An Uncommon First Lady

Nigerians, in the last three decades, have seen many first ladies in action in their respective states, but Bisi Fayemi, with her social welfare schemes, has set the bar higher in Ekiti

Erelu-Bisi-Fayemi,-Wife-of-the-Ekiti-State-Governor_14The picture of Bisi Fayemi, First Lady of Ekiti State, and her husband, Kayode Fayemi, in kitchen apparel, dishing out food to elderly people in one of the villages in Ekiti State two months ago is one of the enduring images to come out from the state in recent times!

The photo, taken during the Soup Kitchen Welfare Scheme initiated by the First Lady, not only reveals the passion and commitment of the duo to the welfare of senior citizens in the state, but the synergy existing between them on providing the best living condition for people. The Soup Kitchen initiative is one of the social welfare schemes established by the Ekiti State First Lady. Another one is the Food Bank concept.   According to her, the idea behind the Food Bank is “for us to be able to provide nutritional support to those who are unable to feed or fend for themselves.”  The Food Bank gives out raw food to the elderly, indigent widows, orphans and vulnerable children and those living with HIV who are unable to work. And it was the experience garnered in the course of the Food Bank project that led to the setting up of the soup kitchen.

“In the process of running the Food Bank, we found out that there are some people, even if you give them the raw food, they are unable to cook the food themselves, like the elderly, so we established the food kitchen. Now we have at least 16 soup kitchens in six local governments, LGs, across Ekiti State, and what that means is that those who need a hot meal, at least three times a week, can go to the soup kitchen and get a hot meal.”

The Food Bank and Soup Kitchen are just two of the pet projects which the First Lady has come to be known for. Since October 2010 that her husband assumed duties as governor of the state, after a protracted legal battle, Bisi has been a constant factor in the life of the administration. She has not only been a pillar of support to her husband in the home front, she is known to have helped champion causes concerning womenfolk in particular for which the Ekiti State government has earned plaudit from feminists across the country. As a woman, Bisi is proud of her husband’s achievements, which include the Ekiti State Gender Policy that was signed into law, among others. Apart from the Gender Policy law which criminalises acts of violence against women, she has on her own, through her Ekiti Development Foundation, initiated programmes that have earned her commendation.

Apart from the Food Bank and Soup Kitchen welfare schemes, the Ekiti First Lady has been able to render support to women, youth and children in the state through series of initiatives such as the granting of micro credit to women’s cooperatives and coordinating school acquisition training programmes for women in different LGs in the state.  In this regard, no fewer than 200 women benefited from an initiative that involved Globacom called the Glo Communications kiosk businesses. That is not all. The Ekiti Development Foundation also embarked on advocacy campaigns that led to the building of new model markets in the 16 LGs in Ekiti for which the stone laying foundations were recently done by the First Lady.

Beyond the strides in the area of social welfare schemes, Bisi is also in the forefront of campaigning for political empowerment for women in the state for which she can today feel fulfilled for the gains made, as Ekiti, apart from boasting a female deputy governor, currently has more women in government either as commissioners or special advisers than previously seen. Such inroads generally have no doubt positively impacted on the state government’s rating.  For a known gender activist, Bisi’s accomplishments do not come as a surprise to those familiar with her antecedent. Long before her husband became governor, the woman had carved her own niche through the African Women’s Development Fund, AWDF, of which she is the president. The AWDF is known to have rendered financial assistance to African women in different parts of the continent seeking to make a mark in different fields of endeavour in the last 11 years, thus earning for itself the tag of one of Africa’s foremost grant awarding institutions.

It was this mindset to assist and empower women that she brought into Government House, Ekiti. In 2012, while rationalising her growing influence in her husband’s administration, she said: “My husband will be very disappointed in me if I opt to spend most of my time at home and attending social functions to show off my latest lace and head ties. He will consider it a terrible waste of my experience, skills and talents.” Today, that momentum she exhibited in the beginning of her husband’s administration has gathered even more speed, while her programmes for women in the state have gained more ground, earning her praises. Her Soup Kitchen initiative, for example, has attracted the support of public-spirited individuals and philanthropists from the state, as revealed by the Erelu.

“The Ekiti Development Foundation supports the Food Bank but for the soup kitchens, a lot of Ekiti citizens, philanthropists and humanitarians either at home or abroad co-sponsor the Soup Kitchen in their various communities because they think it’s something they want their people to benefit from,” the First Lady revealed.

It is not only people of Ekiti outside government circles that are appreciative of her contributions to the development of Ekiti. Her husband is also impressed with the role she has played over time. In his recent book, Regaining the Legacy, which chronicled his administration’s three years in power, the governor, in one of the chapters making up the book titled, The Ultimate Renaissance Woman, said of his wife: “When I was approached to enter partisan politics in 2005, it was very important to me that my wife support the idea. I knew that without her, my journey would be an almost impossible one. Her support for my political calling is well known…if she had not been my wife, I would have counted myself lucky if she had taken up a position in my cabinet… she is described by others as a brilliant woman with impeccable manners and grace, class, poise and eloquence. All this is true. In my mind however, I cannot but think of her as simply the love of my life, my best friend, and the blessing from God for which I will forever be immensely grateful.” Little wonder, she is every step by her husband in the road to greater development of Ekiti State.




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