Nigeria lost one of its popular rights activists and public affairs analysts, Yinka Odumakin, to complications from COVID-19 on Saturday.
According to the wife of the deceased, Joe-Okei Odumakin, the late Afenifere spokesperson died at the intensive care unit of LASUTH where he was being managed for respiratory issues due to complications from COVID-19.
“I appreciate the outpouring of grief and sympathy from home and abroad as I mourn my irreplaceable soulmate. I urge us all to remain steadfast in the cause of the masses to which he dedicated his life.”
Many Nigerians including President Muhammadu Buhari commiserated with his family and Afenifere.
Mr Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, described the deceased as a man of conviction.
Others also said he would be missed as “a true Yoruba son, a committed fellow, and the voice of the people, especially the downtrodden.”
PREMIUM TIMES in this report looks at things to remember about Yinka Odumakin and his personality.
Mr Odumakin was a core activist who started his activism at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) as a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and was also a former Public Relations Officer of the university’s Students’ Union.
He was one of Nigeria’s leading democratic activists, an intellectual, and political strategist with an unwavering commitment to freedom, equity, rule of law, and justice.
He met his wife in detention
Mr Odumakin met his wife during military junta of the late General Sani Abacha.
Speaking on how they met in an interview with Punch, he said: “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.”
They both called themselves “comrade” till he died.
‘June 12 hero’
Despite various humiliations faced during the military days, Mr Odumakin did not shift grounds and was a key member during the formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
He supported MKO Abiola before and after his death. Speaking in an interview with Nigerian Tribune in 2018, he said June 12, 1993, was a day a genuine attempt was made to remake Nigeria.
“We accept the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day. But the reality today is that recognising June 12 does not make the late Chief Abiola a president and so all we are talking about now is symbolism. Therefore, we should go to what was the core of June 12. June 12, 1993 was the day Nigerians from all walks of life came together, setting aside primordial sentiments, to elect Abiola as their president for a united country.
“It was a day when Abiola, with a Muslim/Muslim ticket, won with a majority vote in a Christian area. It was a day when Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a Muslim from Kano was defeated by Abiola in Kano. That was a day a genuine attempt was made to remake Nigeria.”
Disagreement with Tinubu
Although they were together during the days of NADECO, things later fell apart between Mr Odumakin and Bola Tinubu, the former Lagos State governor and leader of the All Progressives Congress.
He once accused Mr Tinubu of working for the late Mr Abacha and that he was not a democrat like he was.
“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.
He alleged that former governor of Lagos, Akinwumi Ambode, “spent his life running errand for Tinubu but still got humiliated.”
Mr Odumakin, till he died, was never a fan of Mr Tinubu proposed 2023 ambition. He even said Mr Tinubu lied over his age.
From Buhari’s spokesperson to critic
Late Odumakin was the spokesman to Mr Buhari in 2011 when he ran for President on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change, now defunct.
But he later became a critic of his government when he came into power in 2015, calling out the president on how he has been handling challenges especially the herder-farmer crisis, corruption, insecurity among others.
“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 said about Mr Buhari in 2018.
Advocate of restructuring
He was one of the advocates of national restructuring and he believed till the point of death that restructuring is the answer to Nigeria’s challenges.
Mr Odumakin said those against restructuring are those benefitting from the ‘failed’ arrangement in the country “which favours few against the majority”.
“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,” he said in an interview in 2019.
Amotekun ‘a waste of time and resources’
Mr Odumakin never supported the creation of Operation Amotekun, a regional security network that was launched in 2020 by South-west governors.
He saw it as a waste of time and resources.
“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?
“Until we fight for federalism to get our autonomy so that we can be in charge of our security, and our governors can be the chief security officers of their states, Operation Amotekun will simply be a waste of time,” he responded when asked about his view on the initiative.
‘To be his friend, you must be enemy of his enemies’
Following his disagreement with Mr Tinubu, he never referred to anyone who praised the national leader of the ruling party as a friend.
He attacked a Nigerian pastor, Tunde Bakare, recently for ‘praising’ Mr Tinubu.
He wrote in his column for the Nigerian Tribune column that “It is the very height of the abuse of the rostrum for a pastor to say to us no matter how God-forsaken the country has become that if somebody is accused of being a thief, the rest of us should go and become thieves as well.”
He accused the preacher, who was once Mr Buhari’s presidential running mate, of “placing the worship of man momentarily over the worship of God.”
‘Yoruba man first, then a Nigerian’
Mr Odumakin preferred being a Yoruba man to being a Nigerian. He defended the actions and inaction of Sunday Igboho, a notorious warlord, who recently evicted some herdsmen from the South-west.
The police recently attempted to arrest Mr Igboho and in reaction to that, Mr Odumakin said “The Police and security agents waylaid Sunday Igboho on his way to Lagos for a meeting. It was more of a skirmish and it was out of it.”
“It was the overzealousness of security agencies who cannot go after Sheikh Gumi or bandits but (are) harassing somebody who has not broken the law that we know.”
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