Dr Obiajulu Josephine Okei-Odumakin is Nigeria’s leading Human Rights Advocate. Renounced for her relentless fight for justice for victims of violence and extra-judiciary killings, freedom of women’s liberties as regards participation in politics, and the rights of children neglected by institutions like schools and hospitals, she courageously continues to be a voice to be reckoned with despite numerous challenges faced.
Born on the 4th of July, 1966 in Zaria, she spent most of her childhood in Ilorin. She attended St. Barnabas Primary School and Queen Elizabeth Secondary school in Ilorin before going to School of Basic Studies in Kwara State Polytechnic for her A levels. Although she gained admission into the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, she chooses to study English and Education at the University of Ilorin where she bagged her Bachelors in Education Degree. After her service year at the 35th Amphibious Battalion, she returned to the University of Ilorin three years later for a Masters degree in Guidance and Counselling and a doctorate in History and Policy Education in 1996.
Even though she works in the academia, she has found time to accommodate her interests in human rights activism. She began her journey into activism unofficially in 1985 during her university days when she was introduced to books containing the works of freedom fighters and philosophers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Karl Max, Malcolm X, etc. It became official in 1988 when she contested for the position of Secretary of Women in Nigeria (WIN) in Kwara state and rose up the ranks to the coordinator of Women in Nigeria (WIN) and Chairperson Defense Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Kwara state in 1996.
She went on to be involved in a number of civil societies and became the Executive Director of the Institute of Human Rights & Democratic Studies; the Founding President of Women Arise Initiative; the Chairman of the Task Force of the Citizen Forum; the President of the Centre for Change in Community Development & Public Awareness; the President of the Centre for Participatory Democracy; and the Spokesperson for the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria.
During the Military regime led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha, she was detained 17 times because of her stand for democracy. During one of those times spent in prison, she met her husband, a fellow activist, Comrade Yinka Odumakin and the late Gani Fawehinmi. They took care of her till she was released and they continued working together, debating the state of the nation and writing communique till Comrade Yinka expressed his desire to marry her and they got married in 1997. In 2014, they were both selected on different platforms to attend the National Conference during Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential Administration.
For her commitment to the struggle over a 25year period, she has received numerous awards of commendation both locally and internationally since 2007. With well over 40 accepted awards, her most memorable remains, the International Woman of Courage Award. It was given to her by the Obama Administration for her leadership, courage, resourcefulness and willingness to sacrifice for others, especially for the promotion of women’s rights; where she got to meet with the then first lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry on the 8th of March 2013. Undaunted by the accolades, she is prepared to give her life if need be to see that Justice for the oppressed, the rule of law and democracy to prevail at all times.