Erelu Bisi Fayemi: Glowing Testimonial For A Rarebreed
By ‘Gbenga Ogunremi
My first encounter with her ingenuity was when I read through an article she wrote in one of the national dailies shortly after the July 14, 2018 governorship election that once again ushered in her husband Dr. John Kayode Fayemi (JKF) as Ekiti State Governor.
The short piece titled, ‘’A Tale of Two Sundays’’ was a lucid and digestible account that eloquently described a series of events that took place on Sunday , next day after the 2014 governorship election which Fayemi undeservedly lost in a bizarre manner and the Sunday after the 2018 governorship election that gave JKF a well deserved victory at the polls. It was an exceptional perceptive narrative that was both significant and sentimental, a seemingly entrancing storyline for a Nollywood blockbuster movie.
But if truth be told, I thought this was a one-off thing, or perhaps the work of a ghost writer, not until I stumbled on a corporate gift looking package in possession of Sam Oluwalana, a professional colleague and media aide to the governor. Sam said it was a gift from the first lady, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi when he paid her a courtesy visit. The content was totally unexpected as it wasn’t some exclusive luxury gift as the package suggested, but therein contained were six books, three apiece, authored by the first lady and JKF, her husband.
Then I read more and more of her compulsive literary works, from creative to scholarly writings, and they all have one distinctive attribute, a distinguishing prose quality. In fact, by the time I was done with reading ‘’Speaking above a Whisper’’, her personally authored power- packed autobiography, I got interested in knowing more about this broadly developed woman of substance beyond her outstanding literary works, and in the process of a background check, I discovered several amazing things about her that were not only compelling but intriguing too.
First, I discovered that Erelu Bisi-Adeleye Fayemi was not the typical or run-of-the-mill first lady, but a breed apart. She is a multi-tasker that engages in a variety of activities and extraordinary tasks amid distractions of huge responsibilities that come with the office of the first lady. Bisi Fayemi is at the same time a gender specialist, social entrepreneur; policy advocate, social change philanthropy practitioner, communications specialist and a great mobilizer for political and social ends. More importantly, Erelu was a career woman who made her mark and distinguished herself in her chosen career of gender activism and social justice issues.
Now, going back in time, I discovered that the first lady actually opened up to her true potential early in life by identifying her career path which was essentially influenced by her deep-seated conviction that there should be an inclusive growth process that would, through robust advocacy, guarantee gender equality and social justice, whereby the average woman would have equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities and privileges like her male counterpart in the society.
So, with the plight of women ceaselessly tugging at her heartstrings, she dared herself to work on achieving gender equality that would create an enabling environment for women to claim their rights and extend the limits of their opportunities in the whole of Africa and beyond. And to deal with this, she went for a Masters degree in Gender and Society at the University of Middlesex, UK, and acquired the necessary skills that eventually placed her in a pole position to advocate for women’s rights, and help build institutions that empower them and ultimately enhance their wellbeing.
Today, Bisi Fayemi is a world renowned gender activist and a global citizen, who through working with like minds and institutions across the globe, was able establish strong movements to defend and promote women’s rights, ensure zero tolerance for all forms of abuses and build capacity for gender equality.
For example, she co-founded the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) a pan-African grant making foundation for women’s empowerment, which in its almost 20 years of existence had played a key role in promoting and protecting women’s rights in Africa, through funding of autonomous women’s organizations in Africa. She was the AWDF founding Executive Director for nine years between 2001 and 2010, and it is noteworthy that till date, AWDF has awarded grants of U$41.7m to over 1,160 women’s organizations in 42 countries in Africa.
Prior to this, she had served as the Director of Akina Mama Wa Africa (AMWA) an international development organization for African women based in London, UK, for 10 years between 1991 to 2001, and as Principal Partner at Amandla Consulting that specializes in leadership for women. During this same period, she also established the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) a training networking forum for young African women that has trained over 6000 women across Africa, with most of them now in strong leading positions of authority in all spheres of human endeavor.
Currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Kings College, University of London, Erelu was indeed on top of her profession in a career that spanned over three decades, excelling so much that she became globally acclaimed and duly acknowledged for merit in view of her manifold and unquantifiable contributions to gender balance and women empowerment in Africa.
For instance, her Ghana based AWDF got an award for Outstanding Leadership in Women`s Rights along with a £100,000 prize money from Sigrid Rausing Trust, a UK grant- giving foundation that supports human rights globally. The prize money which was used to institute a special HIV/AIDS Fund for Women in Africa got a further boost at the official launch in 2005 with a U$ 1m grant from the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
At her 50th birthday a few years back, the guest lecturer, Leyman Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner eulogized Erelu to the skies as head of AWDF who provided the much needed foundational support for women’s peace movement in Liberia. The Nobel Laureate summed it up by saying, ‘’…We crave change, but wait for someone to come and save us…but Bisi, you have helped us to achieve change. You have used your position to sew dreams and show that change is possible and helped to set our minds to it. That I won the Nobel Prize is because of people like you…’’
Also, due to the first lady’s untiring efforts in advancing policies and laws that protect Ekiti women, provide for their needs and guarantee their wellbeing, Ekiti state government became a recipient of a Gender Mainstreaming Award from the UN Women in recognition of the achievements of Ekiti State Sustainable Development Goals in the area of gender mainstreaming.
Other worthy recognitions and awards include, among others; the 2011 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of philanthropy; named in 2011 by Women Deliver as one of the Top 100 People in the world working on women’s empowerment; named in 2012 as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New Africa Magazine.
Now, another big one is here. She has just been awarded the 2018 Zik Leadership Prize for Humanitarian Leadership. In announcing the award, a member of the advisory board of the center, Prof Pat Utomi described her as a reputable feminist activist, social entrepreneur, policy advocate and writer who has devoted her time, talent and resources to the promotion and defense of the rights of women and the girl child.
The accolades are endless, but ostensibly, a short piece of this nature can never capture the whole essence of a rare breed like Erelu Bisi Fayemi, perhaps, a treatise would be more appropriate in doing justice to the ingenuity of such a distinctive personality, most especially for posterity.
“ Gbenga Ogunremi, a Public Analyst Sent this piece from Ibadan”