President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin decompresses anytime by watching the History Channel, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Looking at Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, her gentle mien, frail body build and soft-speaking nature would almost combine to betray the rather huge name she has made for herself in the area of human rights activism in Nigeria and the world over.
Okei-Odumakin is by every measure, one of the most prominent and resilient Nigerian women rights activists. She is the president of the rights groups Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy (CD).
She has taken bold steps and spoken courageously where some men feared to speak and despite the danger to her personal safety, she is one of the few critical voices that have consistently held government accountable. She has been in and out of detention no fewer than 17 times and she eventually met her husband, Yinka Odumakin in prison. Indeed, a life of service to humanity!
She has contributed in no small ways to the survival of democracy in Nigeria and it was part of why the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka once described her as “a tireless fighter, whose frail bearing bellies an inner strength and resilience purpose, a veteran of affirmative marches, of crude arrests and detentions, baton charges and tear gas, who has lent luster to the struggle for justice and human dignity, who remains an inspiration of men and women, old and young.”
Speaking to THISDAY about her routine tight work schedule and what motivates her to press on regardless of the cost – human, financial and material, Okei-Odumakin said: “I’m motivated by my passion. I really have the passion to see a country that works. That drives me in doing a lot of things.”
And really, she has done a lot of things. Till date, she is one of the leading voices in the call for the search and rescue of the over 200 school girls abducted in Chibok, Borno State almost two years now.
She has been involved in over 2,000 cases, where a woman’s rights had been disregarded. The cases included extra-judicial killings of women or their husbands’ by the police, where the rights of their children were ignored by the Nigerian school or even hospital authorities.
Considering her involvement in a lot of people-oriented activities and the fact that her husband too is a devoted activist, it would look more as if she would not be able to make out time for any other activity. But that’s turned out a wrong assumption because according to her, she has perfected a way to divide her days and share her time between activism, personal commitments and family.
Hear her: “My activism activities take about 45 per cent of my time, my other jobs like consultancy and teaching take 35 per cent and I dedicate 20 per cent to my personal life.”
Talking about how she relaxes, the woman activist said: “My relaxation is when I tune to History Channel and reflect and reconnect with past events. It helps me to relax because it refreshes my memory about things that have happened.”
Aside that, Okei-Odumakin also enjoys attending to her social media contacts personally, saying “I love to personally attend to my Facebook contacts and other social media contacts. I get more than 3000 emails every day and I want to personally attend to at least 800 of the mails.”
Her workaholic nature, however, paid off in 2013, when was presented an International Women of Courage Award by the United States Department of State. The award was personally presented to her by the United States First Lady, Michelle Obama and the Secretary of State, John Kerry at the US State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium in celebration of the International Women’s Day.