The remnants of the Revolutionary Left in Nigeria were recently dealt a devastating blow on the 2nd day of April, 2021, with the demise of the fiery activist, Yinka Odumakin. It is not that his death did not confound others of different orientations and ideological backgrounds, but the Leftists in Nigeria would probably lay claim to Odumakin as belonging to their primary constituency based on his antecedents and activism till death. The announcement of his death has left many in a state of shock, as there was no public knowledge of his prior ill health. On the same day, it was announced that another civil society activist, Innocent Chukwuma, bowed to the cold hands of death. It has been one death too many considering the fate that befell the same community of activists with the demise of some other ferocious fighters for human rights and revolutionary activism in the persons of Professor Abubakar Momoh and Bamidele Aturu who died a few years ago. However, news of Yinka’s death has continued to shake the firmaments ever since it was announced and one wonders if his achievements could be matched by his age at the time of his death.
A student union leader of the late 1980s, Yinka rose to become the public relations officer of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, where he left an indelible mark in the golden days of student activism. Those were days when the student movement determined the pulse of the nation and the government could be sure of an immediate response once a policy unfavourable to the masses was rolled out. Those were days when the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) was a barometer for determining whether the government was doing well or not. Despite victimization by the university authorities in the days of military despotism, Yinka and his colleagues stood firm and projected responsible radicalism that did not give way to personal interests.
It was a period in Nigerian history when leaders of conscience were leading the student movement, unlike what we have today where student leaders cannot be distinguished from cultists and political jobbers whose sole aim is to become political parasites and partake in the national loot as being done by the condemnable leaders of the land. His graduation from OAU did not rest his revolutionary spirit, he consistently fought for the nation he believed in until his last moments as he served on various platforms leading to the emergence of the current democratic dispensation in 1999. Yinka rose to the call for a better Nigeria by serving as the spokesperson for Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba organization modelled after the lofty aspirations and wisdom of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Notwithstanding that he was the youngest in the midst of old but established politicians of the First and Second Republics, like Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Ayo Opadokun, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and many others, he was nominated as the voice of the organisation and served in that capacity for not less than 13 years.
Yinka was in the 2014 Confab, where he made gargantuan contributions on how he believed Nigeria could be remodelled to achieve social equality and justice. He was a passionate believer in Nigeria and his conviction on the need to find a worthy leader and reformer made him work with others for Muhammadu Buhari to become President. His agitations for a greater Nigeria were never hidden and despite criticisms and disagreements from some of his old comrades, he stuck to his guns on his conviction on how he believed the struggle for a better nation could be achieved. His days as the Secretary of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), led by Pastor Tunde Bakare and others in 2012, were an endorsement of what conscionable activism can do in rebuilding a nation that has fallen into a terrible moral and economic miasma like ours. Yinka was a dogged fighter who would not bat an eyelid in projecting his views and mobilizing to achieve his aim. He travelled the length and breadth of Nigeria with a strong resolve to ensure that the otherwise endowed country could be placed in its rightful place in the comity of nations. He was a great writer, a good speaker of English language, a manufactory of brilliant ideas and a complete package of intellectual sagacity.
He was a strident voice against ethnic marginalization, tribal favouritism or nepotism. His agitation for the protection of his ethnic origin within the context of a restructured Nigeria has no sentiments for tribal irredentism. It was a struggle balanced on the pivot of right to self-determination of all peoples within a united country. As if trying to avoid the problems of wrongly marrying a woman without an understanding of his ideological orientation, Yinka’s choice of a woman is a perfect combination of two souls with a single conscience. He married Joe-Okei Odumakin, a Ph.D holder whose activism dates back to the student movement in Ilorin and whose entire life has been dedicated to the cause of agitating for a better humanity. In all these, Yinka neither asked for, bagged a government portfolio nor served in an executive capacity in any government. Yet, he left an indelible mark in the sands of time.
There is a lesson to learn in his lifestyle by both the younger and the older ones. The fad today is to enter politics fresh from the university and aspire to be a local government chairman, be appointed a commissioner, get elected into the state House of Assembly or National Assembly and struggle to convince the unwary masses that the only way they can have a better life is to eternally have you in office. It has become the vogue to think that it is only in public office that one can make a substantial contribution to the development of the people. It is certain that this line of thinking is not borne out of altruism as examples of self-seeking politicians have shown that, in most cases, it is to line a private pocket and achieve personal aggrandizement. I have repeatedly said that no one needs to particularly occupy a public office before making unforgettable contributions to the service of humanity.
The death of Yinka Odumakin has proven this philosophy right. His death has made a harvest of eulogies, soporific tributes and fulsome praises tumbling down from both worthy and unworthy mouths. Both enemies and friends have converged in unison to acknowledge that this gentleman was an embodiment of service to humanity. The past few days have proven that a man could live a worthy and unforgettable life without necessarily occupying a public office where he could have unrestricted access to public funds. Yinka’s house has become a Mecca of a sort to which mandatory pilgrimage has been made a pillar of political relevance. His wife, another fiery activist with multiple laurels to her name, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, could not hide her surprise for the recognition and praises accorded her husband in death by those who would not give him a drop of water in a desert. She wishes her husband were alive to listen to his avowed traducers and haters as they keep on singing hosanna to his name during this Easter season. Could Yinka have had a fate with the aura and lessons of the resurrection of Jesus that he chose to leave around the same time? Hmmm! The Yoruba say eniyan o sunwon laaye. Ojo a ba ku laa d’ere, which means humans are not treasured while alive. It is in death we become wondrously invaluable.
You can learn a thing or two from the life and times of Yinka Odumakin. You can serve humanity without necessarily aspiring to or holding a public office. You can lead from the rear and give commands into the future. You can sow into humanity without having to be enveloped in the grandeur of public office. You can become a pillar to rest on without having all the money in this world. Let these praise singers by way of honouring the dead emulate his ways, adopt his philosophy and be repentant, as death is inevitable.
A few activists are in Nigeria who still embody these virtues. When Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the inimitable former Governor of Lagos State, died earlier this year, we saw a harvest of praises, eulogies and enticing and exciting condolences like are being accorded Yinka Odumakin now. But how many of these emergency ‘recognisers’ of these virtues are ready to live such a worthy life? How many of them are ready to make life worth living for the masses as campaigned for by Odumakin and delivered by Jakande? How many of them are ready to give to the masses what belongs to the masses? The cosmogenic Ifa verse of Eji Ogbe decrees that what belongs to the people should not be denied them. It renders stupid the ambitious craze of the Leviathan that seeks a contract of agistment of a fowl with Death. Ogbe f’ohun f’olohun is the warning of the oracle that deplores gluttony and stealing. Where the rights of the people are accorded them, where the nation is allowed to breathe without the suffocating noose of incompetence, corruption and nepotism, where the leaders of the land would allow the resources of the nation to serve the people and stop redecorating a dead horse, setting up a committee on how to ride a dead horse of a refinery and creating white elephants to loot our commonwealth, where the youths are meaningfully engaged and a future is carved out for them to enable them live without a pang of hunger, certainly the memory of Yinka Odumakin and others like him would have been well preserved.
Yinka is gone but his works live after him. One wonders if his death is not a condemnation of ill-gotten wealth as many billionaires have died in the past one year of COVID-19 harvests, including several supposedly powerful men in public office and, yet, hardly did the world know that a soul was harvested by the Grim Reaper; hardly were they sung for more than hours but quickly forgotten together with the allure of their Rolls Royce, Lamborghini and other terrifyingly intimidating moving machines. They had eaten up their contributions to humanity while cruising the surface of the earth in luxurious splendour that took no cognizance of the wailings of the poor. For the other activists, this is a reinforcement of our conviction that there are absolutely returns on investment than material.
We are on the right path, notwithstanding the victimization, intimidation and persecution we might be going through. Yinka’s death is a testimony triumph of activism over materialism. Yinka’s death is a brochure of how to die young as a hero than to depart this world unsung. As American poet, Maya Angelou, counselled Oprah Winfrey, “Your legacy is every life you have touched and every moment you are building your legacy.” Adieu, Yinka Odumakin!