Described as a woman with milk of kindness flowing through her veins, Ekiti State First Lady, Erelu Bisi Fayemi is regarded as Ekiti people’s equivalent of “Mother Teresa”, little wonder she is fondly called “Mother General”. PRECIOUS OLOFINYOKUN, in this piece pays glowing tribute to the woman who changed her perception about leadership and people in power
In September 2018, I was posted to Ekiti State for my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme with the Public Complaint Commission as my place of primary assignment. As someone with passion for development in the society, on October 16, 2018, I mobilized fellow corps members to the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion, venue of the inauguration of Dr Kayode Fayemi as the Governor of the state. Aside the historic nature of the colourful event, I also considered it an opportunity to catch a glimpse of my long-term role model and “Shero”, Erelu Bisi Fayemi.
Even though as of that time, I hadn’t met Erelu Fayemi one-on-one, those close to me knew me as one of her ardent supporters and followers on social media. Having read her books and so many of her weekly “Loud Whispers” column, I tried to dress like her, smile like her and even imagine myself as an Erelu in my own little corner. That is how obsessed I am with Erelu Bisi Fayemi.
As the swearing-in ceremony proceeded, I moved near the podium and was able to catch a good view of Her Excellency, seated beside her husband, beaming with smiles. I said to myself, finally I’m able to catch a glimpse of the woman I have long admired. I also beamed a smile of satisfaction as I prayed and wished her and her husband a successful tenure. A security officer later asked me to leave where I was standing, and I went back to my seat where my friend, Amarachi gave me a hug for daring all odds to catch a view of Her Excellency on the podium.
Before the end of the ceremony, both His Excellency and Her Excellency walked round the pavilion waving and greeting the people. That gave me a better view of Erelu who was decked in aso oke with matching beads.
After the inauguration ceremonies, I went back to my place of primary assignment and commenced my Community Development Service (CDS). I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do in my CDS, but getting the needed funding was a big challenge. Anyhow, I started My CDS which I tagged #PadAGirl #Leadership #STEAM. My target audience were Secondary school girls. I wrote letters to some sponsors but didn’t get any response. So, I wrote to some secondary schools, and I started visiting them talking to the girls on #Leadership and #SelfEsteem. At times, I will go with two packs of pen and give it to them as souvenirs. I was doing this and posting them on my social media pages.
In April 2019, a friend I met through Facebook approached me that we should plan something around #PadAGirl in her hometown and she wanted me to be the keynote speaker, to which I agreed. We planned the whole event together and I uploaded the flier on my Facebook page. That night, I got a call from a lady who introduced herself as one of Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s aides (she apparently got my number from the flier). The aide said the Governor’s wife saw the flier and asked her to reach out to me to see if I could do such programme in Ekiti State.
I instantly responded that it was doable, and told her I have been doing something around that in Ekiti, but I did’t have a sponsor. She said the sponsor I was looking for have been found and that I should bring a letter to her Excellency’s office the next day.
The first person I called to share the good news was my friend Amarachi, she was so happy, and we prayed together. The next day we both dressed up and went to give her the letter. When I got to the office of the aide, I told her all I needed to carry out the project was the materials- Sanitary Pads, and that they shouldn’t give me money. It was few weeks to my Passing Out Parade (POP).
On May 30, 2019, we had the event at All Souls’ Secondary School along New Iyin road, Ado Ekiti. It was a day I will never forget. I had more than 1,000 sanitary pads supplied by Erelu Bisi Adeleye -Fayemi, thousands of toothpastes, my big sister also supported with Notebooks and pens. We had the representative of Her Excellency in attendance, NYSC representatives, School Principals and teachers with hundreds of students. I was overwhelmed with joy at the huge success of the event. The television and radio crew were all over the place to cover the event. It was in the news throughout the day and beyond.
June 11 was Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s birthday. As usual, I celebrated her on my Facebook page, then I heard the party will hold on 16th of June 2019 but I know it would be difficult to attend the party because it will hold within the Government House Complex. I wanted to attend the party so that I can eat, drink and dance to good music. I thought of who could help me secure an invitation to the party, then I remembered one of the committee members my colleagues and I worked with during the inauguration ceremony. I approached him for an invitation to the party. He said he would give me one pass because of my genuine love for Erelu and consistency on the social media. I prepared well for the party, had my dress and make up well made. Despite the card, it wasn’t easy gaining access to the venue. I eventually entered, flashed my card and got in. I deliberately sat at a table towards the end of the hall for fear of being harassed by any security officials. It was a huge party- a lot to eat and drink.
At a point Her Excellency stood up and started greeting everyone from one table to another. When she got to my table, I screamed: “Her Excellency in my table?” Then I said “I’m Precious Olofinyokun”, and she screamed and said “WOW” and hugged me so passionately, held me for a few seconds. I became overwhelmed and started crying.
That day was another day in the history of my life that I will never forget, I cried so much then she said don’t cry and she looked around and beaconed on one fair lady and told her to bring me to her office that same week. On hearing that I should see her that week, I started crying again. People around me at the party started calling me “OmoErelu” (Erelu’s daughter) It was like a dream come through. So, I exchanged numbers with that woman and when Erelu was dancing, I moved closer to the place then she sighted me again and beckoned on me and I joined her on the dance floor. I and Erelu on the dance floor….Hahhahahahah, I was so happy.
When I came out of the party hall, I saw the person that gave me the pass. And went on my knees and showered him with prayers because I knew how much disappointment I’ve experienced each time I told anyone I wanted to see Erelu. I didn’t bath that night when I got home nor remove my cloth because of the hug I received from Erelu; I couldn’t let it go like that. My best friend, Amarachi, was the first person I called to share the encounter with. After the party , I went to her house and she bought wine for us to celebrate the hug with a woman after my heart.
On June 17, 2019, the woman that got my contact called me and asked me to see her in her office. Her name is Barrister Oluwaseyi Ojo (of blessed memory), On getting to her office, she asked me some questions about myself, and I left that day then later in the night she called again that Her Excellency said I should see her on Wednesday June19,2019 by 12pm. My friend, Amarachi and I spent the night rehearsing how I will talk there. She acted as Erelu and I as Precious. As early as 10am in my full NYSC uniform, I arrived the office and waited until 12pm, the time I was given. I filled a form and immediately I was called into Her Excellency’s office. I forgot all that I had practised immediately I entered Her Excellency’s office. I went on my knees. She said “have your seat dear”. I remembered my first words were: “Your Excellency ma, Precious is in your office. She said “Yes”, and then we started the conversation. I told her about myself, gave her a recap of my life’s journey. She said “with this your story “wa ti je ya gan o” (You must have gone through a lot) then I echoed “Yes ma”. Then Erelu said: “ I will still be in Ekiti for the next three years, after your NYSC, I will see what I can do concerning getting you a job. If you want to further your education, I will sponsor you and concerning your house rent I will pay for the next three years.” Immediately I went on my knees again, crying and praying for her. I left her office with gifts of books and, of course, an envelope (If you know, you know). I was so happy, and I started appreciating GOD for meeting my long-term admirer.
June 27, 2019 was my POP and after I got a state award with six other awards then I uploaded it on my Facebook page and few hours after, I got a call from Barr Oluwaseyi Ojo and she said “Good evening Precious, Congratulations on your POP. Meanwhile, Her Excellency asked me to call you to resume in her office on Monday. You now have a job”. The shock was so much, I started crying and praying speaking in language that only God understands, I was so happy.
On July 1,2019 I resumed work as Program Assistant and Gender Desk Officer at Gender and Vulnerable Person’s Unit, Office of Her Excellency, Erelu Bisi Adeleye- Fayemi, under the supervision of late Barrister Oluwaseyi Ojo, The following day, my boss accompanied me to Erelu’s office to appreciate her on my behalf and that was the beginning of it for me.
Remember it’s my first job after school and I studied Marketing, but with the help of Barrister Ojo, I was able to learn fast on the job. Unfortunately, in December 2019, we lost her to the cold hands of death. It was like my whole world has crumbled because we were so close. She took me like her sister.
January 2021, I got admission for a postgraduate degree in Gender and Development Studies at the Ekiti State University. I sent Her Excellency my admission letter and immediately she credited my account handsomely with my school fees. Meanwhile, she has paid my house rent till August 2022, as promised.
I started work at the office of Her Excellency Gender and Vulnerable Persons Units as a Program assistant and Gender Desk officer. This office is saddled with the responsibilities of handling Gender-based violence working with Sexual assault referral centre, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Women Affairs, Police and Non Governmental Organizations in the state. We handled various cases relating to gender-based violence and from 2019 till date, we have handled, more than three thousand cases of GBV including rape, domestic violence, child abandonment, Human trafficking, child Maltreatment, threat to life, among others. We equally had a lot of interventions coupled with series of empowerment programs by Her Excellency.
As a Program Officer of the Unit and Gender Desk officer , I got certified as a mediator after passing my professional exam from Chartered Institute of Mediators and Conciliators of Nigeria. Again, the professional exam fee was paid by Her Excellency.
No doubt, I have learnt so much under her tutelage and from my job. I learnt from Erelu Bisi Fayemi Leadership ,Humility ,Forgiveness ,Good human relation, Good communication and an Unapologetic Gender activist. Moreover, above all she is wise, honest and candid. She is approachable, she is non-judgmental, she is Enthusiastic, she stays connected all this and more I have been able to learn from her. So, I don’t only grow in my career but in all aspects of life, she has practically changed, inspire and impact my life greatly and I will forever be grateful for what God has used her to do in my life.
Like an angel sent from God to bless my life, Erelu Bisi Fayemi has fulfilled all the promises she made to me till date. She changed my perception about life, she changed my status and helped rebuild by confidence, making me a better version of myself. This is my Erelu Bisi Fayemi Story which is the genesis of my career development and her mentorship.