By Eric Elezuo
The Nigerian Police College, Ikeja, Lagos, venue of Yinka Odumakin’s Tribute Night was in top notch Thursday as the who is who in Nigeria’s political, social, economic and human rights circle arrived in their numbers to bid the human right activist and renowned spokesman of the Afenifere, a worthy farewell.
The events of the day, which started with the lying in state of the deceased activist, witnessed a free flow of emotions among dignitaries, colleagues, family members and friends alike.
Having taking turns to pay desired respects to the deceased, who was referred to as a fallen hero, special guests also took turns to present heartwarming tributes that eulogised the life and times of the ebullient upholder of justice, who passed on to the great beyond on Good Friday, April 2, 2021 after a brief illness.
Coordinating the tributes, Pastor Jeromi, of the Trinity House Church, assisted stand up comedian, Omo Baba, invited Pastor Tony Oke to presented the day’s bible reading from the Book of John 11: 19 – 29.
In his tributes, Constitutional Lawyer, Femi Falana, went down memory lane, stating how his path crossed with Yinka in 1986 when he was dismissed from the Obafemi Awolowo University, where he was into radical activism. He narrated that Yinka had come to Lagos to seek his boss the late Alao Aka Bashorun’s assistance to return to studies, and he (Falana) was mandated to go and ensure that Yinka and seven others were restored to academic studies. Since then, he said, Yinka has remained a distinguished comrade in the struggle. He lamented amid emotions that ‘Yinka was lost in the peak of the struggle’, and advised politicians to ensure that Yinka’s dreams do not die.
“Yinka was a consistent activist, and the best way to honour Yinka is to rededicate ourselves to be more committed to the struggle Yinka believed in,” he added.
Falana challenged the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University, which has said that Yinka was an illustrious alumnus de-proscribe the students union of the institution, which has been in comatose for a while.
He continued: “Yinka dreamt that this country be rebuilt, retaken from those who has messed it up and that the provision of chapter two of the Constitution be put to work so that each of us can live a stress free life.”
Rounding off, he admonished Yinka’s wife, Joe, telling her not to allow people to miss Yinka by keeping up with the struggle.
For the immediate past President-General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nnia John Nwodo, Yinka should be phenomenom to be replicated, asking the audience to emulate the life of the deceased.
“When you live in a country where your children are living below standard, and you keep quiet, you are not Yinka’ when you are afraid to speak about oppression, you are not Yinka; when you live in a country where election is rigged without speaking, you are not Yinka,” Nwodo advised.
He called on everyone to take upon himself a touch of Yinka Odumakin, and went ahead to congratulate Joe for the imprints Yinka left in the sand of time.
At this time, a short document featuring an interview Yinka and Joe jointly granted was presented, showcasing the intricate personality the couple shared, before a former governor of Ondo State, Segun Mimiko, informed the gathering that ‘for Yinka, white is white and black us black’, stressing that he said the way it was not minding whose ox is gored.
“The best tribute to offer Yinka is to recommit ourselves to the Nigeria of our dreams because restructuring is an idea whose time has come,” Mimiko said.
A former Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who said he breezed into town to offer his condolences, without knowing that the lying in state was taking place, was brief in his remarks, reminding all present that “Yinka will be missed”.
A nonagenarian, who is the president of Afenifere, and one of the mentors of Yinka Odumakin, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, paid glowing tribute to him, calling his courageous, committed and difficult to replace.
“Yinka was realistic, pursuing a course relentlessly and committedly. It is so difficult to talk about Yinka. I hereby urge those who love and believe in him to continue in the struggle,” he said.
The Aare of Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, appraised the deceased for his fearless struggle. He noted that though Yinka never held any political position in his lifetime, the clout he drew even at death is a testament of his importance.
“He followed what he believed and followed it through to the end,” he said.
He urged Nigerians to live with that attitude, and lauded him for his ideology, saying that the deceased was always on the same page with him. He sympathised with Joe, and promised to always keep in touch with the family.
Lending his voice to the avalanche of tributes, Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said Yinka was a member of the Southern and Middle Belt Region where true federalism issues were discussed, and acknowledge him for his overlapping roles, which form the reason a great crowd turned out in his honour.
Yinka wanted the best for Nigeria, for the Yoruba nation, and was completely detribalised. Until the very end, he kept going on, working hard for a Nigeria that will reflect true modern federalism. He was a fighter who fell in his prime. We will continue to hold on to the legacy he believed in. I call on comrades of like-mind to continue to push on as regards what Yinka believed in, lived for and died for,” Sanwo-Olu said.
In his tribute, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said though he never knew Yinka at close range, but his knowledge of him from a distance was that of admiration.
“He was a man who has been through the vicissitudes and turns of life and came out unscathed. We are not here talking about his school or circumstances of life, but his service,” he said.
The Speaker urged everyone to look back to the documentary, and ask himself what he want to be remembered for at the end. He condoled with the wife and praised her for being with the husband in trenches, and asked God to give her the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
It was a moment of high octane emotion as the chief mourner and wife of the deceased, Joe Okei-Odumakin, took the podium to deliver her tribute.
“I’m keeping a part of him, promising it will never grow cold. He was an encyclopedia of positive activism,” she reeled out from a voice ladened in suppressed sorrow.
The woman, who first had an encounter with the man that later became her husband in a prison yard, where both were detained for activism, concluded her message with a song, singing “When I remember Yinka, water run away me eye…”
Presiding Pastor of Trinity House, Ituah Ighodalo, who said he was representing Pastor Tunde Bakare, noted that Bakare could not come because he was highly emotional of Yinka’s death, and was tending to another assignment.
Taking the theme of his sermon from Psalm 49, Ighodalo admonished those who trust in their riches to desist from it, adding that Yinka ran his race and was committed to his struggle even in his sick bed.
“All will die…the rich and poor,” he warned, and told illustrative stories of the mortuary, hospital and prison and the grave yard as where people ought to visit to become more humble. He admonished that it is vanity to strive, fight to acquire what we did not bring to the world, nor would take away at death.
‘One day we will all lie down like Yinka in death and leave everything behind’
He noted that somethings are more important than money, which has become a synonym for idol worship, mutual distrust, divide and rule, greed, selfishness and dependence on self. Those thing, he said are wisdom , contentment and eternity among others.
“To Joe, through the love of God our saviour, all will be well. Though Yinka will not be replaced but he will be reproduced. Nigeria will be great again,” he concluded.
After an altar call, Ighodalo prayed for Joe, Yinka’s immediate family, the Afenifere family and other dignitaries.
The corpse was thereafter escorted to the hearse as the hymn Abide with Me rent the air.
Other dignitaries whose presence were felt at the event were Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Senator Ajibola Bashiru, Senator Ade Tumobi, Chief of Staff to Lagos State governor, Taiwo Ajide, Demola Oyinlola, Senator Tokunboh Afikuyomi, Comrade Ayodele Adewale and Pastor Tony Oke.