By Odunayo Ogunmola
On 11th of June, 1963, a shining star was born in faraway Liverpool, the United Kingdom who would be a blessing to humanity. Fifty nine years down the line, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi has lived up to the purpose God sent her to the world to fulfill.
The worth of a person is not defined by how wealthy the individual is, property acquired, academic degrees obtained, enviable positions attained and class of friends made but by the number of lives touched positively to make them useful to the society.
Though still relatively young, Erelu Fayemi is a legend in showing compassion to the less privileged, lifting the poor out of poverty, identifying with the so-called dregs in the society, feeding the hungry, empowering the economically challenged, giving hope to the physically challenged and fighting for the oppressed.
In all these, Erelu Fayemi has acquitted herself well as the First Lady of Ekiti State in a way that makes many to wonder how easily she mixes and feels very much at home in the Land of Honour, inspite of her privileged background. With her famed compassionate gestures and interest in giving hope to the hopeless, Erelu Fayemi had, within a few months into her husband’s tenure as Governor of Ekiti State, rightly earned herself a nickname – “Mother- General” of Ekiti.
For the greater part of her adult life, Erelu Fayemi has been involved in advocacy for the protection of the rights of women and children, giving economic empowerment to the less privileged and advocating for the involvement of womenfolk in governance and she has been unrelenting in pursuing these ideals.
Prior to becoming Ekiti State First Lady, Erelu Fayemi had acquired continental and global renown for her role as a co-founder and Executive Director of African Women Development Fund (AWDF), a platform that has supported over 2,000 women’s organizations in 42 African countries with million of dollars in grants thereby lifting many African women from misery, poverty and want.
Unknown to Erelu Fayemi, her gestures are being taken note of and she has been immortalizing herself in the hearts of the people, especially the poorest of the poor, whose lives she has positively touched with various unprecedented initiatives.
This woman of substance has brought grace, colour, dignity, candour and honour to the position she occupies as the First Lady and that is why many have chosen to refer to her as the “Mother – General” more often than her first nickname- Ochiorah- her Igbo honorary title. Erelu Fayemi has brought smiles to the faces of thousands of Ekiti men and women who daily benefit from her generosity of spirit.
During her husband’s first tenure (October 2010-October 2014), Erelu Fayemi used her position as the Governor’s wife to put in place policy frameworks that enhanced the status of women, ensured justice for the violation of their rights, led advocacy on the awareness of their rights and also sponsored legislations to protect the girl child, women and ensured punishment for the violation of such rights. She has however upped the ante since her husband returned to office in October 2018 for his second term, with more policies, programmes, activities and welfare packages that continue to enhance the value of women in Ekiti State. She is also at the forefront of women emancipation policies at the national level in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Nigeria Governors Wives’ Forum.
In recognition of her efforts at supporting the vulnerable in the society, awards and honours have been coming in torrents since assumption of office. She scooped Woman Leader of the Year in commemoration of 2022 International Women’s Day which was jointly hosted by the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP), UN Women, European Union, British High Commission and the Embassies of the United States, Germany and France.
She is a recipient of the prestigious Zik Prize in Leadership (Humanitarian Leadership Category) and was also honoured with the Fellowship of the College of Education, Ilesa, Osun State. These are in addition to a honorary doctorate degree from the Tai Solarin University of Education (TAUSED), Ogun State.
She has been honoured as the Erelu of Isan Ekiti, her husband’s hometown; the Iyalode of Ilafon Ekiti; the Eye Ajiseye of Ado Ekiti; the Ochiorah of Imezi Owa in Enugu State and the Oluomo of Ilara Mokin, Ondo State (her hometown), just to mention a few.
It is remarkable that Erelu Fayemi has been recognized by the international community, the media, the academia and the traditional institution all within a short period of time and this bears eloquent testimony to her virtues of altruism, commitment to a better society, selfless service to mankind and untiring zeal for welfarism and egalitarianism.
All these accolades coming the way of Erelu Fayemi couldn’t have come by happenstance; they resulted from years of hard work and commitment to the cause of the less privileged and her steely resolve to leave Ekiti, Nigeria and Africa better than she met them.
It is on record that Erelu Fayemi during the first tenure of her husband influenced the passage of Gender Based Violence Law 2011 which has given legal teeth to bringing violators of women’s rights to justice. With the law in place, the deterrent factor has been established in Ekiti and the incidence has declined. Another law influenced by her office was the Equal Opportunities Law 2013 which has provided the template for the womenfolk to get what their male counterparts are getting from the system in the areas of political and economic empowerment.
It was also a period that the Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka Cancer Referral Centre was established in memory of a former Deputy Governor of the state to give women access to test and treatment of cancer. The centre has given relief to many cancer patients who hitherto travel long distances to receive such treatment.
The Ekiti First Lady is also renowned for the establishment of the Multiple Birth Trust Fund in Ekiti State, through which indigent couples who gave birth to multiple babies like twins, triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets are assisted with finance and materials to take care of their babies.
The second tenure of the Fayemi administration has also witnessed landmark policies and programmes which have bettered the lots of the women, children and the less privileged in Ekiti State and has won the First Lady admiration within and outside the country.
The Ekiti First Lady influenced the emergence of four female House of Assembly candidates who went on to win the seats at the last general elections and are now among legislators making laws for the state. She also influenced the nomination of a female House of Representatives member. She.also supported three female local government chairmen, 14 vice chairs and 44 councillors in the last local government election in the state.
Under Erelu Fayemi’s watch, Ekiti State now has a Sexual Assault Response Centre (SARC) which was commissioned in 2020. It is a centre established to give succor to victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. It has been receiving victims of abuse not only from Ekiti State but also from neighbouring states.
The centre provides services that include psychosocial (counselling support), legal service (informal, alternative dispute resolution and formal prosecution of offenders), shelter service (women intervention and economic empowerment) and general rehabilitation services. The facility has doctors, nurses and psychologists to give medical support to victims and a resident lawyer that will help in seeking justice for the victims. The professionals are always on ground to assist the victims overcome trauma of sexual violence.
With Gender Based Violence (Prohibition) Law 2019, Ekiti is now a no-go area for rapists, paedophiles and sex predators. For potential sex offenders and violators of women and children’s rights in Ekiti, the fear of Erelu Fayemi has become the beginning of wisdom.
Erelu Fayemi also ensured the construction of the Family Court to facilitate dispensation of justice in family disputes in the state. She also instituted the Pad Bank to assist female students in menstrual hygiene and Return the Girls Back to School Initiative to give more access to qualitative education to the girl child. She also established Obirin- Kete, a multi- purpose economic empowerment network for Ekiti women in all 177 wards with approximately 3,500 members.
Also from her stable is the Ounje Arugbo, a food support initiative to the indigent aged people across the length and breadth of Ekiti State with the benefiting senior citizens of the state showering prayers on the First Lady for her benevolence, magnanimity and generosity. It was through the Ounje Arugbo scheme that a centenarian, Mama Jolaade Oso, was discovered. The old woman who had lost all her children with nobody to take care of her was discovered in Ikere Ekiti. The First Lady paid her a surprise visit, rented a house for her and ensured provision of her needs till she died. And when Mama Oso died, Erelu Fayemi sponsored, celebrated and participated in all her funeral rites as an adopted daughter. In fact, she was passionate as if the old woman was her biological mother to the suprise and admiration of Mama Oso-s kinsmen who never expected her to get such an uncommon gesture.
Thousands of women in Ekiti have enjoyed empowerment in forms of finance, working tools and facilities to help them set up their businesses thereby contributing meaningfully to the grassroots economy in a way never seen before in the history of the state.
As the Ekiti First Lady turns a year older this Saturday, we join all her admirers and beneficiaries of her generosity to say Happy 59th birthday to the “Mother- General” of our time, destiny helper of many and champion of women emancipation, Erelu Bisi Adeleye- Fayemi.