The Nigerian human rights community recently lost two of its frontline members with the exit of Yinka Odumakin and Innocent Chukwuma. Odumakin, the spokesman of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, died on April 3, 2021 at the age of 56, while Chukwuma, who worked with the Ford Foundation, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), and CLEEN Foundation died on April 3, 2021 at the age of 55. Their demise has created a huge vacuum in the human rights movement in the country.
Without doubt, the duo will be missed for their indomitable struggles for human rights, equality, democracy and good governance in Nigeria. They played prominent roles in the crusade to ensure the return of democratic rule in the country in the 80s and 90s. Their struggles resonated in the National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO) that battled the military to the hilt in the 90s and the Civil Liberties Organisation, the Transition Monitoring Group and Centre for Law Enforcement Education.
Through their various interventions, the deceased patriots enriched public discourse. They jointly fought to ensure equal access to economic and social opportunities, freedom of expression and other human rights. In the course of their human rights struggles, they were often harassed, incarcerated, intimidated by the military despots and their agents. However, they were able to surmount those travails, including having close shaves with death several times in the hands of the military dictators.
Despite being hunted by the powers that be, they never gave up the struggle till the end. They were dogged and uncompromising in the pursuit of their human rights goals and they died as true lovers of humanity. Their demise is more saddening when it is realised that Odumakin died as a result of complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, while Chukwuma died from acute myeloid leukemia.
We commiserate with the human rights community, their families, friends and colleagues on the great loss. At the same time, we urge the government not to relent in its efforts to improve the state of health facilities in the country.
The government must ensure the rule of law and the respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and other rights they devoted their lives to. In the same vein, COVID -19 protocols should not be relaxed and the vaccines should be made more easily available to the people, while the government makes elaborate plans to revamp the dying health sector.
Odumakin’s activism came to the fore as a student union activist at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife, where he suffered several repressions. Upon graduation in 1989, he practised journalism at The Punch Newspapers and then participated in the politics of the post-military era on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress (AC), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)) where he was Buhari’s spokesperson at a time. He later became the spokesman of Afenifere as well as the spokesperson of Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF). He started his education at St. Augustine’s Primary School, Ondo State and proceeded to CAC Grammar School, Edunagbon, Osun State, and later Oduduwa College, Ile- Ife.
Similarly, Chukwuma came into public limelight as a student union activist at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he studied Religious Studies in the 80s when Nigerian students waged relentless battles against military government. After graduation, he joined others to form the CLO, Nigeria’s foremost human rights organisation. He had a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, and served from January 2013 until recently as the Ford Foundation’s Representative for West Africa.
He also served on the boards of many global non-profits and initiatives against crime and violence, including the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime(ICPC) African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum(APCOF) Open Society Global Criminal Justice Fund, and the Africa Advisory Council of Human Rights Watch.
His CLEEN Foundation promotes public safety, security, and accessible justice in West Africa. He broke new grounds in police reforms and won several awards. At age 30, he won the prestigious Reebok Human Rights Award. May God grant them eternal rest.