An Amazon Goes Home

April 27, 2013

Courageous. Honest. Humble. Smart. Tenacious. Loyal. Beautiful.These are a few of the numerous adjectives that, friends and admirers have used to describe the late Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka, also known as Moremi Ekiti, the amiable Deputy Governor of Ekiti State until her passing on April 6, 2013. She was a noble soul whose sojourn on mother earth, though short, was wrapped in meaning. According to our human understanding she left the stage too soon; but she left behind a lasting footprint on the sands of time, and, hopefully, one that can initiate a tradition of excellence and selfless commitment to public service.

The adjectives that describe Funmi Olayinka are commonly deployed by many of us without paying attention to the reality that they depict. The danger here is that they get applied frequently even in situations where they hardly fit. It is therefore essential to remind ourselves of what they require and why they apply so fittingly to Funmi.

Courage is one of the most important virtues. A courageous person is one who does the right thing even when it is clearly too risky. Going into politics, especially in Nigeria, and particularly for a woman carries a lot of risk. Beside the physical threat to life, there is the threat to integrity and honour. It is said that fear and courage are cousins between who there is always sibling rivalry. Victory for one is defeat for the other. Naturally, we are disposed to fear in the face of danger. The person that faces danger head-on, knowing that she intends to fight for what is right and just and is not subdued by fear, is the courageous person. That was the decision that Funmi Olayinka and Kayode Fayemi made, going into the murky waters of Ekiti politics. They were both comfortable as successful professionals. But they saw the decay and they were moved. But they also noticed that political discourse in the Land of Honour was anything but honorable. Faint hearts would cringe. But as the famous jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, there can be no courage unless you are scared. Kayode and Funmi went ahead and plunged in. That is what courage means.

In the course of the campaign, the election, and the subsequent thwarting of the people’s will, Funmi was steadfast. She could betray the cause as some did. She could jump ship. She could make herself available to the highest bidder. Not a few did just that. But Funmi didn’t. She stayed strong even when hope dimmed and all appeared to be lost. That was courage. It was also loyalty, not to a man, but to a cause that is larger than any human.

Funmi’s close friends and associates, including Erelu Bisi Fayemi, have recounted how she faced her health ordeal with courage and complete surrender to the will of her maker. Many of her colleagues in and outside the government hardly knew what she was going through. Indeed, as late as September 2012, when she must have been weakened by chemotherapy, she represented the Chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) at an event in Ireland. She bore the fate of her life with dignity and grace. That was courage at its best.

It is easy, but wrong, to associate loyalty with blind allegiance to a person or cause. Dictators value loyalty which they wrongly identify with patriotism. Philosopher Josiah Royce defines loyalty as “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” By a cause, Royce means something that is objective, in the sense that it is beyond oneself, and it is good. It was clear from her life story that Funmi has always placed the cause of transforming Ekiti State in the centre of her political mission. She subscribed wholly to the Fayemi administration’s eight-point agenda and was in the forefront of the implementation. Her loyalty was not blind; it was not misplaced because the governor acknowledged her contributions and respected her as an invaluable colleague by giving her the responsibilities that befit her office and skills. And she delivered.

Loyalty to a cause also implies honesty in the pursuit of the cause. It is easy to embrace fraudulence and deceit especially in public service in our clime. It takes courage to embrace honesty as the best policy. Indeed, as Immanuel Kant puts it, honesty is not just the best policy, it is the only policy.Funmi radiated honesty and everyone around her attested to this fact. During the campaign and the struggle to reclaim their mandate, she was entrusted with the coordination of resources and she demonstrated not just the professional competence that was essential to success but also the virtues of integrity and rectitude that were indispensable to building trust among the grass-root and foot soldiers.

All religions and moral systems consider humility as a virtue. The humble will inherit the earth. But humility can be misconstrued, especially when it is taken by others as a sign of weakness. The goodness of humility may be abused as foolishness and taken advantage of. Even in the face of such a risk, again, the courageous person does the right thing; humble herself before her God and fellow humans. The reward is what we are witnessing today in the case of Funmi. The person who showed respect for everyone around her is now receiving an unprecedented level of respect as she takes her leave. She was humble but not humbled.

It was in this matter of the quality of Funmi’s humility that I first encountered her. Four summers ago, I was on a short vacation and had paid a visit to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu at his Ikoyi residence. I sat in his living room with a number of guests, including Funmi who I had not met before that time. She and I exchanged greetings with her going the way of Yoruba custom and tradition. It was at that point that Asiwaju came out and asked if I had met the future Deputy Governor of Ekiti State. I was embarrassed to say no. Funmi’s gracious response was: “Prof, I am one of the fans of your column.”

As in the matter of courage, tenacity implies hanging in even in the face of extreme difficulties. It is not being stubborn; it is being thoughtfully hopeful. A tenacious personality is persistently hopeful that things will turn around for the better while she is also action-oriented and works towards the set goal. Every aspect of her short life points to the virtue of tenacity in Funmi’s personality. You cannot have a good purposeful education without being tenacious. You cannot be on the Dean’s Honour Roll for four years without being tenacious. You cannot succeed in the murky waters of Nigerian politics without being tenacious. And in the face of the most scary health challenges that a human being can face, you cannot deal with them and still maintain your dignity and grace without the virtue of tenacity. In all of these Funmi excelled, and succeeded in teaching all of us the important lessons of life even as the avatar once taught us: it is not life that matters but the courage that you bring into it. She brought in a lot of courage and tenacity to life. For this we must be grateful.

We must also be grateful for her smartness and the opportunity afforded the people of the Land of Honour to benefit from her intellect. It takes a lot of wit to perform successfully the oversight functions over such sensitive and strategic agencies as the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, State Emergency Relief Agency, Boundary Commission, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, and many others. One anecdotal report suggests that whenever she presided over the meeting of the State Executive Council in the absence of the governor, members dared not to be late because “mama” was going to preside. In what may be perceived as a “man’s world, Funmi earned the respect of her peers and subordinates. To crown it all, as Mrs. Funso Adegbola elegantly put it, Funmi was beautiful inside out. It appeared to me that it was the inside beauty that reflected so gracefully outside. An amazon paid us a short visit and left us asking for more. So long, virtuous woman!

By Segun Gbadegesin

This article was first published in The Nation

Last modified: April 27, 2013

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