Leaving behind aged parents and a young family made the sting of Yinka Odumakin’s death even more painful for his loved ones, associates and admirers.
The heart-rending moment the news was broken to his centenarian father was captured in a video.
Not even the scriptural sermon and proverbs employed by a pastor in breaking the sad news could cushion the blow on Pa Ezekiel Odumakin, a church elder at the Christ Apostolic Church, Waasinmi, in Moro, a small community in Ife North Local Government Area of Osun State.
“Baba Ijo,” as Pa Odumakin is called in the ancient town, must have thought life lost its purpose with the death of a beloved and personable son who died at the age of 54.
To Yinka Odumakin’s nonagenarian mother, Alice Odumakin, losing the family’s lastborn to the cold hand of death was too devastating.
But many seemed to have mistaken the young Odumakin for much older, with different media outlets reporting conflicting birth dates. He, however, owed this to his early rise to national prominence, due largely to his contributions to debates on national issues and the visible roles he played in many national struggles.
According to his wife, who he met at the “barricade,” Josephine Okei-Odumakin, Mr Odumakin had survived COVID-19 infection but could not survive the respiratory complications arising from his underlying ailments.
Until about two weeks preceding his death when he told journalists he was too weak to pick calls to his mobile phones and introduced an associate to be responsible for his communications, the vocal spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, was up and doing.
Despite his swollen legs and face, Mr Odumakin still held press conferences and continued with his column, “Candid Notes,” in the Vanguard newspaper where he regularly addressed issues of restructuring, insecurity, corruption and all sorts of maladies confronting Nigeria as a nation.
His last column, with the title: “Decoding the no flight zone,” was published on March 9, 2021.
Mr Odumakin was not free from controversies, especially his volte-face on the ambitions of President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, and his unending war of words with the former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu.
Thus, until his last breath in the early hours of Saturday, the journalist-turned-politician and pro-democracy activist fought on many fronts. As he silently battled his ill health, he also joined voice with his compatriots to rail against the national malaise of poor governance, insecurity and injustice.
From Moro to the world
On December 4, 1950, the United Nations at the 317th Plenary Meeting of its General Assembly, passed resolution 423(V) setting aside every December 10 for the celebration of World Human Rights Day
On the same December 4 in 1966, Mr Odumakin was born in Moro to a devout Christian family of Latunla compound. Named after the biblical Peter, the “Rock” and leader of Jesus’ 12 disciples, Mr Odumakin took after his namesake.
At an early stage, he charted a path for his struggles and never lost his voice till his last days.
For his primary education, he attended St Augustine Primary School, Ondo, in Ondo State, and CAC Grammar school, Edunabon, near Moro, in Osun State, for his secondary school education.
As a students’ union leader
At 19, Mr Odumakin gained admission to the department of English at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife.
From that young age, Mr Odumakin was not intimidated from engaging in socio-political activities on the campus.
Espousing Marxist-Leninist ideas, he was elected the public relations officer of the students’ union.
Lanre Arogundade, a former chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), and Adeola Soetan, a former president of the same students’ union, testified to his power of oration, clear thoughts and convictions and mobilisation capacity even in those early days.
“Yinka was a prolific writer, a polemist, a rigorous social commentator with a sharp pen and razor tongue who spared no one in the unending contest of ideas, characters and issues. This attribute he developed greatly when we were together in the Leninist-Marxist Students’ Movement in the 80s in Great Ife Students’ union where he eventually became the PRO at a very young age,” Mr Soetan, aka “Baba Show,” wrote in his tributes.
The current public relations officer of the university, Abiodun Olarewaju, said the deceased “could convince the devil to attend a church.”
Mr Olarewaju, who graduated from the English department in 1990, a year after Mr Odumakin, said as a member of the students’ representative council himself, he saw a persuasive but firm character in the deceased.
Between 1990 and 1993, the late Mr Odumakin had a stint in journalism, first as a features reporter at The Punch before moving over to The Guardian.
However, quitting mainstream journalism did not end his journalism career. He established Effective Company Limited, a media and publishing company in partnership with fellow journalist and former schoolmate, Femi Ige.
Mr Ige, who also resigned from The Guardian in 1994, later returned to the mainstream media and was the chief operating officer at the now rested Newswatch Daily.
And apart from maintaining his column in a national daily, Mr Odumakin recently launched a radio station, Petals 102.3 FM, in Ibadan, Oyo State capital. Until his death, he was the chairman of the station.
As a pro-democracy activist
Apart from his roles in the fight against commercialisation of education by successive military administrations during his student days, Mr Odumakin made strategic contributions to the nationwide protest against the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
Giving the account of the deceased’s roles in the then mass protests, Mr Arogundade stated on his Facebook wall how the late Mr Odumakin joined forces to mobilise the densely populated communities of Sango, Agbado, Agege, among others, for the protest.
“Living during this period with comrades Shola Aiyebola and Ayodele Arogundade in Sango, while the likes of myself, Rotimi Sankore and late comrades Remi Ogunlana and Rotimi Ewebiyi and others lived in the Alagbado area, we combined forces to command the June 12 troops along the Sango, Alagbado, Ijaye, Abule-Egba, Agege and Ikeja axis.
“Not surprisingly too, he was there as a foundation member when in 1994 Chief Gani Fawehinmi decided to form the National Conscience Party (NCP) in defiance of the ban on political activities by the Abacha junta.”
He also played key roles in the formation and activities of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The group, a coalition of Nigerian democrats, civil society leaders and human rights activists formed on May 15, 1994, spearheaded the fight against military dictatorship and particularly the regime of the late rapacious head of state, Sani Abacha.
Till his death on Saturday, Mrs Okei-Odumakin called her husband “Comrade.” This must be in reference to how they met.
READ ALSO: How my husband, Yinka Odumakin, died – Wife
The deceased in an interview with The Punch newspaper had recalled how they met.
“We met at a detention facility in Alagbon where she was transferred from Ilorin, Kwara State, after her detention over some pro-democracy campaigns.”
Mr Odumakin said the late fiery lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, had introduced the female comrade to him at the prison.
“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,” Mr Odumakin said in the interview.
A community man
As much as he was engrossed in issues of national importance, Mr Odumakin did not lose sight of his expected contributions to the place of his birth. Not long ago, when the community was embroiled in a communal clash with its neighbour, Yakooyo town, the deceased reportedly played an active role in resolving the crisis.
He also contributed financially towards the construction of Moro civic centre, a community initiative that is aimed at addressing youth restiveness.
Afenifere’s firebrand spokesman
Since he took over the role from Ayo Opadokun, an ebullient pro-democracy fighter and lawyer, Mr Odumakin had redefined public engagements for the Yoruba’s socio-cultural and political group, Afenifere.
Mr Odumakin ensured balance in the affairs of the group between the methodical approach of the older generation and the aggressive tumult of the young generation.
He also doubled as one of the spokespersons for the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), a group of leaders of ethnic nationalities in the South-West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt parts of Nigeria.
A frequent face on television screens, Mr Odumakin’s youthful carriage and charisma endeared him to many reporters who often sought his opinions on major issues of national interest. And he always had an opinion to share, even if you would not like it.
His political escapades and volte faces
Having started out as a member of the leftist Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) while on the campus in Ile-Ife, Mr Odumakin, according to Mr Arogundade, later joined the Labour Militant, a group of labour leaders and pro-democracy activists.
The Labour Militant soon metamorphosed into the now Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). But he soon left the group for what his erstwhile associates and comrades described as bourgeois party politics.
His relationship with the former Lagos State Governor, Mr Tinubu, especially during the NADECO activities, soon blossomed and he reportedly played active roles in Mr Tinubu’s emergence as the gubernatorial candidate of the Alliance for Democracy in 1998. But their friendship only lasted till 2006 when they parted ways due to what many described as irreconcilable differences.
Mr Odumakin, in his acerbic style, would later attack Mr Tinubu in his various writings.
To Mr Tinubu’s admirers, the deceased was an ingrate.
Like Tinubu like Buhari
Prior to the 2011 general elections when the then-presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mr Buhari, appointed him his spokesperson, Mr Odumakin saw Mr Buhari as the best thing waiting to happen to Nigeria.
He toured the country marketing the man as a messiah and attacking the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan.
But in less than four years, Mr Odumakin switched camp, replacing Mr Buhari with Mr Jonathan, and swallowed all his vomit about the latter.
His book, “Watch the Watcher: A Book of Remembrance of Obasanjo Years,” which was launched ahead of the 2015 presidential election, was seen by many as a sponsored response to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s three-volume book, “My Watch.”
Mr Obasanjo’s book had critiqued major political events and personalities, running down many of the political gladiators including Mr Odumakin’s newly found patron, Mr Jonathan.
Till his death, Mr Odumakin was very critical of Mr Buhari and never hid his regret for backing him in 2011.
He blamed the president for what he described in many of his outbursts as the gradual disintegration of Nigeria and called for restructuring as a panacea for the many socio-economic and political crises confronting the nation.
Contributions at National Confab
When on March 17, 2014, Mr Jonathan inaugurated the national conference, he appointed Mr Odumakin and his wife into the 492-member assembly that represented various interests.
As the only couple in the list, though representing different interests, critics accused the family of being bought by the administration.
His endorsement of Mr Jonathan’s second-term ambition was seen by many as a confirmation of the insinuation.
Shortly after the elections, Mr Odumakin opened a radio station and relocated to a new apartment at Omole Estate in Lagos.
He lived in the new house till he was rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) about two weeks ago, where he eventually died on Saturday.
Torrent of tributes
Mr Odumakin’s death attests to the saying that “Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names.”
Mr Tinubu’s tribute may have simply confirmed this.
“In the course of the last two and a half decades, Odumakin and I had cause to collaborate in various organizations and in pursuit of different political causes at different times and I can testify to his capacity for hard work, his brilliance, his tenacity in his loyalty to his cherished principles.
“Even if we differed politically, I had no cause to doubt his sincerity in charting his chosen path. He will forever remain a model of what a citizen who places the good of his country above his personal interest could be. For, given his talents and abilities, Odumakin could easily have opted to focus on his personal welfare and that of his family rather than embroil himself in the several struggles he dedicated his life to.”
On his part, Mr Buhari simply described his one-time spokesperson as “dutiful, and a person of conviction.”
The young family Mr Odumakin left behind is devastated. However, it will eventually be consoled by the worthy legacy of a good name he has left behind.
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