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Death can be so scary yet so natural. As the ultimate separation, there is no turning back and very often, there is no time for arrangements, final resolutions or at least, goodbyes. On Saturday, the Yoruba and indeed Nigerians never got the chance to bid farewell to a man who had been a strong voice in the struggle for democracy and nationhood. Yinka Odumakin passed on at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) where he was being treated for respiratory issues he was battling with after recovering with COVID-19.
AN ACTIVIST UNTIL FINAL BREATH
Until he drew his last breath, Odumakin poured his blood, sweat and tears in years of activism, right from his university days through the dark years of the military rule up till the current democratic dispensation. It was not a surprise that he ended up marrying another firebrand activist, Joe Okei, whom she met when both were detained by the military government.
As far back as the 1980s, he was in the frontline of student activism at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, while serving as the mouthpiece of the students union government. He also played a key role in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought the Sani Abacha regime after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.
The late activist constantly advocated for the good of both the Yoruba and the country in his roles as a spokesperson of both Afenifere, the apex socio-political Yoruba, as well as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF). He also had a varied career, including a stint in journalism .
STRONG ADVOCATE OF RESTRUCTURING
If there is a list as the “top ten advocates of restructuring in Nigeria”, the late Odumakin has will surely be somewhere on it. He believed so much in the need to restructure Nigeria that he once said that “nothing will change (if you) hold a million elections under this system”.
In the build-up of the 2019 elections, he released a statement saying that Afenifere would back only those that were committed to restructuring.
Months later, he said Nigeria should go back to practising true federalism to become “productive once again.” According to him, “we should quit this culture of coming to Abuja at the end of every month and then some 36 gamblers in suits bring their calculators. Let’s create an inclusive Nigeria where everybody will be happy.
“Let’s make Nigeria a salad bowl society. You know when you take a salad bowl, you have different kinds of ingredients. When we say restructuring, it means Nigeria was on a good structure before; it was deformed by the military. Let’s go back to what worked for us. Let’s go back to federalism. Let’s go back to what worked.”
FROM BUHARI’S CHIEF MARKETER… In January 2011, Muhammadu Buhari named Odumakin as his spokesman just as he was getting set to contest for president for the third time. In his role, he sold the Buhari/Tunde Bakare presidential ticket on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to Nigerians and would later admit he didn’t know Buhari at the time.
He had told The Interview: “I didn’t know him (Buhari) that time. I got involved because a man I was close to was made his running mate, Tunde Bakare. The issue came up that I should go and be his spokesman and I agreed. I did all I could do for that campaign ex gratis because I believed it was a cause. But in the course of the campaigns, I came to certain conclusions that will not make me repeat that.
“Throughout the campaign when we stayed together, I did not see anywhere — there was no day that we sat down on any issue in the country in readiness for when he would take over. I didn’t see any preparation for office.”
…TO HIS MAIN ADVERSARY Before the 2015 election approached, Odumakin had dumped Buhari and pitched his tent with Goodluck Jonathan, admitting later in an interview that “that I opposed certain policies of Jonathan does not make me his enemy”.
“There are so many shiftings. Gen Buhari himself has shifted. When I worked with him in 2011, he was the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change. In 2015, he is now with the APC. APC is not CPC. The characters around him in 2011 are not the same characters around him in 2011. In all honesty, Buhari is an honest man,” he had said.
Until his death, Odumakin remained a strong critic of the Buhari administration both in his personal capacity and in his role as the spokesperson of the Afenifere. In November 2019, he said Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s office was being assaulted under Buhari because he had sacked Lawal Daura, director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS) while acting as president while the number one citizen was away in the United Kingdom. A year after, he said Nigeria has “become ungovernable” under Buhari, adding that “the country is on the brink of collapse”.
‘SOME SOUTHERN GOVERNORS WORK FOR THE NORTH’
In an interview late last year, Odumakin had claimed that some of governors in southern parts of the country are agents of northern leaders who he said are only concerned about controlling Nigeria.
“A lot of the people we call governors here are their (northerners’) agents in our midst. They remain governors here and are exploited to be their agents, not to serve. Northerners are concerned with the conquest of Nigeria and see southern leaders as their tools,” he had said.
“Yes, of course. If they see us as equal partners, how can the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria behave like the President of a section of the North? Are there any herdsmen on trial today for all the atrocities that they have committed? They are shielding them. They are now criminalising young people who had genuine protests.”
‘DECLARING JUNE 12 AS DEMOCRACY DAY IS MOCKERY OF ABIOLA IF…’
The late Odumakin was one of those who believed that the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day did not mean much if the country did not practise true democracy.
In 2019, he expressed strong reservations over the manner in which the declaration was done by Buhari, describing it as “just a mere attempt to score some political points.”
“The late MKO Abiola stood for some ideals. Do you see the current government as being ready to entrench some of those ideals in the polity?” he had asked. “And unless we go back to these ideals and virtues, we would just be mocking Abiola by marking June 12 as Democracy Day”.