FEATURES: Garlands For The Amazon

October 17, 2013

L-R: Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; and his wife, Erelu Bisi Fayemi,during a thanksgiving service at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel for the 50th birthday of the governor's wife, in Ado-Ekiti.

Ekiti State capital came alive with glamour and pomp as the wife of the Governor, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, marked her 50th birthday. The star-studded event was a marriage of charm and wit that saw the presentation of her two books and celebration of her contributions to the development of humanity. Evelyn Osagie reports.

It was her day of glory. Decked in a gorgeous blue lace gown, Ekiti State Governor’s wife Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, aka BAF, sparkled. The occasion was her 50th birthday celebration.

And leading the delegation of family members, friends and comrades was her hubby, Governor Kayode Fayemi (JKF), dressed in agbada and navy blue cap to match. The day brought to the spotlight her life and legacies, and her contributions to the advancement of humanity, particularly the womenfolk across Africa.

There were speeches, lectures and dance. Everyone had good words for the celebrator. Some described her as feminist, humanist and one woman who is strong-willed, knowing what she wants and aggressively going all out to achieving it.

For her husband, JKF, she is an “unstoppable force” and an inspiration.

“Bisi has been an incredible light and an inspiration to me in very many ways. She is a feminist, civil rights activist … an unstoppable force for good of the human race. I get the credit for all the great works she does across Africa.

“Bisi is the extrovert and a better politician than I am. I am a very private person. When I was reading the draft of Speaking above the Whisper, I did not quite agree with the title because Bisi has always spoken above the whisper. I am sure people here in Ekiti can attest to that. She has given me a lot of inspiration even here in Ekiti,” he said.

Not one to slack at such moments, when it was time to dance, she danced to her heart’s content. The rhythm and songs of the state’s troupe were quite captivating. Holding a horse tail (traditionally called the Irukere), the birthday girl took to the dance floor. She was soon joined by Senator Oluremi Tinubu and the wife of Lagos State Governor, Dame Abimbola Fashola, and other friends.

As women and men praise-singers with very assertive chants competed for her attention, she smiled. Their interventions added interesting traditional touch and a calming effect to the atmosphere that was constantly charged with the words of human rights advocates, leaders, political top shots and literary gurus, led by the 2011 Nobel laureate, Ms Leymah Gbowee.

Using BAF as a peg and model of what womanhood should be about, speaker after speaker touched on the plights of women in Africa, their role in nation-building and many more.

In a world plagued by violence, wars, abuse, corruption and mismanagement of funds, Ms Gbowee, who was a major force that saw to the end of wars and the installation of the first African woman president in Liberia, called on women to be in the forefront of change.

Describing BAF as a “force of nature” that has used her education and expertise to expand the rights of most vulnerable, she urged women to emulate her legacies.

She said: “This true African icon continues to use her space and voice to empower Africans to identity and support our long-term solutions to our own challenges. Equiping African women as funders and philanthropists to support their brothers and sisters in forging a better future for Nigeria and Africa, is no small feat. Erelu Bisi has continued to defy expectations of what the First Lady of Ekiti State should do.

“She showed us during her time in non-profit world that every journey of change is possible if we set our minds to it. In politics, she is a trailblazer, showing women politicians and other first ladies all over the world that it is possible to use ones office for many good things than just dinner parties.”

Born on June 11, 50 years ago, in Liverpool, England, to the family of the late Mr and Mrs Emmanue Akinola Adeleye and his wife, and Emily, BAF has been a goal-getter from the start.

“I like to plan. Not only do I think and plan ahead, I also try as much as possible to have a back-up plan,” she said.

Thisgoal-getter is a woman of many parts. She is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur, journalist, facilitator, policy advocate and administrator, who has worked in government agencies in the United Kingdom and under the United Nations and has formed several NGOs across the world. She is also the co-founded and a board member of the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) that empowers women across Africa.

It is no surprise that along with being a recipient of this year’s Iconic Woman Award and other achievements, she has added another feather to her cap – authorship. The task was no easy one, according to her. However, after wrestling to make out time amid tight schedules and overcoming the shock of losing a friend, she finally put her mind and soul to writing. The result is the two books: Speaking above a Whisper and Speaking for Myself presented last Friday as part of activities marking her day.

She recalled: “I had wanted to do this for quite a long time, but there wasn’t enough time. As my 50th birthday approached, I started to panic. I was not sure if I would be able to have the time to write an autobiography, though I had put some materials together on floppy diskette. I found myself searching for the hardcopies of lots of materials, so it was not easy. However, I managed to complete the first draft of a collection of essays in February this year. And with the passing away of my beloved sister and friend, Mrs Funmi Olayinka, I was not in a frame of mind to write anything. I started writing again a few months ago.

“Even though I was not sure I would be able to accomplish it, God and my husband, who consistently encouraged me, made it possible. The book, Speaking above the Whisper, is inspired by a story about a friend’s aunt, who was described as rich and beautiful, never speaking above a whisper. I thought to myself that I don’t want to be remembered as someone who never spoke above the whisper. With the support of my late father, and my soul-mate, Dr Fayemi, I have made good use of my voice.”

The books were reviewed by two African strong voices for change: the Chair, Department of Women and Gender Studies, Rutgers University, United States, Prof Abena Busia and the Executive Editor of The News magazine, Mr Kunle Ajibade.

Describing the celebrator as a “social change agent”, Prof Busia praised her for writing her story, urging women to speak up against social ills. Speaking above a Whisper, the professor observed, speaks for itself. According to her, the 287-page autobiography, shares, among others, the triumphs and pain of women in nation-building and private stories of activism and the organisation of a movement of African women.

She said: “Bisi has been a mentor to so many of us. Our responsibility is to remember to tell our stories ourselves.”

Ajibade named her, who serves as a Contributing Editor of The News, a “champion of the cause of African women”. Speaking for Myself, which is dedicated to countless African girls and women who need the voice and space to speak for themselves, is a compendium of essays, speeches, public opinions and poetic thoughts of the author, according to the reviewer.

Written with “clarity of thought”, according to him, it argues diverse issues from the role of women in politics, activism, their citizenship rights, their portrayal in the entertainment industry and tributes to African women icons, among others.

“As you read her contribution, you would not miss the tender honesty of her writing… Due to biological, social and economic factors, women in Africa suffer more from the consequence of conflict and war. “How come, she asks, that women do not have the right to transfer citizenship to another national? “If you are a full citizen of a country, you should have the power to legally transfer citizenship. If the constitution says that you cannot, then your status as a full citizen is questionable,” he said.

On the part of former Pro-Chancellor, Chairman of Council, University of Nsukka (UNN), Prof Bolanle Awe, BAF is a woman rights activist. “We are celebrating a young woman who has contributed a lot to the development of women in Africa. I knew her in the 80s at a time when women movement was taking another dimension. I have watched her since then with admiration.”

Senator Tinubu called her a “passionate philanthropist.” “Wishing you the best of luck and the best of everything as you march on to the second phase of your life: good health long life and peace,” she said.

The event, which was followed by a star-studded thanksgiving service at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel the next day, was attended by Senator Femi Ojodu, and members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Adewale Omirin; Oyo State Governor’s wife Mrs Florence Ajumobi; Osun State Governor’s wife Alhaja Sherifat Aregbesola; former Ekiti State Governor Richard Adebayo and his wife, Erelu Angela; former Lagos State Deputy Governor Mrs Sarah Sosan; Prof Modupe Adelabu; Odia Ofeimum; Prof Kole Omotoso and Joke Sylva, among others.

By Evelyn Osagie
This article was first published in The Nations

Last modified: October 17, 2013

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