By Bisi Fayemi
I don’t know what possessed me to say ‘Sure, okay ‘. My husband and I were talking about his transition and inauguration plans. He had set up a transition committee and once that was in place, it was time to start planning for the inauguration. During his first term in office, I helped plan a lot of State events behind the scenes, partly because I was required to do so and mostly because my husband believes I am good at organising. When my husband said ‘You should head the inauguration committee,’ I said, ‘Sure, okay’, without hesitation. Over the past few weeks I have asked myself why I agreed to take on such a responsibility. It had not occurred to me that membership of the Inauguration Committee needed to be announced publicly. In political circles, especially during and after election campaigns, membership of any kind of committee is very important. It is taken as an indication of who is ‘relevant’, who is ‘in’ and who is likely to be the beneficiary of the first ‘harvest’ of political appointments. When the names were about to be announced, I thought of taking my name off the list in order not to attract attention. After talking to some people about it, we agreed that it was better to be transparent. The announcement attracted some attention, with a few nasty remarks about nepotism. I found one of the online comments particularly interesting. It went something like this, ‘The First Lady is not the one who will do all the work, it will be done by someone else. She will just sit there looking pretty at her husband’s side on the day’. I cringed at the sheer nastiness of the comments, not to mention the deeply sexist undertones. I know when to stay hidden in the shadows and play the demure ‘Wife of…….’. And I know when I need to show up and not be a hypocrite. I keep telling other people, especially young women, to step up and do something that challenges them. And here I was, given an opportunity to do something but afraid of a few cyber-bullies. Members of the Inauguration Planning Committee worked hard, round the clock, and there was no such thing as hiding behind some poor fellow doing all the work only for me to take the credit. We all worked together in plenary and in sub-committees, and at the end of a great week of activities, we are all taking the credit
The inauguration activities started on Monday October 14th with an inauguration lecture by the famous poet, writer and scholar, Professor Niyi Osundare. The powerful lecture was so beautifully delivered and resonated so much that it left some of us in tears. The inauguration lecture event also featured an inter-generational round table which had Professor Niyi Osundare, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and two young Ekiti professionals, Dr Sunday Aikurawo Aniyi and Ms Jumoke Oyebode. The key issues that came out of the discussion was the need for new faces and voices in leadership, grounded in the principles of hard work, respect, social justice and love for humanity that speak to the core values that Ekiti people stand for. The October 15th event also had a book presentation by Dr Kayode Fayemi, his latest book of speeches and lectures called ‘Staying the Course’ as well as the announcement of the winners of the JKF (John Kayode Fayemi) Essay Writing Competition. On the whole it was a great afternoon, which ended with the viewing of a photo exhibition of wonderful photographs taken by four young photographers who have worked with JKF over the past few years.
After the events, we hosted our guests from out of town to dinner, and that went on for a while. I went to bed at 3.30am and I was up at 6.45am on October 16th, inauguration day. As I started getting ready, my heart beat a bit faster. It had started to drizzle, and I was scared stiff that it could escalate into a heavy downpour. It has been raining with a vengeance lately in Ekiti, but mostly at night. By the time we left home at Isan-Ekiti for the forty-five-minute drive to Ado-Ekiti, the skies had cleared and I started feeling a bit better. The sleepless nights and painstaking plans for the inauguration ceremony paid off. The ceremony was beautiful. Excited Ekiti residents and visitors showed up in massive numbers, most of them gaily dressed in the Aso Ebi uniform. I had wisely stayed away from handling the Aso Ebi, (I usually end up giving most of it out for free), it was in the very capable hands of a textiles merchant. Events such as this can get very difficult because of the need to manage large crowds, VIP access, traffic and congestion, visitors, accommodation, catering, media, seating space, juggling a multiplicity of vendors, unpredictable weather, the list is endless. However, we managed to pull it off with very satisfactory results.
On Wednesday October 17th, there were Senatorial District visits for the new Governor to say thank you and reiterate his campaign promises. At the first stop in Ido-Ekiti, Ekiti North Senatorial District, the Governor announced the abolishment of the levies imposed on school children which had been introduced by the previous administration. These fees were seen as a contradiction of the free education policy which had been in place 2010-2014, and is a critical legacy of South West Nigeria political progressives. The shouts of joy could be heard across the State, the response was electrifying. The second stop that day was Ikere-Ekiti for the Ekiti South Senatorial visit, which was also very interesting, especially listening to my husband diplomatically assuring the traditional ruler of Ikere that the town would not suffer neglect for supporting their own son during the last election. The tension eased when everyone agreed that the votes from the town were split between the two contestants. On Thursday October 18th, there was a moving inter-faith service held on the government house grounds. The key message from the service was unity and religious tolerance, and the venue was packed. Friday 19th was the Jumat Service which I missed because I attended the funeral of the father of one of our political associates. I left the service after the Thanksgiving part in order to attend the third and final Senatorial district visit in Aramoko-Ekiti for Ekiti Central.
When we were planning the inauguration activities, tried to send a message that it would not just be about VIPs swooping into Ekiti for a two-hour ceremony and taking off again. We wanted to have programs that would give our people a sense of ownership. This is how we came up with the idea of the Ekiti Arts, Culture and Talent Fair. It took place on Saturday October 20th and it was a big hit. There were many exhibitors with products ranging from locally made electronic yam pounders, to cosmetics, textiles and beautiful paintings. There was also a food court with local delicacies such as pounded yam and Ekiti rice, with soups and stews many young people do not have the recipes for, never mind knowing how to cook them. There were a lot of music and dance performances, with guest artistes from the Nollywood Industry. In his speech at the event, Governor Fayemi promised to re-introduce the Ekiti State Festival of Arts and Culture (EKIFEST) that was started during his first term and had not been done since. One of the banks who sponsored the Saturday fair was so impressed that they promised to sponsor the next EKIFEST whenever Ekiti State is ready.
Sunday October 21st was Thanksgiving, which took place at the Governor’s church, St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Ado-Ekiti. As with all the other inauguration ceremonies, the church was packed full. The Catholic Bishop for Ekiti, Bishop Felix Ajakaiye gave a rousing sermon, during which he advised the new Governor to appoint people strictly on merit and not on the basis of religious or other sentiments. The inauguration activities were rounded up with a grand civic reception at the Governor’s home town of Isan-Ekiti. Of course, the Isan residents were only too happy to celebrate with their beloved son. The party ended three hours ago. The official inauguration activities are all over. Everyone travelled to and out of Ekiti State in peace. The events were very well attended, every single one of them over-subscribed. I have earned the right to be tired and totally exhausted. I however insisted on sending in my post for this week, because I did not send in any last week, and I do not want to give the impression that I will be too busy to write Loud Whispers. I might be a bit late every now and then, but the beat will go on every week. Thank you so much for all the love and warm messages. Please keep praying for us. Have a great week.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]