By Pascal Chimezie
On a Saturday that was called “holy” (April 3, 2021), the uncanny cold hands of death struck. It was a devastating blow as it snatched two prominent and irreplaceable human rights activists, Innocent Chukwuma and Yinka Odumakin, thereby leaving the entire human rights community in Nigeria reeling in deep shock and utter disbelief!
Innocent Chukwuma was the regional director of Ford Foundation and a backbone of human rights support and activism not only in Nigeria, but also in West African subregion. A refined gentleman and great patriot.
He was globally recognised as an advocate for human rights and good governance. He founded the Centre for Law Enforcement Education, also known as CLEEN Foundation.
CLEEN was the first African nongovernmental organisation to receive the MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
He was said to have been diagnosed of an “acute leukemia,” and he died in Lagos at the age of 55. What a loss!
Yinka Odumakin was the spokesperson of pan Yoruba social cultural organization, Afenifere. The sad news of his passage was particularly psychologically traumatic.
Yinka was said to have died of “respiratory issues due to complications from Covid-19,” a statement from his wife, Dr. Joe-Okei Odumakin, herself a dogged human rights activist, said. Yinka was 59!
How are the mighty fallen at their primes!
Yinka Odumakin was one of the most brilliant and fearless activists I have ever met. He was prolific in writing, bold and courageous in eloquence.
As Matthew Kelly would remind us, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear.”
Yinka had the audacious courage and ability to move beyond any mortal fear. Eye ball to eye, he confronted powers-that-be like a moving train, speaking uncommon truth to power.
He fought with special and relentless vigour for emancipation and liberation of the Nigerian people, and for the redefinition of Nigeria’s convoluted federal structure. He was a strong advocate of restructuring and true federalism, as well as resource control.
The closer you are to someone, the greater the chances you will be influenced by his thoughts and actions.
As Sir Hugh Peter of Wadpole testifies, “The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase.”
This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is marvelous; a sort of divine accident, and the most wonderful of all things in life. I cherished every moment I shared with Yinka Odumakin in the cause of national struggle.
I must confess those moments were great, exciting and unforgettable. I so much admired Yinka’s high sense of duty and organizational skills and ability.
I first met Yinka during the hectic days of June12, 1993 struggle. When the Abacha junta was unleashing its venom on the pro democracy activists and groups, putting down viciously every agitation for the return to civil and democratic rule, we met often.
At the “Occupy Nigeria” rally at Ojota, in 2012, we were together.
At the Enugu Summit, tagged “The Handshake Across the Niger,” in 2018, we embraced like brothers.
We ran into each other one cool evening at a particular Pharmacy shop along Toyin street, Ikeja, in late 2019. “Ah! Pascal, how’re you?, he asked. After exchanging some pleasantries and some chats, entered his car and zoomed off! A man of brilliance.
Yinka wanted a Nigeria where no section would be subservient to the other, or be subjected to a fiefdom of aristocratic caste ruling system.
The deaths of Innocent Chukwuma and Yinka Odumakin are just too much to bear, especially for civil society groups in Nigeria. It is a terrible setback to the struggle for a new Nigeria.
As we wobbly trudge along the treacherous road to 2023, one thing that is certain. Nigeria will sorely miss the invaluable contributions of these fallen patriots!
Innocent Chukwuma and Yinka Odumakin were seasoned pathfinders who held political compass for a way forward.
Yinka Odumakin, before his death, warned the present regime of Pres. Muhammadu Buhari, that if it continued to ignore the loud and deafening cry for restructuring of Nigeria, there would come a time when “restructuring will be hawked on the streets of Nigeria and nobody will buy.”
It sounds prophetic! No one knows yet what might be the consequence of such a neglect. Given the current state of the Nigerian union, one only hopes this uncanny prophecy does not come to pass!
As a worthy tribute, we all must remain steadfastly committed to a New Nigeria project, anchored on total restructuring, where true democratic ethos and practices, good governance, rule of law, equity, fairness and justice will be enthroned.
We must not allow ourselves to be cowed into submission and acceptance of the status quo, which retards every progressive and democratic endeavours.
Surely, we will miss quality intellectual contributions of Innocent Chukwuma and Yinka Odumakin. We will miss their courage.
As William Shakespeare wrote in the phrase that begins a monologue from his pastoral comedy, “As You Like It,”
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
Innocent Chukwuma and Yinka Odumakin had performed their respective roles on the stage superlatively. And now they are gone. The rest act performance is left for you and me. Someday too, we will quit the stage.
A man is known by the many rivers he crossed to reach home. Both Innocent and Yinka crossed many rivers. And now, they are home to labour no more. May their good works speak for them before the Almighty Creator. May their gentle souls rest in peace. And may the Good Lord grant the families, friends, colleagues and associates the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
- NB: Comrade Pascal Chimezie, a former Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Ikeja-Lagos, writes from Lagos.