YINKA ODUMAKIN: In Life’s Adversity, He Made A Difference

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Louis Achi and Segun James pay tribute to the spokesperson of Afenifere, Comrade Yinka Odumakin, who passed on yesterday after a fierce battle with Covid-19

Former French president, Giscard D’Estaing’s counselled political leaders that, “There can be no response to history without effort.” D’Estaing’s sage counsel was clearly inspired by the environment of the human crises that defined his era. He was born during the First World War and fought in the second bloody, global conflagration.

Of the few Nigerians, who took this free historical advisory seriously, Mr. Yinka Odumakin – cultural icon, activist and politician – was one.
For a nation in the harsh throes of change, mirroring contrived crises of different colourations traversing the political, socio-economic and religious spheres, one Nigerian that gave so much of life, seeking to aid the birthing of transformative change was Yinka Odumakin.

Yesterday morning, Saturday, April 3, 2021, Odumakin joined his ancestors, treading the path of all mortals. He died of complications from coronavirus disease, at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos.
A statement issued by his grieving wife, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, noted that the late journalist-turned politician “was managed for respiratory issues due to complications from COVID-19, which he had recovered from about a week ago.”

His Life and Times…
Born on December 10, 1966, Odumakin hailed from Moro, Ife North Local Government Area of Osun State – same town, where the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, hails from. He studied English Language at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife and graduated in 1989. While at the university, he served as the public relations officer of the university’s students’ union.

He was employed by The Punch Newspaper as a reporter, and later joined The Guardian Newspapers. Odumakin resigned from the Guardian in 1993 and established Effective Company Limited, a media and publishing company in partnership with fellow journalist and a former schoolmate, Femi Ige.
Odumakin was part of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought the regime of the late military head of state, Sani Abacha, after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.

In pursuit of an old desire for a new Nigerian state, he also participated, alongside his wife, in the National Conference, convened by President Goodluck Jonathan, which held in Abuja in 2014. Odumakin, who was appointed the spokesman for the presidential campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2011, later turned his back on Buhari in 2015, when he supported then outgoing President Jonathan.

As National Publicity Secretary for the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, as in his many feisty engagements, he wielded power with fetching humility and exemplary focus. He demonstrated that journalism, activism, culture and politics fundamentally address transformation of the human condition for good. A man of strong convictions, he mostly took pretty few prisoners in his many bruising fights.
In 1997, Odumakin married his lovely wife and fellow activist and blessed with children.

His Many Fights
Odumakin has fought the biggest political figures and tendencies without any let up. He has engaged President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and many others. He fought around a consistent theme: a new Nigeria. But in death, his erstwhile antagonists graciously recognise his convictions and merit.

Odumakin and Tinubu, who had worked together during the days of NADECO, broke up irreconcilably.
Odumakin once alleged that Tinubu was working for the late Abacha and was a fake democrat. His words: “You were with NADECO and also in bed with Abacha through whom you forged a friendship with the Chagourys, who are your business partners till date.” he wrote in an open letter to Mr Tinubu in 2019.

More, Odumakin stated that a former governor of Lagos, Akinwumi Ambode, “spent his life running errand for Tinubu but still got humiliated.” He was never a supporter of Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition and even accused Tinubu of lying over his age.
A former Buhari’s spokesman, he later became an acerbic critic of his administration, when he came into power in 2015. He boldly scored Buhari low on his handling of national challenges, especially, the herder-farmer crisis, corruption, insecurity among others.
His words: “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.”

He was one of the advocates of national restructuring and he believed till the point of death that restructuring is the answer to the survival of the Nigerian state. According to him, those against restructuring are those benefitting from the ‘failed’ arrangement in the country “which favours few against the majority”.

In 2019, Odumakin stated that, “The way forward is clear, at 59, there are two options for Nigeria, to reset and go back to default, which is restructuring. Let’s go back to what our founding-fathers agreed. When we do this, there is a chance for Nigeria to survive but if we continue the way we are going, that would be disintegration.”

Odumakin also saw as a waste of time and resources in the Amotekun idea. Hear him: “You are in bondage; in a cage, and instead of looking for your freedom, you are looking for something else. Which ‘ekun’ (lion) are you looking for? You are in a cage, and instead of you looking for freedom, you are looking for a shortcut in Amotekun. Which ‘ekun’ does a rat want to know?

Tinubu’s Statesmanlike Reaction…
But like a true statesman, former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who Odumakin engaged in one of his long bruising political face-offs brushed aside his pitched battles with the fallen politician and paid him a touching homage.

In a statement on Saturday, Tinubu described Odumakin as a committed fighter for democracy, dedicated civil society activist, courageous and outspoken defender of whatever ideals and principles he believed in. He said Odumakin remained fearless and unrelenting in speaking up in promoting the cause of justice and what he perceived as the best interest of the citizens of Nigeria.

Tinubu recalled Odumakin’s participation 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. “In the struggle against the annulment of the 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.”

According to Tinubu, the late activist never held public office, but was a constant feature and part of the public consciousness over the last two decades of Nigeria’s unbroken democratic dispensation.
“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 like-minded fellow citizens in seeking to always promote the common good of his community and country.”

President Buhari has also condoled with the family, friends and acquaintances of Odumakin, describing him as dutiful, and a person of conviction. Buhari expressed sorrow at his demise, “especially at a time when he had a lot more to contribute to society and the nation at large.”
Many prominent Nigerians have paid their tributes to Odumakin.

Indeed, no society can live without its dreamers and achievers.
It’s perhaps in recognition of this that a former US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt observed that, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Odumakin certainly did. He was a mettlesome politician with a good dose of swagger.

At times when there is palpable decline of faith in the nation’s common destiny, his peculiar energy and imagination represented a beacon of hope. His was the fearless voice that spoke abrasive truth to power. Like an adroit alchemist, he wove a delicate balance between the ethics of journalism, activism, politics and conviction.
He deeply shared with his compatriots in the dream of a new, prosperous, secure and equitable society. In truth, certainly, this is not merely a pious wish, but a necessity and imperative for civilised survival.

In the troubled evolution of the Nigerian state, while some forces remained apostles of socio-political stagnation and retrogression, others represented untiring catalysts for progressive change. Odumakin belonged to the later class.
Clearly, he was not a saint and never claimed membership of that arcane group. But then sainthood is not one of the parameters for assessing or picking individuals, who give their life in the fight for human liberty and freedom.

For being a key provider of clear, pragmatic leadership during periods of self-doubt by a citizenry under contrived political siege, in his beloved Yorubaland, he certainly will occupy a high pedestal in its lore – as well as in larger Nigerian state.
In life’s adversity, he certainly made a difference.