Joe Okei-Odumakin: The price we pay for silence is great


Joe Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin, popularly known as Dr Joe, is a vocal Nigerian Women’s Rights Activist and the President of the Rights groups, Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy. She has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of others for over two decades.

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Okei-Odumakin has spearheaded protests against the violation and maltreatment of women and cases of extra-judicial killings committed by government security agencies. More recently, she campaigned for the prosecution and sentencing of Police Corporal Museliu Aremu, who killed Mrs Comfort Godwin Udoh, a mother of four in Lagos State.

What informed this rare passion? She says, “In Africa, and specifically in Nigeria, the price we pay for silence is great. In addition to rape, molestation, enslavement, denied opportunities and the rest, young girls are being abducted. The price is great, to fight for what is right. It is even greater, more so, fatal, to be silent.”

Dr. Joe, according to her own archives, has handled over 2,000 cases, which have included violations of women’s rights (including extrajudicial killings of women by the Police or their spouses); assault of women by law enforcement personnel under any pretext, as well as deaths of children and women through negligence on the part of authorities.

She is currently the Executive Director of the Institute of Human Rights and Democratic Studies; Chairman, Task Force of the Citizen Forum; spokesperson, Coalition of the Civil Society Organisations; and President, Centre for Participatory Democracy, among others. But there must be some form of motivation for her advocacy. On this, she says, “The next major change to happen in the world is only waiting for a woman. She is the creature loaded with the potential to cause major breakthroughs in the world, but the women to do the next one are still in silence.”

For over a year now, the untiring and vocal activist has been at the forefront of advocating, along with others, for the release of students of the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, who were abducted over 500 days ago. To Dr Joe “this is a call on all of us to be the keepers of one another and of humanity.”

The 49-year-old activist was born in Zaria, Kaduna State into a Roman Catholic household. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English Education in 1987, a Master’s in Guidance and Counselling, and a doctorate in History and Policy of Education from the University of Ilorin. Her foray into human rights activism began when the Babangida dictatorship was baring its fangs and locking up critics.

She became one of the targets of the administration and was arrested and detained about 17 times at different locations. Despite this, her spirit was not daunted and she became the Assistant Secretary-General of the Campaign for Democracy in 1994, when the struggle against the annulment of June 12 elections became fierce. She was the General Secretary of the organisation for 10 years, from 1996 to 2006. In July 2006, she became the President of the group.

“Women would handle affairs better, if given the opportunity. History is replete with women dynamically changing how the society runs,” she says. She recalls that her activism started when she was a child as she watched her mother, who as a princess of Isele-Uku, Delta State, was taking up cases of women whose rights were infringed upon in the area; even to the extent of going against her father who was the Obi Odor of the town.

Professor Wole Soyinka had commended her consistency and unwavering determination for the survival of democracy in Nigeria, saying, “I present to you a tireless fighter with inner strength and resilience, purpose; a veteran of affirmative marches, of crude arrests and detentions, baton charges and teargas who has lent lustre to the struggle for justice and human dignity, who remains an inspiration of men and women, old and young.”

The activist is married to Yinka Odumakin, who she met in 1994 during one of her numerous detentions by the military government. Her husband, also an activist, was detained at the Alagbon Prisons with the late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.