By Jimi Agbaje
“Yinka could not have died now. That was not the plan. Yinka had only achieved 1% of what he planned to do. This was not our understanding…”
That was the outpouring of a completely unbelieving and shattered Joe, on receiving the news that her husband of over two decades was no more.
That Joe and Yinka were of the opinion that only 1% of their plan for a better Nigeria had been achieved puts Yinka’s struggle in better perspective. It explains why he was always focused on what he considered important and why he refused to take a break. He never took credit for anything because, in his own thinking, a lot was still left to be done.
Since his demise, I have had an avalanche of commiserations from those who knew the relationship Yinka and I shared. My wife and I could not have sunk into a greater depth of grief than we are in now. He was always a phone call away.
What manner of man did God give us in Yinka, son of Odumakin? Unlike many mortals made of topsoil dust, Yinka appeared to have been fashioned in the depths of the earth from gold dust. He was such a dynamic person. Shakespeare said of Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the rest of the conspirators acted out of jealousy of great Caesar. Only he acted from honesty and for the general good. His life was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man.’” Yes, Yinka was such a man.
Like the oracle “Oduifa” in his pedigree, Yinka had wisdom, knowledge, understanding and vision. His analyses were outstanding. He had an uncanny grasp of Nigerian history and current affairs; about his native South-West, the Niger-Delta, the South-East, the Middle-Belt, and the twin wings of the core North. Odumakin’s network of connections was as formidable as his knowledge of all. Governors formed his retinue of friends. So were electoral officials and security agents. Ditto journalists. So were civil society aficionados. He befriended the drivers of his friends and the friends of his drivers.
He moved with the high and mighty but he was down to earth with them. If they messed up on principle and compromised on agreed goals, Yinka wasted no time in telling them off. That was Odumakin for you.
Yinka “omo Akin”,fought like a blindfolded Samurai. He wielded his sword in all directions, cutting friends and foes alike with his truth. Yinka was all about the MESSAGE and cared very little about the messenger. He was ready to work with anyone, for as long as they were on the same page with the message. However, he would not think twice about stepping back if the message no longer aligned. Heaven help the messenger if Yinka suspected betrayal of the cause. Any wonder, over the years, at his on and off relationships with President Buhari, former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan,, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Afenifere Renewal Group and so many more.
Our paths crossed in 1998, just before the beginning of the fourth republic. Yinka had been a student union activist in his university days, rusticated for student union politics and reabsorbed on a court order. His reputation as a civil rights activist followed him after university during the pro-democracy struggle. He was an active member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). I, being involved in the pro-democracy struggle on other platforms knew of him. We however got to meet when some of us decided to be more involved in the socio-political organisation, Afenifere, credited for spearheading the founding of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). We then began working together organising the various Pan-Yoruba Congresses under the leadership of the late Senator Abraham Adesanya.
Afenifere at that time did not have a formal structure, neither did it have an official secretariat. It took some effort to convince the elders in the organisation to agree to a formal structure. When they did, Yinka Odumakin became Administrative Secretary and later the Spokesperson of Afenifere. I became the National Treasurer as well as Secretary of the Political Committee of the Organisation. As members of the caucus, we held meetings with the leadership every Monday, unless there were other engagements for the organisation. The Political Committee had as its Chairman, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, former senator and one-time governor of Kwara State. This Committee met every Tuesday and comprised a younger generation of committed members. They included Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Chief Supo Shonibare, Rt. Hon. Niyi Afuye, Dr. Akin Onigbinde, Kola Awodein SAN, Sola Lawal, Yinka Odumakin and myself. In addition to the Monday caucus and Tuesday Political Committee meetings we would meet on at least one or two other occasions in the course of the week. This was how Yinka and I bonded.
This close relationship cemented even more when I decided to run for Governor of Lagos State in 2007 and made me comfortable enough to have him as Director General of the camapign. I owe Yinka a debt of gratitude for the role he played during the course of the campaign. Many may not know how very close Yinka was to the then Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Asiwaju has already published a tribute and I recommend it to all. Yinka deserves no less.
Having decided to run for office in 2007, I informed Asiwaju Tinubu of my intention. I felt it proper to ask the incumbent and leading party member if there was any serious objection to my aspiration. I was not asking for endorsement, only a level playing field to be provided for the party primaries. In his response, Asiwaju Tinubu assured me that one legacy he would want to leave is to hand over Lagos State to a successor that was the party’s choice and ultimately the choice of the people of Lagos State in free and fair elections. He made it clear that he had no anointed candidate and encouraged me to join others who had already thrown their hats into the ring.
Yinka also decided to approach his close ally to reconfirm the feedback I gave him. He got the same assurance Asiwaju had given me. We therefore started the rigorous work of campaigning in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Weeks before the primaries, Yinka then informed me that Asiwaju had walked back on his commitment to a level playing field for all aspirants. He had now decided on a preferred successor and asked other aspirants to step down. I had personally gone too far to withdraw and told Yinka I would understand his leaving my campaign because of his close relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Yinka looked me straight in the face and spoke for like 15 minutes. The summary of his statement was that he was his own person and nobody, however powerful, could change him from a course he believed in. He told me I was free to sack him but assured me that even if I did, he would not work with Asiwaju. I want to believe that was the first major fall out Yinka had with Asiwaju. Yinka gave his ALL to that campaign and I never had any reason to doubt his commitment, loyalty and financial transparency.
Yinka went everywhere he felt could bring about a better Nigeria. The word passive was not in his dictionary. He co-founded Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) with Hon. Wale Oshun, Gov. Kayode Fayemi, Babafemi Ojudu, late Dipo Famakinwa, Tola Mobolurin, Alh. Lai Oyeduntan, Kunle Famoriyo and myself. He was also right beside Pastor Tunde Bakare in the Save Nigeria Group (SNG).
Save Nigeria Group (SNG) fought for the validation of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who as Vice to President Umaru Yar’Adua, faced the existential threat of being sidelined by the cabal in the Aso Villa during the absence, incapacitation and eventual death of the then President. SNG came into the picture, organised protests and with other civil society organisations forced the hand of the National Assembly to declare the “Doctrine of Necessity.” This paved way for Jonathan to become Acting President and later be sworn in as President when President Yar’Adua died.
Yinka’s commitment to ‘the message’ played out when President Jonathan’s government increased the price of fuel from N67 to N87 on New Year’s day 2012. For Yinka it was the message that mattered, not the messenger involved. Jonathan had been a friend, now that His Excellency had stepped out of line with what he considered an anti-people policy, Yinka the Samurai wielded his sword.
It was yet another matter when Jonathan bought into the idea of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) and convened the 2014 National Conference to discuss the National Question. Since Yinka had always advocated for a national dialogue he had no reservations to being a part of the process and was a very vocal delegate. He exerted no little energy to see to the success of the Conference of a government he had vehemently opposed over a fuel price hike.
With Pastor Tunde Bakare becoming the running mate to General Buhari in the 2011 polls,Yinka was appointed Media Adviser to the General. He executed his duties diligently, traversing the length and breath of the country to sell the joint ticket. However, Yinka became a fierce critic of President Buhari over his government’s refusal to restructure the country.
Still on ‘the message’, Yinka was a key member of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) which was founded by younger members of Afenifere. They had become frustrated by the unwillingness of the Afenifere elders and the former South West governors to work together. When Yinka felt the new ARG platform was shifting from its guiding principles, he returned to the ‘elders’ in the main body. All was forgiven and Yinka got reabsorbed as the Spokesman for Afenifere. He was indeed more than a spokesman for the organisation. His loss to Afenifere and Pa Ayo Adebanjo, in particular, is better imagined. Till date, I have not found the words of condolence and comfort to offer Pa Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Cornelius Adebayo.
I do not know if Yinka was ever a card carrying member of the Alliance for Democracy, but I do know that he never joined a political party after that. He just never believed enough in the consistency of messengers to formally associate with them. The only exception would be with the late leader of Afenifere, Senator Abraham Adesanya after whom he named his only child.
He regarded himself as a technocrat and professional, working with politicians. He discharged his duties with unequalled sagacity, wisdom and prudence. He was employer, business man, broadcaster, writer, journalist, activist, MC, reformer, mobiliser, defender, mentor, motivator, tactician, negotiator and most of all a team player.
He was also lover, husband, father and friend. In marriage, God blessed him with a soulmate and partner in Joe, an Amazon equally committed to the struggle. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and Abraham in particular and the Odumakin family in general.
Like every human being Yinka had crosses to bear, but he carried them with the stoicism of the biblical Job. Every challenge thus became a stepping stone towards the great persona that fate and destiny fashioned him into. That was Yinka.
Nigeria lost a towering patriot in Yinka Odumakin . May his lion’s soul rest in peace.