumakin found his partner in the course of fighting power-drunk military rulers in the country. For a man who takes pride in challenging the status quo and fighting deeply-ingrained ills in the society, it did not come as a surprise that he went for Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, an activist, as wife.
The pair met each other while they were detained for staging protests against perceived ills in the society under the regime of Abacha. They eventually tied the knot on November 4, 1997 and together they fought for good governance and justice before he breathed his last.
In a 2016 in interview, Odumakin narrated how he met his wife in prison and how her sheer braveness attracted her to him.
He said: “We met in the heady days of the most brutal dictatorship in the history of Nigeria; the repressive government of the late General Sani Abacha. We met at a detention facility in Alagbon where she was transferred from Ilorin, Kwara State, after her detention over some pro-democracy campaigns.
“I had read the name in the newspapers before then but I thought the person was a man. Two persons and I were picked alongside Chief Gani Fawehinmi at a rally in Lagos and taken to the same facility. When we saw her there, chief stopped and greeted her and asked if I knew her. I said no. He then introduced us and I told him that I thought she was a man. That was our first contact and we thereafter became comrades and later friends. The rest as they say is history.
“I was first attracted by her guts. I was swept off my feet that a woman could be that bold in a season where a lot of men were lily-livered.”
THE ONLY COUPLE AT CONFAB
In 2014, the government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan organised a national conference to, among other things, proffer solutions to the problems of the country. Joe and Yinka Odumakin were the only married couple among the 492-member Conference which held in Abuja. This had set tongues wagging as each of the participant got an allowance of N2.9 million per month.
In an interview with Premium Times, Joe defended the presence of being there along with her husband.
“Even if we were not husband and wife, probably he would have been here and I would have been here because we have different causes to pursue. I am the President of Campaign for Democracy and the President of Women Arise. I came on a different platform of Civil Society and they put me under South-South. He is the spokesperson of Afenifere and he represents the socio-cultural organisation from the South-West. He is there, I’m here. I have my own constituency and I have my own platform. Sometimes, at the National Conference proceedings, I don’t see him. So I am just here to face my business to ensure success for the constituency that brought me here. We met in the trenches and we have continued like that.”
ODUMAKIN WAS A PROPONENT OF RESTRUCTURING
For Odumakin, restructuring remains the quick-fix to the country’s challenges and sustainability. In a 2019 interview, the human rights activist alleged those opposed to restructuring are people currently benefitting from the extant arrangement in the country which favours few against the majority.
He had said: “The only thing that can save us is to allow the federating units to have autonomy and control over their affairs and resources. That is the only way you can buy Nigeria a new lease of life, otherwise Nigeria is on its way out. It is because their (those opposed to restructuring) understanding is short. What we are doing is not sustainable. Where is the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia today? Do you know how many countries have disappeared from the world map in recent years because they refused to accept the need for reforms? Do they think what they are doing now would continue forever and people would continue to watch them and accept? Restructuring is the cheapest option to allow us to co-exist peacefully. Let’s begin to look at our development across board and bring out our resources from every part of the country for national integration and development.”
Odumakin also opposed move to arrest self-acclaimed Yoruba youth leader, Sunday Igboho, after he issued a quit notice to the Fulani herders in Ibarapa Oyo State and subsequently ejected the Sarkin Fulani in Igangan.
The activist had questioned that the rationale for attempting to arrest Igboho when the federal government cannot address the insecurity situation in the country. He had also accused Buhari of pampering bandits wile hounding those demanding solution to the worsening situation of things.
Odumakin attended St Augustine Primary School, Ondo, CAC Grammar School, Edunabon, Osun State and Oduduwa College, Ile -Ife, still in Osun, before proceeding to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile -Ife and University of Ghana.
Odumakin’s death obviously marks the end of an illustrious era.