Yinka Odumakin (1966 – 2021)
By all accounts, the struggle for a better Nigeria was his life. His activism defined him. He was among eight student activists expelled from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, in 1988 for leading a protest against the policies of the Ibrahim Babangida military regime. He was the public relations officer of the university’s student union at the time. A court ordered the reinstatement of the expelled protesters.
His fighting spirit was evident in the pro-democracy battle against the annulment of the country’s historic June 12, 1993 presidential election by the Babangida regime. He was a front-line fighter in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and can be counted among those who fought for the restoration of democracy after nearly two decades of military rule in the country.
He was secretary of the Save Nigeria Group which campaigned for the inauguration of then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President in 2010, following the ill health of President Umaru Yar’adua and moves by a cabal to hijack power.
Before his death from COVID-19 complications on April 2, at the age of 54, Yinka Odumakin was better known as the national publicity secretary of Afenifere, a politically influential Yoruba socio-cultural group. He was a vibrant spokesman who boldly expressed the group’s values.
His strong criticism of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration reflected his independence and sense of objectivity. Ironically, Odumakin was Buhari’s spokesman when he unsuccessfully contested the 2011 Nigerian presidential election under the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). “We had thought that if he comes to power, things would improve,” Odumakin had said in 2018 during Buhari’s first term. “We are losing the country at the moment,” he said in his assessment of the Buhari administration’s second term in 2019.
Interestingly, in 2014, Odumakin and his wife, Joe, made the headlines as the only married couple participating in the 492-member national conference organised by the Jonathan administration. His wife, representing South-South, was involved as president of Campaign for Democracy and president of Women Arise; and he, representing South-west, was involved as Afenifere spokesman.
The story of how he met his soul mate says a lot about his activism and the consequences he faced. “We met in the heady days of the most brutal dictatorship in the history of Nigeria; the repressive government of the late General Sani Abacha. We met at a detention facility in Alagbon where she was transferred from Ilorin, Kwara State, after her detention over some pro-democracy campaigns,” he recalled. It is a measure of their conviction and consistency that, after they got married in 1997, they continued to fight for good governance and human rights together until Odumakin’s death.
Odumakin was a passionate proponent of restructuring the country for progress. “The only thing that can save us is to allow the federating units to have autonomy and control over their affairs and resources. That is the only way you can buy Nigeria a new lease of life, otherwise Nigeria is on its way out,” he said in an interview in 2019.
Notably, posthumous tributes to him came from various quarters, including people he had criticised in harsh terms. It is a testimony to his positives that even those he had spoken about in extremely negative terms had positive things to say about him.
Born in Moro, in present-day Osun State, he graduated in English Studies from OAU in 1989. He was a reporter at Punch Newspapers, and later joined The Guardian Newspapers, which he left in 1993. Until his death, he was a columnist for Vanguard. He addressed national issues with the passion of a patriot.
The struggle continues for a better Nigeria, and Odumakin’s example as an activist shows that the country needs more activism to achieve development.