Joe Okei-Odumakin: Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Tireless Activist

What does the name Joe Okei-Odumakin have in common with the likes of Wole Soyinka, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti? Activism!

Once upon a time, Nigeria was reeling under the iron grip and cold cruelty of a series of military regimes and hard-hearted dictators. They crushed oppositions and stifled voices. They arrested the stubborn and kept the brave in prison. No one was spared; no one who dared to stand up for the common masses.

In the midst of such chaos and open confrontations, there were still a few bold men who didn’t fear death and who called for the end of the military rule and the madness.  A few bold men and one brave woman, that is. That woman is Josephine Okei-Odumakin.

Joe Okei-Odumakin was described by Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka as a ‘tireless fighter whose frail bearing bellies an inner strength and resilience purpose, a veteran of affirmative marches, of crude arrests and detentions, 

 baton charges and tear gas who has lent lustre to the struggle for justice and human dignity, who remain an inspiration of men and women, old and young.’

For anyone who knows the noble Prof is no sycophant, that’s high praises indeed.

Recently, Okei-Odumakin was given a national award in recognition of her democratic activities. GoalDig therefore presents you the top ten things you probably didn’t know about this amazon and freedom fighter of repute.

1.       Joe grew up as a tom boy

Josephine was born into the midst of four boys, three of whom were older than her. She joined them in doing the male stuffs together. They played football a lot. They argued, they fought and she matched up to them. 

She didn’t think of herself any lesser or weaker than they were. She had to be called Joe and not Josephine. Her irresistible urge to fight for her rights and to defend other people’s rights was born in those early days on the streets of Zaria.

2.       Joe wanted to be a nun

Joe was born into a family of staunch Catholics. She got enrolled in a missionary school, and as young as she was then she knew who she wanted to be when she grew up: a nun.

Her parents quietly hoped she would outgrow the dream. But the older she grew, the stronger her conviction to end up in the nunnery. Her father begged her, forced her and even threatened to disown her. If she would not re-consider, he promised to print her obituary as she didn’t want to procreate. It was hard to let go of a childhood dream and young Josephine cried all night.

3. She was born again into activism

Finally convinced to further her studies, Joe gained admission into the University of Ilorin. There, one of her lecturers who noticed she was brilliant and opinionated introduced her to the works of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Karl Max.

These great men helped stoke the fires of activism in Joe. Their words got her charged up. In 1985, while still in school, the position of secretary for the NGO ‘Women in Nigeria’ was vacant. She applied and was appointed. She became ‘born again into the struggle.’ 

4. Joe Okei Odumakin had the finest mentors in the game

While girls her age were doing their best to attract the attentions of men, Joe Okei was falling in love with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Their calls for political and social actions tugged at her heart.

Martin Luther King’s words “our lives begin to end when we keep silent about the things that matter” motivated her to become an activist above all others and the quote became her mantra. Karl Max reminded her that ‘every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor’.

5.       Joe’s been arrested more times than most men

By the time Joe met with Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in Lagos, she was ready to be involved in direct action. They fired up her activism desires and invited her to their non-violent protests. She had found another place she felt at home away from the convent.

She became a regular figure in the fore front of numerous struggles and the hottest zones of heavy protests. She was once shot in the leg and was in and out of detention for about 17 times. The struggle against Nigeria’s military oppressors finally had an amazon on the roll call.

6. Joe’s parents' regret

But her parents suffered the most shock. They had not wanted her to be a nun. They didn’t want a freedom fighter, either. Joe’s mother even wished they had let her become a nun.

Her father would bear some of the brunt, too. He was a top civil servant under a military government facing ridicule in the hands of his daughter. They knew his daughter was leading many of the public protests. So they ransacked his house and arrested him, too.

7.       Joe never wears a skirt. Why?

She used to wear skirts back in the days until she attended a rally against Sani Abacha in 1994 dressed in skirt and blouse. Soldiers attacked while she was addressing the rally. She was seriously beaten and thrown into the gutter. Her skirt easily got torn and she was left naked.

When her tormentors saw her condition, they kicked her even harder underneath severally. Though, she sustained serious injuries, they still kept her in a cell for three days. She vowed to never wear a skirt again since.

8. Joe met her husband in prison

A committed character in the pro-democracy struggles, Joe had vowed never to marry until the return of democracy. But fate acted otherwise.

In one of those times spent behind bars, she met Comrade Yinka Odumakin. She was love struck and they got married. Joe had to find a balance between her love and passion, between her marital home and activism. And she did.

She would cook five different soups and keep them in the fridge for her hubby to live on whenever she was away. She even still made time to check her kids’ homework as her father used to do.

9. Joe’s stronger than you can imagine

Thirteen months after her marriage, a pregnant Joe had to address a press conference in Pa Abraham Adesanya’s office by 10am. Earlier that morning, she started feeling funny. Her doctor noticed it was labour signs and made plans to confine her.

But not Joe! She demanded for drugs to delay the delivery. But her husband prevailed on her and she delivered the baby by 9:10am. Joe only waited till the baby sneezed and cried, then she got up and left for the press conference while nurses were still cleaning her baby. 

She delivered her speech and nobody knew she was pregnant much less had just delivered a baby except her husband who went with her to the press conference. She later returned to the hospital and was discharged immediately.

10. Is she still into full time activism?

This ‘tireless fighter’ who was once bathed in urine while pasting posters of a tyrant had earned her place as an activist. Yet she is the first to admit that activism is not a job.

Joe’s a teacher, part-time lecturer and WAEC marker. She is also a local and international rapporteur and gets paid decently. She edits literary works, writes biographies and makes presentations. But her passion rules as she continues to commit 60 per cent of her earnings to the struggle.

Join Joe Odumakin on twitter here.