Yinka Odumakin: Like a candle in the wind

Verse 1: Goodbye Oodua nation’s rose/May you ever grow in our hearts/You were the grace that placed itself/Where lives were torn apart/You called out to our country/And you whispered to those in pain/Now you belong to heaven/And the stars spell out your name

Chorus: And it seems to me you lived your life/Like a candle in the wind/Never fading with the sunset/When the rain set in/And your footsteps will always fall here/Along Oodua nation’s greenest hills/Your candle’s burned out long before/Your legend ever will

Verse 2: Loveliness we’ve lost/These empty days without your activism/This torch, we’ll always carry/For Oodua nation’s golden child/And even though we try/The truth brings us to tears/All our words cannot express/The joy you brought us through the years. (Chorus)

Verse 3: Goodbye Oodua nation’s rose/May you ever grow in our hearts/You were the grace that placed yourself/Where lives were torn apart/Goodbye Oodua nation’s rose/From a country lost without actualizing your ideals/We will miss your acerbic wit/More than you will ever know. (Chorus)

Outro: Your footsteps will always fall here/Along Oodua nation’s greenest hills/Your candle burned out long before/Your legend ever will. – Adapted from John Elton’s “Candle in the wind” (1997).

 

AT 54 years (last birthday, 10 December, 2020), Yinka Odumakin died too early, barely managing to overshoot the life expectancy in Nigeria which, in 2018, was put at 54.33 years (Yinka’s date of birth: 10 December, 1966). Conversely, life expectancy in the United Kingdom during the same period was 81.26 years and the United States, 78.54 years. Some other places, like Monaco and Hong Kong, have higher life expectancy than the UK’s. Yinka’s wife and ideological soul mate, Comrade (Dr.) Josephine Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin (Date of birth: 4 July, 1966) has the unenviable challenge of widowhood at the same age that Yinka died. Both Yinka and Joe were born a few months apart from each other.

Only God knows how He arranges these things! Yinka left both of his parents to mourn him. His father is reportedly 115 years and the mother, 105. Being the last child of his parents, Yinka also left older siblings to mourn him. According to reliable information, Yinka’s death was not the first time the Odumakin family would carry this heavy cross. May affliction never rise again in the family! (Nahum 1: 9).

The children are still young and this is the time they need the attention of both parents. Even in the best of times, both Comrade Yinka and Comrade Joe must have struggled to combine the load of commitments that each of them carried with family responsibilities, not to talk of now when the load of two persons, as they say, has become that of a single person. May the good Lord strengthen Comrade Joe and multiply His grace upon her! (2 Peter 1: 2).

Yinka’s death hit like a thunderbolt because many did not see it coming. Only a few had the inkling he was ill. According to reports, even while battling for his life he still clung to work, insisting that his last breath must not go unprofitable. He answered the call of revolutionary duty to the very end; one lesson Leftists generally learned at the feet, so to say, of Che. “Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if…”

The statement issued by Abiodun Olanrewaju, the Public Relations Officer of the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife) aka “Great Ife, on behalf of the vice-chancellor, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, described Yinka as “a vibrant student activist, mass mobilizer, great orator, and the Public Relations Officer of the Students’ Union.”

It added that Yinka graduated from the Department of English Language in 1989 and “as an alumnus, he assisted the Faculty of Arts in raising funds for a few projects that were of immense benefit to the staff and students (but) died when his wealth of experience was most needed to chart a new path for the overall development of Nigeria.” That is true!

In another tribute, Comrade Femi Falana, SAN, recalled the heroics of Yinka as a progressive student leader and fire-brand activist at Ife and the steep price he paid for it, no thanks to the military junta of vile dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Nothing less could have been expected of Yinka or, indeed, of any alumnus of Ife’s Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) that Yinka was, that Falana was, that I was, and that many other comrades, dead and alive, were. In those days, the spirit – and demands – of comradeship was duty that no comrade took with levity.

In those days, too, graduating from the university did not mean an end to the revolutionary struggle. Hence, the new and the old continued to link up to advance the struggle for a better society in all ways possible. Many of such links, be they strong, be they tenuous, survive to this day. I am today a Pentecostal pastor but yet to witness any bonding as enduring and as selfless as that between comrades.

Of course, I knew of Yinka’s heroics at Ife. So, when our paths crossed at the Features department of PUNCH newspapers, it was not a meeting of strangers but of comrades. I had left the Ibadan-based Sketch newspapers in February 1987 for The PUNCH newspapers at the invitation of the editor, Comrade Nojeem Jimoh. My letter of appointment read March 1, 1987. I had a stint in the Newsroom as Assistant News Editor before moving to the Features Department as Assistant Features Editor-cum-Head of the Department with the promotion of Paul Bassey as Deputy Editor and his handing over of the baton of the Features department to me.

The PUNCH Features department of those days bristled with ideologues, radicals, hotheads – name it. I remember Azuka Jebose Molokwu, Dele Adeosun; my deputy, Joe Dudun; Tunde Kolawole, Jude Arijaje, Tunde Aremu, Alex Ogundadegbe, Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Biola Olagbami, Olapeju, Femi Akintunde Johnson (FAJ), Iretunde Willoughby (who later married FAJ), and, of course, Yinka Odumakin.

Those were the years when PUNCH was Nigeria’s leading entertainment newspaper and we won the “Entertainment Newspaper of the Year” award in succession. I remember when Azuka left and everyone thought we would not win again, but the new team that we put forward still shone like a million stars and we won the award again and again. We believed in ourselves! And the effort was collective!

Yinka did not stay long enough to climb the editorial ladder to the top. He made his choices early and it paid off for him. Today, he is remembered not for being a great editor, great news editor or great writer but for the niche he carved for himself on the terrains of political activism, the defence of fundamental human rights, and the struggle for a better society. The Campus activist, orator, fearless combatant, fire-eating and uncompromising defender of whatever principles he held dear took his gifts and talents to the nation’s political space – and he did not disappoint!

In Yinka’s life sojourn, his pinnacle of success was being Afenifere’s spokesperson. The momentous event of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election; won clean and clear by MKO Abiola but annulled for no just cause by the military junta of Babangida, caused a re-think and realignment of forces on many fronts. According to a “surprised” Falana, Yinka informed him of his decision “to pursue the struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian people along ethnic lines”.

Between those pursuing the struggle along national lines and those doing so along tribal or ethnic lines, what has been the outcome – or difference? Whether we agree or disagree, the fact remains that Yinka diligently and effectively discharged the onerous responsibilities of his office as Afenifere’s spokesperson. It is, therefore, not a surprise that Afenifere has reportedly decided to accord Yinka a befitting burial. He deserves it!

Many may be tempted to think that the effusive praises and tributes showered on Yinka in death testify that he was without blemish or beyond reproach in his life-time. Far be it! The elders say many are those who keep blood within but spew out white saliva! That is in the nature of men! We saw it at Awo’s death – the best president Nigeria never had, according to Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu! Similar hypocrisy was full blown when MKO died. I read the tributes of some fellows on Yinka and my belly turned.

But it is alright! Tradition admonishes us to say no evil of the dead. For one, they are not in a position to talk back. They can no longer state their own side of the story. So, tales told about the dead can become dangerously one-sided. “Audi alteram partem” means “listen to the other side.” For another, you and I will one day find ourselves in the same bind as Yinka. How would you want to be treated when the bell tolls for you? Another golden rule is that we do unto others what we would have them do unto us.

One Kemi Olunloyo may have none of that, though! The disparaging nature of her reported comments on Yinka notwithstanding, at least she was forthright enough to speak out. Many others would praise openly but curse beneath their teeth. If you ask, I honour those who speak their mind concerning the dead than those who tell blatant lies. Letting everyone know they will be “judged” here on earth on their death by the people before they proceed before the Creator for the final judgment may help some people re-examine their ways while they still have the opportunity.

The story of Alfred Nobel, “the merchant of death”, who read his own uncomplimentary obituary before his death and felt a tinge of regret, is instructive here. Nobel might not have been able to turn back the hands of the clock or undo the dynamites he invented; he, at least, left the world with the Nobel Prize.

As we close, our thoughts return to Yinka’s aged parents (Jeremiah 31: 15). May the good Lord comfort them! The entire Odumakin family shall weep no more (Isaiah 30: 19). Comrade Joe, take heart, for you surely shall be comforted (Matthew 5: 4). You bent over backwards for Yinka in many ways. You sold property to urgently raise money for his drugs. You should have got more help than you did from many of Yinka’s associates.

Maybe they never knew. Unbelievably, some gave crumbs!  But it is alright! And never allow your heart be troubled with conspiracy theories of whether or not anyone killed Yinka. Whatsoever a man soweth…(Galatians 6: 7). And don’t forget Dele Giwa immortal words of “Any evil done by man to man will be redressed…”

I commit you and the children into the warm embrace of Him who says He is the father of the fatherless (Psalm 68: 5) and “thy Maker (who) is thine husband” and you shall not suffer the reproach of widowhood (Isaiah 54: 4 & 5). Cast your cares upon Him (Psalm 55: 22) and it shall be well!

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