Bisi Fayemi: The Extra Ordinary First Lady, Her Past Exploits

To many people, the exulted position of ‘First Lady’ is merely an acronym, a name politically invented to massage the ego of the wives of Governors and Presidents of countries across the world. However, a cotorie of First Ladies in the contemporary world had, in their own right,  been able to add value and candour to this much celebrated position.
There is an adage that says if you put a shallow-minded person in a high position, his emptiness and parochialism would reduce that position to shreds of cards but if you put a large-hearted, highly inspired and self motivated person in a low office, his depth of inspiration and strength of character would not only enlarge the office but would also make the office to be worthy of global reckoning.
The Eleanor Roosevelt of this world had corrected the long time notion that First Ladies are mere glorified wives and mistresses of the Number One Citizens.
Given her deep passion for service and unmatched compassion for humanity, Eleanor perfectly complemented the exploits of her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, in office as former President of the United States of America.
However, within the continent of Africa, there is yet another woman who had also tremendously added meaning to the office of the First Lady by re-inventing it to become an agency for social re-engineering and human empowerment. Just like Eleanor, Erelu Adebisi Fayemi, wife of Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, immediate past Minister of Solid Minerals and now Governor the Governor-elect of Ekiti State, is giving a new meaning to what “First Lady” means.
Erelu Bisi Fayemi was born on th 11th June, 1963. She is a graduate of the prestigious University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where she obtained Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts degrees in History respectively.
She also holds a Masters degree in Gender Studies. Bisi is a feminist activist, writer and policy advocate, women philanthropy practitioner, social entrepreneur and development advisor to many governments in Africa and several international organizations across the globe.
Giver her strong passion for women empowerment in Africa and beyond, Bisi co-founded the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) which was the first pan-African grant-making organization providing financial and technical support to a variety of Gender-based Non-Governmental Organizations in Africa. At AWDF, Bisi was the President and Executive Director from 2001 to 2010.
This strategic position enabled Bisi Fayemi to have played a key role in the promotion of women emancipation and empowerment in Africa.
Besides her enviable intellectual pedigree and international exposure which is incomparable with that of any other First Lady in Nigeria or Africa, she, upon assumption of office by her husband, founded the Ekiti Development Foundation (EDF), a non-governmental organisation which objective is to provide support for women and youth by empowering them economically.
A world renowned activist, Bisi Fayemi brought the same energy with which she garnered fame into making Ekiti women and youth feel the impact of EDF.
In less than two years of its birth, the EDF has already written its name on the slate of Ekiti history through its numerous achievements, and this is without government funding:
•Glo Mobile Commercial Call Centre Empowerment Project with over 200 beneficiaries
•Monthly disbursement of funds to indigenes of Ekiti State who are in need of help with personal crises, medical bills, school fees…
•Micro-credit finance for approximately 180 Women’s Groups across the 16 Local Governments in Ekiti State
•Construction of a crèche for the children of the Members of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Ekiti State chapter and support for the union’s widows and orphans.
•Award of Scholarships to female students of Ekiti extraction in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, through the institution’s Centre for Gender Studies and Social Policy.
•Co-convening of the first Ekiti State Gender Summit with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Social Development and Gender Empowerment
•Donation of an 18-seater Bus to the Erelu Angela Adebayo Children’s Home, Iyin-Ekiti.
•Sponsorship of Women in Leadership Capacity Building Programme
•Assistance for orphans across the State
•Co-sponsorship of Leadership Development Workshop for Forum of Women in Leadership, Ekiti State at the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi
•Co-funding the Statewide Orphans and Vulnerable Children Alleviation in collaboration with Ministry of Women’s Affairs, EKSACA and other institutions.
•Treatment of 50 Hernia patients.
•Maternal Health Record Keeping: A Mother and Child Health Records book to be used by expectant mothers in Ekiti State. This document keeps records for up to four children and will go a long way in helping to address maternal health issues.
•Breast Cancer Awareness Programme, which includes a Breast Self-Examination Kit, as well as a public enlightenment campaign.
In 2011, Bisi co-sponsorsed the Gender-Based Violence Prohibition Bill which was signed into law before the end of her husband’s first term administration. Under this law, both male and female are protected against physical and psychological abuse and violence. The law also frowns at harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and widowhood rites, imposition of dress codes under any guise, child marriage.
As the First Lady during the first term of her husband as Governor of Ekiti State, Bisi Fayemi initiated the Soup Kitchen Welfare Scheme which  not only reveals her passion and commitment to the welfare of senior citizens in the state.
Another project initiated by Erelu Bisi Fayemi was the Food Bank concept which was conceived with a view to providing nutritional support to those who are unable to feed or fend for themselves.  The Food Bank gives out raw food to the elderly, indigent widows, orphans and vulnerable children and those living with HIV who are unable to work. And it was the experience garnered in the course of the Food Bank project that led to the setting up of the soup kitchen.
In protection of people living with HIV and their re-integration in the society, Erelu Bisi Fayemi spearheaded and co-sponsored the HIV and AIDS Anti-Stigmatization Bill in 2014 and in her bid to enhance the leveraging of an enabling environment for both the male and female gender to have equal opportunity for socio-economic and political advancement, she was also the brain behind the sponsorship of the Ekiti State Equal Opportunity Bill in 2013, which was passed into law before the expiration of her husband’s first term administration as Governor of Ekiti State.
As the wife of the Governor-elect in Ekiti State, history beckons on Erelu Bisi Fayemi, once again, to confront the growing socio-economic challenges facing the good people of Ekiti State. The last four years have been a most harrowing moment of hunger and anguish to the mass of the people, especially the less privileged women, the teeming unemployed youths, the senior citizens, the artisans and farmers. The story of the incumbent PDP-led Fayose administration in Ekiti State depicts an harvest of poverty, misery and underdevelopment. The stomach infrastructure mantra of the embattled lion of Afao never yielded a healthy and sustainable livelihood for the people, it was a mere journey on the island of fantasy, a political gimmick that was invented to cajole the electorate and rob them of their votes during the 2014 governorship election.
In the last six months, the Fayose administration is owing civil servants in the State while public funds are been diverted to private coffers via white elephant projects that are of no value to Ekiti people.
The in-coming APC-led administration of Dr. Kayode Fayemi, must of necessity conceive the policy actions that are capable of restoring hope to the hopeless and programmes that could bring a sigh of relief to the already disillusioned people. Essentially, this is a huge task that demands the deep passion and vast experience of Mrs Bisi Fayemi as a social entrepreneur, philanthropist and policy advisor. She needs to urgently hand in a strategic blueprint on social rehabilitation and reintegration for the dis-empowered and impoverished people in the State.
More importantly, there are some unfinished projects that were carried over from the first tenure of her husband’s administration. More Skills Acquisition Programmes should be engendered for the women and youths to promote self-employment and wealth creation.
However, there is no cause for alarm, Ekiti is a very familiar terrain to Erelu Bisi Fayemi and she is not a green horn in the business of governance and social engineering. Therefore, it is hoped that the extraordinary First Lady and compassionate social activist in Bisi Fayemi would yet be demonstrated again in the new administration to the delight of all and sundry.
Bisi Fayemi is a prolific writer and passionate feminist, has authored ‘Speaking for Myself’: Perspectives on Social, Political and Feminist Activism in Africa (2013), ‘Speaking above a Whisper’ (2013), an autobiography and ‘Loud Whispers; (2017). She also co-edited ‘Voice, Power and Soul’ with Jessica Horn in 2008, a compilation of images and exploits of African feminists.
Her Excellency, Erelu Bisi Fayemi was recently appointed a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, University of London and was also decorated with an honourable Doctorate degree by the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.
A United Nation Women Nigeria Senior Advisor, she currently serves on the Executive Boards of the Africa Women’s Development Fund and the Global Fund for Women, United States of America.
She is also the Chair of the Advisory Council of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund. Bisi Fayemi is a Member of the Governing Council of Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo-State.
Salami, A Political Analyst and Media Consultant writes from Ado-Ekiti
This article was first published in The Nation.

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One Response to Bisi Fayemi: The Extra Ordinary First Lady, Her Past Exploits

  1. Femi Diipo October 4, 2018 at 10:45 am

    What a woman! Brilliant, extraordinary, excellent and incredibly passionate.


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