By Hakeem Jamiu
Erelu Bisi Fayemi, an international figure, gender and human right activist is the wife of Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor. I wrote to celebrate her when she turned 50 eight years ago, but between then and now, she has done a lot to improve the lives of women and children in Ekiti State. Protecting and fighting for women and children especially the girl-child is what she has been doing all her life. Ekiti State is lucky to have this woman.
She has dedicated her life to defending vulnerable women and children ever before her husband became the governor of Ekiti State. She brought this noble pastime into governance and this has given her a larger platform to impact positively on the lives of many women, widows, victims of abuse, rape, and other victims of Boko Haram insurgency.
She was doing this through an organisation she co- founded in Ghana called, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) with which she had lifted many vulnerable women across Africa. She assisted many widows in Enugu State and they expressed their appreciation to her when she was honoured with the title of Ochiora (leader of the people) in Umezi Owa in 2008. She also established the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI), a training and networking forum for young African women. The leadership institute she developed has become such a powerful legacy that today, the AWLI has trained over 6,000 women across Africa, and most of these women are now in senior decision-making positions as ministers, members of parliaments, academics, civil society leaders and employees of international organisations.
When she became the wife of governor of Ekiti State between 2010 and 2014, she sponsored and influenced many bills in the state House of Assembly aimed at giving legal teeth to the protection of women and children.
She did a lot to improve the lives of women through many empowerment programmes across the state. She launched Ekiti Development Fund (EDF) in 2011, a platform through which she assisted many categories of women giving them grants and tools to improve their businesses. She also introduced the Multiple Trust Fund where money and cash gifts were given to mothers with multiple births. She assisted the market women and donated a bus each to Iyalojas in the 16 local governments of the state. She visited the rural areas and donated cash, materials and also influenced the sinking of boreholes in many of the remote areas.
When her husband lost re-election in 2014, she was neither deterred nor discouraged from assisting Ekiti women through her private organisation. Perhaps, this is why God rewarded her husband with a second tenure in October 2018, four years after he lost reelection. She is back in the saddle as the wife of the governor for the second time.
In the over two years she has spent in this present dispensation, she has done a lot to fight the cause of vulnerable women. Just as she sponsored the Gender Based Violence Prohibition law (2011), Equal Opportunities Bill (2013) and HIV anti- Stigma Bill (2014). She has sponsored and influenced the passage of the following Bills into law: A Law to Repeal The Ekiti State Gender- Based Violence ( Prohibition) Law, (2011) and Re- enact the Ekiti State Gender Based Violence ( Prohibition )Law, 2019; A Law to Prohibit Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (2020); Ekiti State Gender-Based Violence ( Prohibition, First Amendment Law, 2020); Ekiti State Sexual Violence Against Children ( Compulsory Treatment and Care ) Law, 2020.
She has settled the hospital bills of many indigent women and has resettled many victims of domestic violence at the Ekiti State transit home, a building she initiated in conjunction with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare which was completed and commissioned last year. Recently, she came up with another novel idea of a Pad Bank which is aimed at keeping girls in school. She had in the course of research and advocacy visit to schools, discovered that many female students of secondary schools stay away from school during their menstrual periods because of lack of decent sanitary towel to use and this made such poor female students depressed. She therefore came up with the idea of the Pad Bank where she will give secondary school girls reusable sanitary pads thus solving this problem. Erelu is always thinking about how to solve problems. She is witty, intelligent and good natured. She is a cheerful giver and kind to a fault.
Apart from the above, she is an intellectual of repute and a prolific writer who has authored thought provoking books such as; Speaking Above a Whisper, Speaking for Myself, Loud Whispers, Where is your Wrapper? and, Power and Soul which she co-edited with Jessica Horn. She was once invited to address the United Nations on gender issues. She has received many reputable international awards for her contribution to improving lives of women.
She was until recently, a UN Women Nigeria Senior Advisor, and is currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Africa Leadership Center, King’s College, London.
She complemented her husband so well in the areas of good governance. It is a common saying in Ekiti that we got two for the price of one. Little wonder she is nicknamed “Mother-General”.
As this Ekiti jewel of inestimable value celebrates her birthday today, I join others to rejoice with her. She is worthy of all encomiums. Happy Birthday Mother- General!
Rt. Hon. Jamiu is the Deputy Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly.