Erelu Bisi Fayemi: A First Lady With a Class

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Ahmed Salami

Under military and democratic dispensations since its creation in 1996, Ekiti had got good numbers of First Ladies, who came to support their husbands in piloting the affairs of the state for meritorious and impactful governance .

Putting things in the right perspective, all of them had, at various times, contributed their mental and physical resources to develop the state, and the records are there to justify how well they had gone in lifting the people, particularly the women out of excruciating poverty.

Without sounding hyperbolic, Erelu Bisi Fayemi remains the most outstanding and exceedingly complementary among them, using any barometer.

Her oustandingness has been recognised beyond the shores of this nation, in her activities as the wife of a governor, Chairperson of the Forum of Governors’ Wives, a globally renowned feminist, scholar, humanist and philanthropist.

Before bestriding Ekiti’s political hemisphere like an Amazon, she had carved an enviable niche for herself and etched her name in the gold as an uncompromising and unyielding gender activist.

This vividly reflected in her intellectual contributions to the formation of the foremost African Women Development Fund. This Erelu Bisi Fayemi co-founded with other global feminists, with positive impacts felt across strata in over 42 African countries, liberating women from the pangs of poverty and political alienation.

In 2010 when Dr Kayode Fayemi came into government, little did Ekiti people know that he was coming with a woman that would bring a paradigm shift into Ekiti government. It was during Dr Fayemi’s time that women became prominent through the instrumentality of this gender advocate, Erelu Bisi Fayemi.

Her virulent advocacy for the implementation of 35% 1993 Beijing recommendations for women participation in governance and politics became amplified and assumed a front burner national discourse, and it paid off.

It was through her decisive action that women are now holding highbrow positions in the executive ,legislative and judicial arms. The era of pervasive and well -entrenched patriarchy is gradually fading and women are now considered as great allies, reliable co-pilots and dependable colleagues in politics, administration and governance.

Before her foray into Ekiti politics and administration, women were being treated with scorn by their male peers. Female genders were seriously confronted with rape, domestic violence, poor access to education, affliction by all manners of cultural encumbrances, forced marriages, and financial deprivation.

But when this Amazon came, she confronted them headlong through legal and institutional instruments. She was the brain behind the enactment of the Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law, to tame some of these social ills, and the results are manifesting everywhere.

Today in Ekiti, it is a grievous crime to beat a woman or rape or subject her to any form of social, financial or political oppression.

In politics, governance and even traditional institution, women are well represented and well deferred to. Every facet of Ekiti’s governance, right from the local government to the House of Assembly, Ekiti judiciary and the state executive council, women are well positioned and rated. They are no longer taking the backseat or locked permanently in the other room.

With Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s mantra of “Speaking above the whispers”, women are no longer dying in silence. They now publicly speak about how they were being afflicted by rapists, pugilist make counterparts and oppressors.

Going by records, Ekiti has one of the highest convictions for rape and sexual molestation cases in the country. This feat was achieved with strong and committed efforts from this outstanding First Lady.

In the act of philathropism, Erelu Bisi Fayemi is generous to a fault. With her singular efforts, thousands of Ekiti women had been empowered for them to be financially self-reliant.

Interestingly, all these she does wondrously and in magical ways, without constituting a burden to the state government’s finances. She does many of her empowerment programmes through personal funding, and partnerships with donor agencies.

Restoring dignity to women is another area where Ekiti First lady has remained unparalleled. The era of blackmail and stigmatization was gone. Any person who perpetrates such act will definitely have a date with the law and the implications are dire. Total emancipation is now the order of the day, and this is creating equilibrium and stability in the system.

The concept of Food banks and village kitchens that were designed by the present administration to support the weak and elderly men and women across the state were intellectual property of the current First Lady. All these she did to give a sense of belonging to every Ekiti indigene, and create egaliterian society for people of different statuses.

Under the preceding administrations, Ekiti was ranked first in Female Genital Mutilation practice in the Southwest and second in Nigeria. With shrewd policy formulation and social interactions, the story has changed. Many of the cutters had been financially empowered to drop their knives and the state has a success story to tell in this regard.

The establishment of the Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka Cancer and the Ekiti State Sexual Referral Centres in the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital were at the prompting and behest of the First Lady. The centres were to bring succour to the sufferers of cancer diseases and victims of sexual harassments.

Most memorable and enduring legacy of Mrs Fayemi was the adoption of a 110-year old late Madam Racheal Jolaade Osho, as a mother before breathing her last. The deceased’s woman was a widow, and she had lost her three children before their paths crossed . She was living in abject poverty in a ramshackled house in Ikere-Ekiti when luck smiled on her and met Erelu.

During the few years they met, the hitherto dejected and distraught woman had a good story to tell. The first lady took her upkeep in an holistic fashion and the frail woman rapidly wore a new outlook. During her burial, Mrs Fayemi foot the bill and stood in the position of a child to give the woman the last respect. Nothing could be more selfless than this.

Under Fayemi’s reign, the office of the first lady is always a Mecca of sort and beehive of activities. There was no dull moment for women. They are always engaged in productive activities that can raise their physical, emotional and economic statuses.

One can go on and on cataloguing the good deeds of this quintessential First Lady. Though, she will leave the podium in a matter of days, but her legacies would ever remain enduring, indelible, unsurpassable and radiant in the minds of Ekiti people.

Ahmed Salami, Publisher, Political Analyst and Media Consultant writes from Abuja

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