A bouquet for Bisi Fayemi. By Hakeem Jamiu
Bisi Fayemi who turns 56 today is the wife of Ekiti State Governor and this is her second tenure as the first lady of Ekiti State but that is not all. She is such a rare breed that needs to be celebrated at every given opportunity. She is talented with brains and beauty. She is an internationally recognised gender specialist, policy, women and child rights advocate and an intellectual of note. She recently bagged the 2018 Zik Prize for Humanitarian Leadership alongside the former Ghanaian President, John Mahama, immediate past National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who won in the political leadership category. Also the governors of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel and his Niger State counterpart, Abubakar Sanni-Bello, emerged winners in the good governance award category.
Before her recent Zik award, she was on April 5, 2011, presented with the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of philanthropy but narrowly missed the African Leadership Hunger Prize Award in 2008 when she was nominated. With the Rockefeller Award, Mrs. Fayemi joined the rank of past winners such as former South African President, Nelson Mandela, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sheela Pattel, Fazle Hasan and Queen Rania. In 2011, she was appointed as the Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) by the Federal Government. She was listed in March 2012 as one of the 100 personalities working for the advancement of women and girls in the world. Her contribution to important national discourse was very key such that former President Goodluck Jonathan noticed her absence during a discussion about HIV/AIDS in Abuja when the former President asked: “Where is the wife of Ekiti State Governor? I enjoyed her contribution the last time she was here.” Prof Utomi described her as ‘a reputable feminist activist, Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur, Policy Advocate and writer, who has devoted her time, talent and resources to the promotion and defence of rights of women and the girl child’. She has been doing this before her husband became Governor in October 2010 through her organization, the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) through which she has empowered many women groups especially widows across Africa.
I have known her since January 2007, though my association with her husband who is second term governor of Ekiti State and now Chairman, Nigeria Governors’Forum (NGF), dated back to 1984 when we were both students at the University of Lagos. I later served as Senior Special Assistant on Research and Documentation to him during his first tenure between October 2010 and October 2014.
Since I have known Erelu Bisi Fayemi, she has remained her pleasant and humble self. During her first tenure as wife of the Governor, she made her impact felt in that administration through many life-lifting programmes such as the Multiple Birth Trust Fund to cater for the needs of couples who gave birth to twins or more children at a go; sponsored the gender based violence law and the Child Right Act in Ekiti State, established the Ekiti Development Foundation, an organisation she used to empower many Ekiti women and women organisations. She collaborated well with the Ministry of Women Affairs and her positive impact was felt on Ekiti women and children. She embarked on a programme called Erelu mbe Oja wo ( Erelu visits markets ) where she interacted with the market women, gave them measuring bowls and wallets, bought ingredients from them and supported them financially. She gave 16 buses to the market women leaders in each of the 16 Local Government Areas. She supported many indigent women and offset the medical bills of many patients. She is behind the food bank project and soup kitchen with a Non-Governmental Organisation whereby elderly and indigent Ekiti citizens were provided with foodstuffs, both raw and cooked. She has a pure heart and she is a cheerful giver who is kind to a fault.
Bisi Fayemi was a pillar of support for many in the government of Fayemi at that time. She is a problem solver and humility personified. Like many other stakeholders in the first Fayemi government, she was devastated by the electoral loss on June 21, 2014 but she took it with equanimity and handled the post-election trauma in a matured way such that she came out stronger and played a more active role in the re-election of her husband on July 14, 2018. As she would reveal later, she was devastated not by the loss per se, but because of treachery from those she trusted and assisted during that administration. Many of them turned their backs against her, castigated her and her husband for the electoral loss even when they knew more serious reasons for the loss ! Narrating her experience to me one evening after we were out of government, she exclaimed with disappointment in her voice, how people you trusted most could suddenly turn against you because you are no longer in position of power where you can dispense patronage. I instantly remembered the words of Bertha M. Clay in his novel, “Beyond Pardon” when he wrote, “There are many sorrows; the bitterness of death; the tortures of jealousy; the anguish of long suffering; but there is nothing that rends the heart, that destroys all hopes, that ruins a life so quickly as treachery from the one we love best”. Even though she was disappointed about betrayal from unexpected quarters, there was no bitterness in her heart.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of this woman of virtue is her forgiving spirit and her large heart. She embraced and forgave many of those who betrayed her in the first tenure and moved on. In fact, she influenced the present appointment of many of them in this present dispensation. She will always say in Yoruba, ‘e woo ta baa gbagbe oro ana, a o ni ‘reni ba sere mon (Look, if we don’t let by gone be byegone, we won’t have any friends left). This special attribute shocked and drew many to her, who had thought she would adopt the an-eye-for-an-eye approach when against all odds, Fayemi won election for his second tenure and she also automatically commenced her second tenure as the first lady.
During the electioneering campaign between May and July 2018, Bisi Fayemi led other women in an elaborate road show and visited almost all farmsteads in the state to campaign for her husband just as she did in 2014 when seeking re-election.
She has intimidating credentials yet, she is as gentle as a dove and humility personified. She had received standing ovation on the floor of the General Assembly (UNO) for her efforts through the AWDF to make life better for African women. She is until recently, a UN Women Nigeria Senior Advisor, and is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Africa Leadership Centre, King’s College, London.
Bisi Fayemi is the author of Loud Whispers (2017), a masterpiece which I was privileged to review and recommend for all secondary schools, Speaking for Myself (2013), and an autobiography,Speaking above a Whisper (2013). She also co-edited Voice, Power and Soul. She is a motivational speaker who has delivered many public lectures including the recent convocation lecture of the University of Medical Sciences , Ondo.
Bisi Fayemi holds many traditional titles like Erelu of Isan Kingdom, Iyalode of Ilemeso, Yeye Ajiseye of Awo-Ekiti and Ochiora of Umezi Owa, Enugu State.
As we celebrate this woman of substance, we in Ekiti are proud to call her our own and we thank God for sparing her life till this day. We wish her Happy Birthday and many more prosperous years of service to humanity.
Hakeem Jamiu wrote from Ado Ekiti.