In Ekiti, Beat Your Spouse And Go To Jail, Courtesy Erelu Fayemi, The First Lady

October 18, 2012

She has brought colour, verve and panache into the office of the First Lady, and you can confidently say the Ekiti woman is today having a ball, with Erelu Bisi Adeyemi there to look out for her, and protect her interests. With a background in activism, after a bachelor’s in History, and a master’s in Gender and Society, you really do not expect less from this vibrant and passionate woman.

Consider her career history, and you’ll then understand why the Ekiti First Lady does all she’s involved in today, to complement and support her husband: In her years in the UK, where she had been born in the early 1960s, Erelu Fayemi worked in the Department of Health and Social Services, and then became the Director of Akina Mama wa Africa (AMwA), an international development organisation for African women. Again, she established the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI), a training and networking forum for young African women. Over 5,000 African women have been trained by the Institute today, and are now in senior decision-making positions in their various countries.

Daily Sun recently met with the Erelu of Isan kingdom, in Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State, and the Ochiora (People’s Leader) of Imezi Owa, Ezeagwa Local Government Area of Enugu State. And she was asked to assess her husband, Dr Kayode Fayemi, as governor of Ekiti State in the past two years. She admits that there is the tendency to be partial in her assessment, but quickly adds that whatever she says would be verifiable. “Looking at what has happened in two years, it has become apparent that Dr Fayemi is a man of his words,” Mrs Fayemi submits.

“He made commitments and promises, and he’s been keeping them. He has established a vision for the people, promised to take them to a place where they’ll be proud to be Ekitis, and he’s doing it. In infrastructure development, education, dignified environment, healthcare, women empowerment, he’s doing so much.” Women empowerment. How can you ever engage Erelu Fayemi and this won’t be a major issue of discourse? She reels off the achievements of her husband’s administration in that direction. “Ekiti is the first state to domesticate the law on violence against women. The state today has four female lawmakers, as against none in the past. There are other women in the upper echelon of the civil and public service.” Ekiti has the law prohibiting gender-based violence, arising from a bill co-sponsored by Erelu Fayemi.

Why was such a law needed? Was the Ekiti man particularly violent against the woman? “Violence against women is not peculiar to any part of the world,” the First Lady responded. “You have it even in the Holy Bible, and each generation must find a way to address it. Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but there has been no political will to close the gap between law and implementation. But our law is very comprehensive, it covers many aspects. Lots of good things have come from it, and it has raised the awareness on violence against women. A lot of men now say, Ah, you want me to run foul of Erelu’s law? So, they refrain from violence against their women.” The bill prohibiting gender-based violence was signed into law by Gov Fayemi on November 21, 2011.

The bill had been co-sponsored by the First Lady, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Social Development and Gender Empowerment, Office of the Special Adviser to the governor on Planning and Millennium Development Goals, as well as the state chapter of International Federation of Women Lawyers. The legislation protects both the male and female gender against physical and psychological abuse and violence. The new law also frowns on harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and widowhood rites, imposition of dress codes under any guise, child marriage, and criminalising pregnancy outside marriage. How has the state been able to enforce the law, particularly in the area of prosecuting those involved in domestic violence against their spouses? Mrs Fayemi says: “Yes, we have challenges, in that it’s very difficult to prosecute the cases, especially in respect of sexual violence.

The infrastructure is not in place yet to protect and support the victims. Soon, we will inaugurate a management committee on the law, and put in place processes to encourage people to come out with such cases. We will try and reduce the level of impunity. It’s going to be work in progress, but we’re on the right track.” Erelu Fayemi has equally championed the Ekiti Development Foundation (EDF). What’s it all about? “It was established as an opportunity to bring back to Ekiti the work I’ve done in international circles. We focus on complementing the work of the government. We work on women’s rights, health, maternal and infant mortality, we also do lots of work on arts and culture. Again, we do a lot on social welfare, getting people to fend for themselves, and developmental efforts for women generally. We support civil society organisations, cooperatives, associations, networks and community based groups.”

President Barack Obama of the United States of America, on a visit to Ghana a couple of years back, had said Africa does not need strongmen, but rather strong institutions. How does Mrs Fayemi view this, vis-à-vis her husband’s position? “We must build institutions that are sustainable and long-lasting,” she posits. “We need strong institutions at all levels. My husband will be extremely happy if he leaves strong institutions as legacy. He seeks a rebranding of Ekiti as land of honour, and he wants the core values of honesty, integrity, hard work inculcated in all. “We need strong leaders as well as strongmen. Kayode Fayemi is an example of a strong leader.

You don’t become a strong leader by necessarily telling people ‘I don’t give a damn.’ We need leaders who are compassionate, intelligent, can listen, and study the signs of the times. We need selfless leaders, strong to build strong institutions.” Dr Fayemi coasted into office in 2010, in a blaze of glory. And the expectations from him were high, rather too high in a state with lean finances like Ekiti. So, in the first year in office, there were a lot of murmurings from the average Ekiti people.

Two years down the line, however, the songs are changing. People now see hope in the horizon, as the policies of the administration are emerging. How did Mrs Fayemi feel when it seemed her husband was going to lose the support of the people? “It was a tense period,” she admits. “When you get negative feedback, it gets to you. I’m glad it was a phase that has passed.

People can now look back and see that Rome was not built in a day. I was low and reflective at that time, but now, my enthusiasm has been revived. People can now see results, and I’m glad. Ekiti people have fared better under Gov Fayemi, and this is just the beginning.”

•Tomorrow: Gov Fayemi speaks on 2 years in office


This article was first published on 18 October 2012.

Last modified: October 18, 2012

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