By Dare Babarinsa
It is interesting that after many years of working with radical old men (and indeed some few women) who never believe in giving up on their ideas, Yinka Odumakin almost became one of them. He held on to his views of Nigeria’s future with magisterial certainty. He wears his Awo’s cap with the same regal tilt like Papa Ayo Adebanjo, the great acting leader of Afenifere. Yet he was young and the future seemed to belong to him and people of his ilk. He believed that for Nigeria to survive and prosper, then we need to go back to the proper federal Constitution agreed upon by the fathers of Nigeria Independence. When Yinka died on Friday April 2, his dreams of Nigeria remained exactly that: a dream. He was just 54.
It is of appropriate import that he once dreamt of collaborating with General Muhammadu Buhari to birth a new Nigeria. As the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC in 2011, Odumakin was Buhari’s publicity secretary. At that period, he believed if Buhari won, Nigeria would soon embark on a proper constitutional reform. By the time Buhari won the presidency in 2015, Odumakin was on the other side, aligning with Buhari’s main opponent, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. When Buhari got the job he had sought with so much tenacity, he threw away the report of the Jonathan Constitutional Conference for which the nation had expended so much.
Note that the chairman of that conference was the highly respected Justice Idris Kutigi, a retired justice of the Supreme Court and his deputy was Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Minister of External Affairs, author and retired university teacher. Odumakin and his wife, Joe, participated in that conference. It is interesting that since Buhari threw away that report, produced by 493 delegates across Nigeria, he is yet to give us his own view of the future.
Odumakin was a constant presence in the Simpson Street office of Senator Abraham Adesanya, leader of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement, during the heyday of our struggle against military rule. Adesanya became our leader after the passage of Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the first elected governor of Ondo State who was the leader of Afenifere and the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. Odumakin was always cheerful and calm despite the danger that hovered on that premises when Papa Adesanya was leading us into battle. Two other men were always in that office; Chief Ayo Opadokun, the extraordinarily brave secretary of Afenifere and Reverend Adebiyi, Papa’s personal assistant. I don’t know how to classify the opposition of Odumakin then, but he was certainly always with Papa.
It takes a lot of guts for anyone to operate in that atmosphere. To underscore the seriousness of it, we were always being hinted that there was a killer-squad under the direct command of the military dictator, General Sani Abacha. True to the story, attempt was made on Papa Adesanya’s life in broad daylight right on the street of Lagos. The killer-squad succeeded in killing however, Mrs Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the President-presumptive, Chief Moshood Abiola, acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Despite the attempt on Adesanya’s life and the general harassment of that time, Odumakin remained in his duty post.
Soon Odumakin came to epitomize the essence of Afenifere steely steadfastness and a fastidious adherence to principles. Ultimately, he would be remembered as an Afenifere man, although he was actually trained on many fronts. He was a member of Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti’s Campaign for Democracy, CD. He was also there with veteran nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro, in the Pro-National Conference Organisations, PRONACO. He was a member of the Save Nigeria Group, SNG, convened by the famous televangelist, Pastor Tunde Bakare. Everyone knew his worth. “He was a strong and loud voice that unnerved the sleep of the enemies,” said Kole Omololu, the convener of the Conscience of the Yoruba and another strong pillar of Afenifere.
In paying tribute to Odumakin, Buhari stated that he was “dutiful and a person of conviction.” The National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was often the target of Odumakin’s barbed criticism in recent years, was lavish in his praise of the late activist. Said Tinubu: “He epitomized the true definition of the citizen; a patriot who was ever conscious that his life could not be complete and his humanity meaningful if he did not take active interest in and join likeminded fellow citizens in seeking always to promote the common good.”
The truth was that NADECO and Afenifere were the home for all true patriots during the struggle against military rule. Tinubu was one of our leaders abroad and Odumakin joined with us to man the barricade at home. Odumakin proved redoutable and soon became one of the leading lights of Afenifere. Despite his peregrination to other groups, he remained rooted in the Afenifere ethos. He was not a man to spare punches and he learnt quickly the mores and temperaments of the straight and honourable men who led the struggle against the military. When Prince Dayo Adeyeye resigned as the publicity secretary of Afenifere, it was natural that Odumakin should step into his shoes.
“He has a profound strategic sense of intervention that often halted his antagonists dead in their tracks,” stated Professor Akinyemi, one of Nigeria’s most profound political thinkers. Akinyemi, a leading member of NADECO exiles, was the deputy-chairman of the Constitutional Conference.
In the final months, Odumakin struggled to continue on the frontline despite his illness. It is poignant that he and his beloved wife, Joe, a formidable human right campaigner in her own right, met in the struggle. Their romance was aided and abetted by the formidable Chief Gani Fawehinmi. In a poetic tribute to her husband on Monday, she declared: “My memories are rousing through chains of pains. A sea surge of a romance which sprouted in Gen. Sani Abacha’s detention.” One could feel the pain of a rude termination of a mutual journey in her paean to a loved one.
“You came! You saw!! And you conquered!!! We will carry forward the baton in the eternal word of our leader, Nigeria will be saved, Nigeria will be changed and Nigeria will become a great nation. Nigeria will work in my lifetime and even in yours as you live on in me, our children and generations yet unborn!”
Once Yinka was Joe’s husband. Now he belongs to the Ages!