FEATURES: With Two Books, Ekiti Celebrated First Lady’s 50th Birthday

November 7, 2013

Wife of the Ekiti State Governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, drew eminent people from across the world to Ado Ekiti last week when she presented two books as part of activities marking her 50th birthday

TODAY is a day of celebration. I felt like dancing when I entered the hall and heard the musicians but I couldn’t because people will wonder why is this old woman dancing? So, I decided to sit, nod and tap my feet to the beautiful music,” began chair of the occasion and eminent academic, Bolanle Awe.

Professor Awe, of course, was spot on as it was the day of an Amazon who would variously be described as ‘force of nature’; ‘force for good’ and ‘agent of change’.

Friday, October 11 was the day of the wife of Ekiti State governor and one of Africa’s foremost feminists, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi; it was the day she marked her 50th birthday postponed from the original June 11 in honour of her late friend and husband’s deputy, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka.

In conformity with her pedigree as an intellectual, the event held at Adetiloye Hall, Iyin Road, Ado-Ekiti wasn’t boisterous or empty merry making; it featured a public lecture and presentation of two books written by the celebrator. ‘Speaking above a Whisper’, an autobiography and ‘Speaking for myself’, a collection of her essays and speeches spanning a period of 26 years.

Professor Awe, who started it all, wasn’t done with her commendation though. She recalled her first meeting with Fayemi in the 80s and how she has stayed true to improving and advancing the cause of women in Nigeria and across Africa.

The guest lecturer and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian, Ms. Leymah Gbowee, continued from where Professor Awe left off.  She highlighted Mrs. Fayemi’s role as a change agent for African women in her lecture titled ‘Leading the Change: The Journey of a Great African Icon.’

Gbowee highlighted how the celebrator has been a beacon of hope to women across Africa and her impact on how their issues are handled through her African Women’s Development Forum (AWDF).

She said: “Erelu Bisi has used her considerable education and expertise to expand the rights of our most vulnerable, daring to raise issues that many would shy away from for fear of disturbing the status quo…Through her work, many women have been afforded the space to find themselves and create change for themselves and their families.

“This true African icon continues to use her space and voice to empower Africans to identify and support our own long-term solutions to our own challenges. It is no small feat to equip African women as the funders and philanthropists to support their brothers and sisters in forging a better future for Nigeria and Africa. Erelu Bisi continues to defy expectations of what her position, as First Lady of Ekiti State should do. She expands expectations of how we as Africans can use our positions to improve our communities.

“She is a trailblazer and trend setter in politics and political life, showing female politicians and other first ladies all over the world that it is possible to use your office for many other good things than just dinner parties.”

On lessons Mrs. Fayemi has taught her and others, Ms. Gbowee said: “She has taught us many great lessons- perseverance, focus agenda, selflessness, boldness, to talk in a loud clear voice speaking truth to power. She has walked the talk.”

The Liberian ended on a note of gratitude. “Erelu Bisi, I thank you for who you are, I thank you for just being you and I stand here today to declare to your people that it is because of your work and commitment to the cause that many women, myself included, can dare to create change, and dare to dream that a world of justice and rights for women is possible.”

Chair, Department of Women and Gender Studies, Rutgers University, US and reviewer of ‘Speaking Above a Whisper’, Professor Abena Busia, commended the author’s competence. She noted that Fayemi has the gift of portraiture and that she told succinct stories with elegant simplicity. Professor Busia further said that the writer told “personal stories in chronological episodes but they don’t feel episodic.”

Beyond sharing stories of her triumphs, the reviewer noted that ‘Speaking Above a Whisper’ also documents Fayemi’s pains of building the AWDF and that it is a story stressing the importance of remembrance.

Executive editor of TheNEWS magazine and reviewer of ‘Speaking for myself’, Kunle Ajibade, in his review titled ‘Championing the cause of African women’ noted that  all the essays, speeches and poems in the book “tell a coherent story of three decades of dedication to the cause of women, a mission in which she has found true meaning and contentment. We have here extended ruminations of a giver of light. With depth and clarity of thought she combines personal anecdotes and layers of data to offer a lively and rigorous defence of the concerns and needs of women, particularly women in Africa. Substantially, her contention is that a society where liberty, equality and fraternity do not have a prime of place is very dangerous to live in.”

Senator Oluremi Tinubu also joined in praising Mrs. Fayemi’s altruism, saying she knew of her works before she met her in person.

Secretary to the Nasarawa State Government, Hajiya Zainab Abdulmumini, equally commended the First Lady and her achievements as did Senator Babafemi Ojudu and Mrs. Abimbola Fashola who spoke on behalf of governors’ wives including Mrs. Florence Ajimobi and Mrs. Sherifat Aregbesola.

The celebrator’s speech, unsurprisingly, was reflective and filled with gratitude. Guests listened with rapt attention as she disclosed that: “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. Though I was not sure I would be able to accomplish it, God and my husband, who consistently encouraged me, made it possible.”

She disclosed that she chose ‘Speaking above a whisper’ as title of the autobiography because she wants to be remembered as one who spoke above a whisper; someone who made good use of her voice.

Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, too, was not unappreciative of his wife. “I get all the credibility for all the great work she does across Africa. Bisi has been an incredible light; an inspiration to me in several ways. She is a feminist, civil rights activist; an unstoppable force for good of the human race.”

He, however, expressed his reservation with the autobiography’s title, noting that his wife has always spoken above a whisper and that Ekiti people can attest to it. Governor Fayemi who described himself as an introvert, also acknowledged his wife’s contributions to his political career.

The occasion, however, wasn’t all about speeches and commendations. It was also rich in entertainment provided by the Ekiti State Cultural Troupe and a women’s group who seized every opportunity to sing the praises of the celebrator and eminent guests.

At a point, Mrs. Fayemi and others couldn’t resist the sonorous traditional Ekiti music from the troupe so they stood up to dance with fly whisks (irukere) in hand.

Mrs Fayemi’s mother, Mama Emily Olufunke Adeleye, former deputy governor of Lagos State, Mrs Bisi Sosan, wife of the deputy governor of Oyo State, Mrs Janet Alake-Adeyemo, Professor Kole Omotoso, Odia Ofeimun, royalty and top officials of the Ekiti State led by the deputy governor, Professor Dupe Adelabu were among guests at the event.

This article was first published in The Nation.

Last modified: November 7, 2013

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