Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

It is often difficult for the spouse of many political office holders to transcend their roles when they speak. After all, it is their position (as wife or husband) that puts them behind the microphone in the first place. And when an icon like Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is invited to your event two things will happen, first, she raises the bar, showing you what it means to be a Feminist with a deeper understanding for culture, society, gender dynamics and development issues. Second, she will effortlessly help you to correct the assertion or thinking that she was behind the microphone because she is the wife of a former minister or a serving governor—you cannot afford not to give it to her after listening to her mastery of the issues and her delivery.


If you are a typical African man, you then begin to wonder how the husband can manage or cope with such a woman with high intellectual, technical, and political (Development politics) sagacity. You might begin to fear for her husband and even ask series of questions. Maybe now that we are in a new normal—COVID-19 inflicted, we should invite Dr Kayode Fayemi as a keynote speaker at a men’s only zoom conference with the theme “Journeying together in personal growth and marriage: how men can co-habit with an independent woman”.  Or “The socio-economic impact of marrying a feminist”. With the growing cases of gender-based violence, we now need real-life discussions as men– an intergenerational dialogue must happen on this front. Dr Fayemi earns a natural speaking slot as he is “doing well…Oooin”.


I first came in direct contact with Erelu in 2006, when she spoke at the Civicus World Assembly in Scotland. Let me tell you, she owned the space, she took the stage as she is always doing now. She was on top of the issues. The room filled with over 1000 participants from over 180 countries paid attention to her.  A couple of Nigerians and I in the room were so proud. We were awed and overwhelmed by her presence that we could barely concentrate on what she was saying. Majority of the time we were talking about her and saying to ourselves how we want to be like her and also speak on the Civicus World Assembly platform—the largest gathering of civil society and development professionals in the world.


I had flown in from Nigeria to attend the conference as a young development professional who was just cutting his teeth in the development sector working for a local nonprofit as a volunteer. I was green and hungry for personal growth. I met my equal at the conference whom in this article I would refer to as “Dotman” and we became conference friends- a friendship that has lasted till date. Dotman and I ensured we attended all sessions Erelu was speaking and we took notes. She was our champion at that event especially when others who took the podium after her could not match up.  After one of her speaking engagements, we summoned the courage to go say hello to her and to introduce ourselves as fellow compatriots from Nigeria and Africa. We were young and was not sure whether she will not snub or give us a casual greeting. We had our heart in our mouth with our blood pressures reading 360/360!

Good afternoon ma, we are…. At that point, she was attending to the many participants who would like to take pictures with her, have her contact/card and with a generous smile she said, “how are you, my brothers and sisters”. While I am not able to frame her exact words after this (this was 14 years ago fa!)  or remember all of what she said, I do remember how she made us feel. She made us feel like we can do all she had just done. She took us to a corner and encouraged us to stay in the development sector, shared a bit of her own experience, we had a mini-youth conference with her and she was generous with her time, advice and response to our questions. We desperately needed that message as we were hopeless but wanted to do good. And I remember thinking to myself “If she can do it, I can too”. Her words lifted us out of our little heads. That was how much I was fired up. In December 2019 Dotman told me he felt the same when we were both looking back at our lives and how far we have come.


That moment shared with her was significant for me and has helped in how I treat others especially young people including how I processed and still processing my journey in the development sector. Her words and that of many others sustained me on every step of my journey. Today I have spoken many times at the Civicus World Assembly, worked at the UN, served on the Board of Civicus (itself) because someone with giant strides, strength and grace made me feel I can. It is such a profound honour—truly a proud honour to say this about Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. If she had done otherwise that is- snubbed myself and a host of other Nigerians at that event and made us feel worthless, I would have written about it and thank God we are in a democracy — my freedom of speech is guaranteed.

Thank you Erelu for being true to who you are and for helping us stand tall for the world to embrace us.

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One Response to Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

  1. Femi Diipo June 22, 2020 at 12:01 am

    This is wonderful. Erelu is truly an icon and an excellent woman. Thank you for sharing this wonderful testimony


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