Like in every brutish country, death in Nigeria is always associated with some form of foul play, until the contrary is proved. This near compulsive impression was what got hold of me the moment I heard that Yinka Odumakin was dead. A torrent of questions raced through my head. What happened? What went wrong? What could be responsible? I wondered aloud because I never heard that he was ill. So, what could have happened? In the absence of any lead at that material time, I was tempted to go away with the impression that they had killed Yinka. “They” in this context referred to enemies of truth. It signifies and represents those who are ill at ease with an arrangement that will make Nigeria work.
As members of the class of writers and commentators who have the courage of their convictions, Yinka and I have had occasion to interface and interact. We have always been bonded by the fact that we never stopped at anything in pricking the moral conscience of the country. Significantly, both of us, in March 2015, shortly before that year’s presidential election, were guests of the Frontline Club, London, where we participated in an international conference on the state of the Nigerian nation. Before the London road show, we had earlier been scheduled to play the same role at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. The two sessions were put together by government officials, diasporans, business people and concerned citizens who were disturbed by the welter of misinformation and disinformation about the state of affairs in Nigeria, especially as the country prepared to go to the polls.
The London event came under the theme: “Nigeria at the Frontline: A Conversation with the UK Press.” The choice of the Frontline Club was apt in a number of respects. For one thing, the club delivers an extensive programme of public events, bringing together many of the world’s best journalists, photographers, filmmakers and thinkers. For another, the club is known to promote engagement and dialogue on international affairs, champion independent journalism and provide a diverse range of training for journalists and other media workers.
It was within the four walls of this reputable organisation that Nigeria was laid bare. Yinka and I were panelists at the event where we, in conjunction with other panelists, spoke on a wide range of issues, including governance, the economy, security, corruption, the forthcoming elections and other topical issues about Nigeria that were of interest not only to Nigerians but also the international community.
It was, by all standards, a stimulating session on Nigeria. The panelists held divergent but informed positions on Nigeria. The presentations were first-hand information for foreign journalists, most of whom hear and report Nigeria from faraway lands.
At the events, facts confronted fallacies, assumptions were neutralized by practicality and prejudices were rendered impotent by informed discourses and analyses. At the end of the day, the audience went home wiser and better informed about Nigeria.
At the conferences, and even thereafter, Yinka made his own interventions and interjections in his own way. But we were both united in our corrective impulses about matters Nigerian.
From then onwards, Yinka would reach out to me whenever he had cause concerning the views expressed in my column. A case in point was in an article entitled “Gimmicks from the South West,” published in this column on December 27, 2018, where I argued as follows:
“The Igbo are being harangued. They are being blackmailed; even brow-beaten over the presidency. Their right to the office is being repudiated and questioned. It is being made conditional. Somebody somewhere is trying to give the impression that the right of the Igbo to the office of the President is a privilege, not a right. That is why they are being tossed about like a snail shell over the matter.”
After this preliminary observation, I then zeroed in on the involvement of the South West in all this. I had partly written:
“Having lost the hope of winning Igbo votes for Buhari in 2019, the schemers have changed their tactic. Their effrontery has graduated to impudence and mischief. That is what is oozing out of the South West at moment. The mischief-makers have got the Yoruba to start laying claim to the presidency in 2023 as a way of putting the Igbo on edge and, possibly, blackmailing them into accepting Buhari at the 2019 polls.
“The first hint of this plot was dropped by the former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, after a meeting with President Buhari. He disclosed after the closed-door meeting that Buhari has committed to handing over power to the South West. This was followed by the salvo fired by the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola. He told his Yoruba kinsmen sometime in October that they should vote for Buhari in 2019 in order for them to take over the presidency in 2023. Two months after, the kite flown by Fashola has navigated back to base. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has picked it up. He has released the flying object into the air with all the attendant ripples and reverberations. Like Fashola, Osinbajo has asked his Yoruba brothers and sisters to vote Buhari in 2019 so that 2023 presidency will be theirs. But the Vice President went a step further. He told his people that Buhari promised to hand over power to the South West after his tenure. A vote for Buhari, he told them, is, therefore, a guarantee for South West presidency in 2023.
“This is the new tactic making the rounds in the Nigerian polity. The Igbo are being pushed to the wall with this insidious plot. In one breath, it is aimed at blackmailing them into abandoning their political ship and jumping onto the Buhari bandwagon. In another breath, the plot is targeted at their ego; at making them feel that their right to the presidency, if they have that right at all, is being subjected to the whims and caprices of others.
“I have always held that the gimmick from the South West should be taken for what it is, a huge joke with temporary entertainment value. The Igbo will take their turn at the presidency when power returns to the South. Any other southerner, including the Yoruba, can aspire to the office. But it should be taken for granted that Nigerians will be united in settling for an Igbo candidate. Some elements from the South West are merely testing the waters. But they will not go far with that experiment.”
This was my submission. After reading the article, Yinka called to have further discussion with me on the matter. He told me that the Yoruba were not jostling for the 2023 presidency. Rather, he said that it was those Yoruba that I mentioned in the article that should be held accountable. He said that their position was not the position of the Yoruba on the issue. We had a robust discussion on this matter. That was vintage Yinka: ever candid and forthright. He was never afraid of telling the truth. I remember this man who, like some of us, beamed a constant searchlight on the Nigerian condition with a view to exposing its ills and making it work. That is what patriots do. In his death, Nigeria has lost an uncompromising patriot.