Erelu Adeleye-Fayemi: Tribute to an Amazing Amazon, Brain and Beauty @ 60

Siyan Oyeweso 

I celebrate my dear sister and former First Lady of Ekiti State on the anniversary of her 60th birthday. It is said that life is a gift from God, and what you make of it is your gift to humanity. Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi has made her life a gift and blessing to the nation and humanity. I first met the young Bisi Adeleye in 1980, when she enrolled in the B.A. History programme at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). The department was then under the headship of the late Professor Isaac Adeagbo Akinjogbin, one of the foremost first-generation Nigerian historians. Our paths continued to cross in the department and the Faculty of Arts when she later enrolled for her M.A. History programme, which she completed with high grades in 1988. 

As an undergraduate and postgraduate student, Bisi Adeleye, now Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, was an uncommon student and lady. She was one of the serious-minded students, with total commitment and dedication to her studies. At the university, she was a distinguished fellow whose contribution to humanity on campus was second to none. It was clear to many people then that she belonged to the ajebotas by her carriage, diction, poise and charisma. I can boldly claim that Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi has proved to be a gift to Nigeria and the global community right from the university days. Her enigmatic nature is known everywhere by virtue of her academic pedigree and philanthropic and charismatic leadership. She has carved a niche for herself. She is a colossus in her chosen career at home and abroad.

Erelu is a quintessential leader at the forefront of active feminism, women empowerment and poverty alleviation. She is a highly gifted and talented public speaker, respected thought leader and commentator on issues of feminism, women empowerment, public-sector leadership and educational advancement. In the last few decades, she has been eloquent about women emancipation in the Nigerian society. She strongly believes that politically, economically and socially women in Nigerian societies are kept on the periphery of decision-making and have suffered significantly from this marginalisation. Her consistent contributions to the development of women in the state did not surprise me. As a student at the University of Ife, she emphasised the need to bring academic theories into practical space. Her contribution to Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) and African Women’s Development Fund (WDF), among other means, has been a landmark. As the wife of His Excellency Kayode Fayemi, the Executive Governor of Ekiti State, she pushed for women’s equity and inclusive leadership. No wonder she emerged as the ‘Changing Face of Philanthropy’, awarded by the Women’s Funding Networks in 2007, was named one of the 20 most influential African women in 2009 by New African magazine, and was awarded the 2018 Zik Leadership Prize for Humanitarian Leadership by the Public Policy Research and Analysis Centre. 

Erelu Bisi Fayemi is unarguably one of the most influential feminists and thought leaders on human capital development; and a great mentor to many young people in civil, human rights and women organizations. Her thoughts are well articulated and presented in some of her publications on this subject matter. Three of her publications, ‘Speaking for Myself: Perspectives on Social, Political, and Feminist Activism in Africa’ (2013), ‘Speaking Above a Whisper’ (2013) and ‘Loud Whispers’ (2017), lend credence to her pragmatism and realism vis-à-vis political, economic, and social emancipation of women. Through her scholarly prowess, she has done excellent documentation of the plight of women, widows and orphans from sociological, human rights and legal perspectives. Perhaps her depth and sophistication in history make her stand out in the pantheon of feminists whose ideas mostly tilt towards the ideal rather than the reality. She advocates a society that treats women not as ancillary but as important partners to their male counterparts across all strata of the Nigerian society.

She is undoubtedly a blessing to the cause of girl- child education and a pillar of support to widows. I can also affirm that Erelu Bisi Fayemi is a very respectful wife to her hubby, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and a dutiful and caring mother to her children. Above all, she is a champion of pristine family values.  She is a charismatic leader, a firm and principled gentlewoman, a humble and amiable personality, a responsible and responsive public official, a dependable ally, and an exemplary, respectful, and respected community woman. I know that many lives have been blessed through Erelu Bisi Fayemi. You encounter her, you experience wisdom, love, encouragement and patience, and learn listening skills. She is diligent, committed, patriotic, religious, selfless, meticulous and humble. No wonder she is still active in community service and vigorously participates in nation-building at 60. 

As an old friend of Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s, I am very proud of all her accomplishments. I salute her tenacity and resilience in standing tall and fighting vehemently for the cause she believes in. Erelu has presented herself as a defender of women’s rights and an advocate of gender equality within the Nigerian political space. This is not a small feat. 

As Erelu Bisi Fayemi climbs the 6th ladder, I congratulate her and wish her God’s abundant blessings as we look forward to her 70th, 80th, 90th and 100th birthday anniversaries. I pray that God Almighty will bless her with longevity, good health, peace and prosperity. May her strength be renewed to continue to enjoy God’s favour and live well. As we embark on another voyage of nation building, my prayer is that she will be continually relevant. May her tomorrow be better than her today. Amen. Sixty hearty cheers to Our amazon and a blessing to the world!

 Oyeweso, is of the Department of History and International Studies, Osun State University 

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