I had read snippets of her profile, or, if you prefer the term, her bio-data. Very impressive, at least, on the surface. Oftentimes, Curriculum Vitae are not the best yardsticks for evaluating and assessing and individual, especially those in highbrow pedestals, with professional image launderers and profile etchers, with cryptic hands for embellishing sweet nothings.
Even at that, there was enough to compel attention to this vivacious and charismatic lady, as I discovered of her later, on live encounter. And, given the (dis) reputation of Nigerian First Ladies, at all levels of the intrusion on the national psyche, it was wise not be swept off one's feet by well-etched bio-data. But, as I said, there was something different in the profile of the wife of the Ekiti State Governor.
Highlights of these regard her birth, education, career, self-drive, life perception and envisioned goals. Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi was born in England, Liverpool, nearly a Golden years ago.She went to school in Nigeria, AbeokutaGirls Grammar School and Methodist High School, Lagos and went to the University of Ife for her Undergraduate and Graduate studies, emerging with a Bachelor and Master of Arts Degrees in History. She went back to the United Kingdom to earn another Masters Degree from the University of Middlesex in Gender and Society.
Degrees or formal education become lifeless if unapplied to life, career and environment. A deeper search into her life shows that she has cultivated anfar-sighted career, in aspiration and in reality, as to what niche she must carve for herself as an educated young woman in a male- dominated social culture. She caught her teeth, back in England, in women activism and the development of her gender as aNigerian and an African female intellectual. After working briefly, therefore, in the service of Health and Social Services Department in the United Kingdom, she devoted the rest of her career life, thus far in women and gender development activities, NGOs and humanitarian activism.
This propelled her into the Directorship of Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) an international organization on development of African women located in London with an African regional office in Kampala Uganda, a position which she deployed to tremendous advantage, establishing the African Women's Leadership Institute to create a forum for training and networking for young women of Africa, with over five hundred young women across Africa benefitting from the Institute--women who now occupy strategic leadership positions in their various countries.
Her work in civil and rights organizations fruited in her co-founding the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF), a novel grant-giving Fund to support and promote the efforts of women's rights in Africa. It is put out that AWDF has grant-aided over 800 women's organizations in 42 African nations, galvanizing grass-root initiatives and strategic policies in aid of social justice and the rights of women. Her intimidating profile of gender, cultural and development activism speaks for her global citizenship and commitment to humanizing the women category of the human species, with specific reference to African women. It needs not take the confined space of this column.
Suffice it to state that for her contribution to rights issues, negotiating a space for the African women in Africa and on the international scene and her social justice activism, she has been amply recognized and rewarded. At home, the students of her Alma Mater (OAU) decorated her with the Distinguished Alumni Award of the Faculty of Arts. She received the Achievers Award from the International Summit in the year 2006 for her effort in promoting positive change in Africa.
From the United States of America she was honoured with the notable 'Changing the face of Philanthropy' award of the Women's Funding Network and the dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitorship from the University of Toronto, among others.Perhaps the one that latched, most unpeelably, to her social skin is the honorary chieftaincy title as the Erelu of the kingdom of Isan in Oye-Ekiti. There is also the honorific titleas the Ochiora (Leader of the people)of Imezi Owa of Ezeagwu Local Government of Enugu State.
More germane to her compulsive drive effort to support her effort to bring land-marking development to Ekiti State in the area of cultural industry, Erelu Bisi Fayemi was appointed the Chairperson of a 50-member technical Committee on culture, arts and tourism development. It is within the penumbra of this committee entrenched to deploy the arts in the service of the socio-economic transformation of Ekiti-State that I met her for the first time.
I had been invited as a Guest Speaker on the occasion of the First Ekiti State Annual festival of Culture and the Arts. It was quitea difficult invitation to honour, having t come all the way from Jos at a time when our Schedules at the National Institute were quite tight. Yet I could not turn this invitation down for a number of reasons, important among which was the fact that it was the first of such fiestasorganized by any State of the Federation in an effort to centralize culture in the vortex of socio-economic development.
This is a project I had seized any and every available platform to canvas and crusade for. It was difficult to excuse myself from this positive initiative. Unfortunately, the reception I initially received almost made me regret coming. Not much was ready and the arrangement for the event was tentative.
I was going to return to Jos but for the timely intervention of the other lead speaker, a retired Professor from the OAU and one whom I have a lot of respect for, in addition to the entireties of my younger colleague, Ojo Rasaki Bakare, Professor of Dance at the new Federal University, at Oye-Ekiti. Hindsight, it would have been regrettable indeed, had I left without meeting the Chairperson of the occasion, whose dominant initiative the whole project was.
What struck me first on meeting Erelu was a combination of magnetism, charisma, warm in the midst of disarming humility, down-to-earth-ness and alluring simplicity. What also took me unaware was her sharp intellect and verbal eloquence.
It was for me a rewarding encounter.