Olubiyi Odunaro, the 53-year-old former employee of Hallmark Bank Plc, who embarked on a hunger strike on November 12 to protest against non-payment of his terminal benefit says he is not afraid of death.
Hallmark Bank was one of the banks which did not meet with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s recapitalisation requirement in 2005 resulting in its being folded up.
Odunaro told our correspondent on Sunday at a garden located on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Lagos, where he had turned to his new home, that his hunger strike remained indefinite as neither the Federal Government nor any of its agencies had taken any serious step to pay him and his over 14,000 colleagues their terminal benefits.
He said his personal doctor who ran another round of medical tests on him late last week had been lamenting that his sugar level had significantly dropped.
He said, “I might be physically weak but I’m psychologically strong and I remain focused and undaunted. I would never be tired and I am not even afraid of death.
“A man does not die until he dies. It’s my belief that a man only dies when he keeps silent in the face of tyranny. My intention is not to commit suicide but If I die for a just cause, I will feel honoured in my grave.
“I won’t start something I won’t finish and as it is, I won’t back down on this hunger strike until we are paid our entitlements.”
Our correspondent observed that Odunaro whose hunger strike clocked two weeks on Monday (today) had started looking frail while his voice had started going weaker as against the time of the first interview with him.
PUNCH Metro learnt that an official from the Lagos State Public Advice Centre had called him on the telephone to mediate and make him end the strike but he had stood his ground.
Odunaro said he respected and appreciated the concern of the centre, adding that he had “sent a representation to the office to explain his stance to them.”
Odunaro, a 1986 Sociology graduate of Ogun State University, (now Olabisi Onabanjo Univeristy), explained that he sent a text message to the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, on Thursday morning to appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan on behalf of former workers of failed banks.
He said, “Though we weren’t close, Dr. Reuben Abati was a former colleague at the Ogun State University where I lectured for two years at the Department of Sociology before joining the banking industry.
“I sourced his number and I thought it wise to send him a text message to pass our message to Mr. President.”
The message which he sent to 08034004*** reads, “My name is Olubiyi Odunaro. I am a former colleague at the Ogun State University. I have been on hunger strike since last Monday (November 12) to press home our appeal to get the president’s attention to the plight of the disengaged staff of failed banks for their terminal benefits for humanity sake.
“Please use your good offices to assist us in this regard. My plan is not to die but I may not withdraw from the strike. Please help to avert calamity.”
Odunaro said when Abati did not respond to the message, he sent another one to his second line on 08054004*** on Friday to which he responded.
Abati’s reply which was delivered to Odunaro’s phone at 10:29 am on Friday read, “Noted. In fact, somebody(name witheld) discussed your protest with me this morning. Regards.”
Odunaro said, “This is an ample opportunity for President Jonathan to prove to the whole world that he truly cares for the soul of every citizen of this country.
“He should pay us our entitlements and give the over 14,000 employees of the 14 failed banks a new lease of life.”
Odunaro’s cousin, Olusina Taiwo, who was at the garden in company with his wife, said he heard about the hunger strike on two different radio stations and called him on the telephone to confirm if it was true.
He said, “I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this on radio. I have been appealing to him to reconsider his decision but he has refused.
“Though he is four years older than I am, we grew up together and I have known him as a very disciplined man. I don’t see him ending this strike.
“As a Christian, I don’t think it is biblical to die of hunger strike. I’m just trying to preach the gospel to him so he can accept Christ because we don’t know what can happen in the immediate future.”
A former employee of Hallmark Bank, Abbas Salami, who came on a solidarity visit to him said Odunaro must not be allowed to die.
He said, “He went on hunger strike on his own volition and we respect his views on this.
“Government should heed our request and prevent an avoidable disaster.”
President, Association of ex-staff of Non-Consolidated Banks, Magnus Maduke, appealed to the Federal Government to direct relevant agencies to discharge their obligations to them as contained in laws guiding the banking industry.