Yinka Odumakin was many poles apart from pseudo-ideologues fond of adorning phoney Awo caps. His grouse was that lack of permanent fidelity to Awoism was a disservice to the memory of the illustrious pathfinder of history.
He had the trademark cap in various colours, not only for the sake of fashion but also as a reminder that the ideas of the indomitable Chief Obafemi Awolowo offered a comprehensive answer to the national question.
Although he had opportunities to be in power, he preferred to operate outside government. He remained very principled to the end; highly informed, vocal, critical of targets, strong-willed, always sharpening his arrows.
Concern about his health grew after the photograph of the Afenifere delegation to the Ilupeju residence of the late Alhaji Lateef Jakande, former governor of Lagos State, appeared in the newspapers. He appeared to have lost some weight. But, he retained his mettle of speech, exchanging banters with people. The photograph was a source of discussion in many newsrooms.
In February, Odumakin visited the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland in his Omole Phase 11, Olowoora residence. The visit coincided with the visit of two reporters to the Oodua Peoples Congress(OPC) leader.
He could not walk on his own. After alighting from his Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), he was assisted by two people, one on his left and the other on the right, who he leaned on.
On the chair, he took a cup of tea, unaided. His hands were not shaking. After sipping coffee, Odumakin was in his best of elements. Although he was a bit lean, his voice was clear. He still spoke with vigour, marshalling his points sequentially and evoking the power of logic.
The discussion involving the Aare, Odumakin and the two reporters focused on two unrelated subjects. The first was the gift of public speaking and the ability to write, which the reporters said Odumakin exemplified. The second was insecurity, particularly the onslaught of killer-herdsmen in the Southwest.
One of the reporters observed that it is sometimes rare to find a single person being an orator and a fine writer at the same time. In a display of humility and courtesy, Odumakin, who neither admitted nor denied being an epitome of the two traits, simply thanked the reporters for their observation.
On the security challenge, he expressed worry over the killer-herdsmen who are on the prowl in Yorubaland, urging the people to act fast to prevent escalation.
Odumakin was vibrating. He spoke with passion and patriotism. His analysis of the difficulties underscored his intelligence; his capacity for reasoning, comprehension and judgment.
The activist urged speed, warning that the delay in resolving the security problem could be dangerous.
Shortly before the interview with Aare Adams, Odumakin had to leave. The Aare beckoned on two of his aides to assist him; to lift him up from the chair, and help him to the vehicle the same way they led him to the sitting room.
It was said that he left for the hospital to keep an appointment with his doctor.
Odumakin’s admirers were hopeful that he would overcome the unusual health challenge until the news of his death was confirmed by his widow, Dr. Joe.
Odumakin left behind a country in chaos, a disunited Yorubaland, a polarised Afenifere, a civil society battling with role crisis, a youth population suffering from the agony of unemployment, and a populace wallowing in ignorance, poverty, deprivation and frustration.
Ironically, his activism was a protestation against the inhumanity of man to man.
Having placed his hand on the plough during his days at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Odumakin never looked back. Although he was once rusticated, he was unrelenting in his campaign for liberty, equity and justice. He was detained as the Student Union Publicity Secretary. The detention became a blessing in disguise as he met his heartthrob in detention.
Although he took off as a journalist, there was no excitement. His potentials later unfolded as Afenifere spokesman when he succeeded Dayo Adeyeye, journalist, lawyer and prince of Ise-Ekiti.
For 17 years that he was an activist in the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Odumakin lived up to expectation as a latter-day disciple.
As an Administrative Secretary, and later, Publicity Secretary, he was the bridge between the umbrella organisation and the media. He was the youngest officer in the Controlling Leadership, who kept records, acted as liaison officer between the group and other ethnic organisations, and also worked assiduously to sustain the organisation in the consciousness of Yoruba people. As he projected the group, his activities on that platform also projected him. Ultimately, Odumakin became a household name in Nigeria.
Despite serving as media aide to Jimi Agbaje, spokesman for Muhammadu Buhari when he contested for the presidency in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Publicity Secretary of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Secretary of Save Nigeria Group(SNG), and a spokesman of Southern Assembly, none these could dwarf Odumakin’s status as Afenifere Publicity Secretary.
If the Afenifere gerontocrats forgot any matter at the meeting, it was up to the young man to remind them. Since he never wrote any book detailing his experience and stewardship, there may be many facts and secrets, only known to him and few others, that may be lost forever.
Post-military period Afenifere’s strength lies in its pro-democracy antecedents and history; its exploits as a mouthpiece, success as the backbone of the now weakened Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the Southwest and feat as a protector and defender of Yoruba interest.
To observers, the demonstration of steadfastness is highly commendable.
But, Afenifere’s weaknesses have also been pointed out by analysts. It is a divided group, polarised, not by contrasting ideas, but by differences in approaches. The hallmark of Afenifere is the absence of a forgiving spirit.
Its former leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti has also decried what he described as indiscipline in the group. As Afenifere could not draw the line between working effectively with progressive parties and extending a hand of fellowship to conservative elements, there is a semblance of an identity crisis.
The Controlling Leadership, including Odumakin, deserves commendation for sustaining the strengths of Afenifere. But, they could also not be shielded from the blames arising from the impact of its weaknesses. The greatest weakness is the lack of an effective crisis resolution mechanism in the fold.
Odumakin will be remembered as an outstanding rights activist, who largely became famous for his consistent advocacy of a better Nigeria for all Nigerians; devotion to cherished principles, boldness and bravery; a great campaigner for good governance.
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