Josephine “Joe” Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin is a women’s rights activist. She is the President of the rights groups called “Women Arise for Change Initiative” and the”Campaign for Democracy”.
Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin courageously traversed where men fear to tread. She remains consistent without minding the hazards to her person in a society where critical voices are loathed by the unjust system which rewards the crook and punishes the just.
Dr Joe was born in Zaria on July 4. She grew up in Ilorin and started her schooling at St. Barnabas Primary School, Ilorin where she obtained the first school leaving certificate. She thereafter moved to Queen Elizabeth Secondary School, Ilorin where she passed her West Africa School Certificate. She pursued her A’ levels at the School of Basic Studies, Kwara State Polytechnic.
She later proceeded to the University of Ilorin where she got a BA.ED in English and Education in 1987. She returned to the same school and bagged her M. Ed in Guidance and counselling and her PhD (History and Policy of Education) in 1996.
Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin has over 25years experience in human rights work in Nigeria. She cut her teeth in activism as the Secretary of Women in Nigeria (WIN), Kwara State from 1988 – 1991 and the Coordinator of Women in Nigeria (WIN), Kwara State branch 1991 – 1996; Chairperson, Rethink Nigeria (1987 – 1992) and Chairperson, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Kwara State branch (1990 – 1996). Her foray into human rights activism was at a period the Babangida dictatorship was baring its fangs and locking up critical voices. She became one of the targets of the administration as she was arrested and detained for not fewer than seventeen times at different locations: Division B Police Station Ilorin; Police Headquarters Ilorin; SSS Headquarters Ilorin; SSS HQ Maitama Abuja; Panti Police Station Lagos; Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos; and Alagbon Close in Lagos.
But her spirit was not daunted and she became the Assistant General Secretary of CD in 1994 at a time the battle against the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election had become so fierce.
She was the General Secretary of the body from March 1996 – July 29, 2006 (10 years) when she became the President on July 29, 2006. She is also the Executive Director of the Institute of Human Rights and Democratic Studies, the President of Women Arise for Change Initiative; Chairman, Task Force of the Citizen Forum, Spokesperson, Coalition of Civil Society Organisations and President, Centre for Change in Community Development and Public Awareness(CDP). She has received several awards at the national and international levels.
Recently, City People Tv crew led by SUNDAY ADIGUN hooked up with her and she revealed a lot on her home and many other things people don’t know about her and her hubby, Yinka Odumakin, who is also an activist. Below are excerpts of the interview.
How has being an activist been so far?
It’s been so great. Not that we’ve not had our challenges, but people will always ask us, that, “after all these things you are doing, what have you people achieved”? And I said, if we have not done anything probably, we would still have been in the back days. I remember during the military dictatorship, we all gathered. It was through the collective efforts that we were able to chase the military out of governance, which was an aberration.
We got civilian dispensation. We’ve had our challenges in terms of electoral reforms, but we’ve been educating the people, sensitize them, and create awareness in the fight against corruption. Our dear country, Nigeria is bleeding under the heavyweight of corruption. We’ve been able to make an impact because it’s better to prevent corruption than fighting it. So, in all spheres in terms of governance, economy, poverty, but it’s so sad that Nigeria has become the headquarters of poverty, that as much as possible all of us have to put in our best in ensuring that we have a Nigeria that works. We cannot forget the media, we salute the media especially those who have been so vibrant, who have been consistent, and who have helped in shaping positively our country, Nigeria, through constructive criticism.
What is your take on the issue of Amotekun and Federal Government going against it?
Well, there is, no doubt, about it that insecurity remains very, very paramount. A live lost can never be regained. Take the whole country, for instance, we have had a colossal loss of lives and resources. Amotekun is long overdue. If we have security architecture of all sectors of the country working, it’s going to go a long way in reducing the colossal loss of resources, I don’t want to talk about life, because life remains sacrosanct and as much as possible we must protect life.
You and your husband are activists, how do you run your home?
We met at Alagbon during the dark days of military dictatorship. I was detained in Ilorin, after about 3months, I was transferred to panti, from Panti I was brought to Alagbon. And the only person I knew then was Chief GaniFawehinmi, who was also detained. When he saw the way they were dragging me and I had emaciated, he said “ you people must stop treating her this way. If you don’t treat her decently, I won’t co-operate.
And I saw a young person looking, and Gani said “Yinka, don’t you know Joe Okei? The one that is in Ilorin and Yinka said “is Joe a woman? All this while I thought Joe is a man. And Gani said this is the person who has been making waves in Ilorin. I was detained upstairs, they were detained downstairs. After they were released, I was still there and he always came, to visit me. So, when I came out, he decided to pitch his tent with us and started showing me extra care. That was how one thing led to the other and newspapers reported that “What Abacha has joined together let nobody put asunder”.
So that was how we continue. In 1997 when I had my daughter, we were preparing for a rally and I didn’t know she was coming because I still have more weeks to go. We were going for a Press Conference first, and then rally and fortunately for me, my mum was around. I started feeling funny and my mum said maybe we should check the doctor, which I refused because I knew I still had 3-and-half more weeks to go, but I went there and the doctor said it was advanced labour. It’s already quarter to 9 and my Press Conference at Apapa was starting for 11. I asked the doctor if there was any way we could wait. I was feeling it, but I was trying to subdue. I got to the hospital 8:45 to complain and at 9:05 I heard a child sneezed beside me and I looked at my side lo and behold it’s a girl. After taken care of her, I quickly changed and I left for my Press Conference because my mum was around.
When I got to the press conference, there was no difference in the size of my tummy, so nobody knew, so after the Press Conference, we went for the rally and after the rally, I went back to the hospital. My mum asked where I went to, people were asking what happen. I just told the doctor to discharge me because I see no reason why I should still be here. I also had my boy in 2013, but my mum had taught me that if I failed in one I failed in all. So, it’s been easy for me balancing the home front. Although, the greatest time we’ve had was when we debated the state of the nation. I remember when they had an election in America, I was supporting a different person and he was supporting another. We were always sitting, we were always arguing, we believe in superior arguments.
It’s been give and take. I’m always in the air travelling. He always travels. We are always at home with our children. In fact, I used to go to the market but when I get there I will solve one problem or the other, I will spend close to 4 hours, so I no longer go. I used to go for my kids P.T.A, but when I got there, it’s another diversion, then I stopped going. It’s been understanding. I believe so much in my passion. I said I wasn’t going to get married, because I was married to the struggle, and he has said he would not distract me from the struggle. And I want to tell you that, when he proposed, it was during a meeting, they had to give him the microphone when he said “I’m in love with this lady, but she said she’s married to the struggle. They gave him 3 minutes to state why he wanted to marry me and they gave me 3 minutes to also debate why I don’t want to marry, why I married to the struggle, at the end, the comrade scored us and he won. That was how we started.
You are always on shirt and Jean trouser, what really inform that?
In 1992, we went for protest, my base was in Kwara. I was addressing people at the rally and all of a sudden they started beating us. My skirt was torn and I was kicked inside the gutter. I was bleeding seriously and I was also detained for 5 days and they didn’t allow anybody to see me. After that, I just realised that if this was what would be happening to me, then I have to always prepare for it. that was the last time I ever wear a skirt and ever tie wrapper, I started putting on jeans and a shirt.