Loud Whispers by Erelu Bisi Fayemi
My vision for our great State is that this is a place where people can thrive and live their lives in dignity. A place where workers do not labour in vain. A place where our young people do not roam the streets looking for jobs that are not there, a place where people are not so hungry they resort to pilfering food to survive.
A place where the cycle of generational poverty can be broken, and in which our elderly can reap the fruits of their labours over their children. A place where people are safe, healthy and prosperous.Liverpool stars Salah, Mane and Van Dijk on Ballon d’Or shortlist(Opens in a new browser tab)
With these words, read out in his inaugural address on October 16th 2018, the second term in office of HE Dr John Kayode Fayemi, (JKF) Governor of Ekiti State began. That was exactly one year ago. It is hard to believe that a year has gone by so quickly.
As I sat at the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion on October 16th last week observing the activities to mark the first anniversary, I smiled to myself when I thought of all the things I said would be different this time around. For example, together with close associates, we extracted a promise from JKF that he would not work very late like he did during his first term. It was agreed he was to leave the office at 10pm. After a couple of tries, this became unenforceable, so JKF is back to working till late or should I say very early.
Many times after he comes home, he wants to keep on working till I insist in switching off the lights. In my own case I had said I would not stress myself out trying to solve everyone’s problems.
I convinced myself that I would no longer bother myself with the calls of people whose wives give birth and can’t pay, those who have medical bills, weddings, funerals and the like. They would all be asked to go to the Ministry of Health, Women’s Affairs or the Governor’s office, anywhere but not my doorstep. I wish. So one year later the long hours continue. The intense levels of community engagements and investments continue. However, this time, there seems to be a difference.
During the period known as JKF1 (2010-2014) JKF’s efforts were taken for granted. Now, people know the difference and there is more appreciation and cooperation. This makes all the sacrifices worth it. The JKF2 administration has done an amazing job over the past year in the five thematic areas of focus – Governance, Infrastructure Development, Social Investments, Agriculture and Rural Development and Knowledge Economy.
A strong foundation has been laid in all these areas through strategic thinking and planning, impactful programs and partnerships. Workers’ salaries are being paid on time, as are pensions and subventions. School levies have been scrapped and enrolment levels are up again. Abandoned projects have come back to life. The Social Security Scheme for the elderly is back.
The three arms of government – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, backed with a reformed, professional civil service, now operate as normal institutions should, devoid of meddling and theatrics. Donor partners and investors have been doing a relay run to indicate their interest. There is a whole lot more to be done, but there is hope, with the State in the hands of a visionary leader and a dedicated team.
Last week, JKF signed some new bills into law. One of them was a Transition Act, the first in Nigeria, which addresses the issue of continuity in governance. It is rather disturbing to note the impunity with which administrations abandon or ignore projects and policies put in place by their predecessors. Granted, not all initiatives can be taken forward if there are genuine financial constraints but the motives are usually to do with egos and vengeance. Every leader has a place in history, be it good or bad. It is counterproductive to abridge programs meant for the well-being of people. No matter how imposing or expensive a structure is, no Governor can uproot it on his way out of office.Obaseki advocates zero tolerance, decisive action to end Female Genital Mutilation(Opens in a new browser tab)
In support of my husband’s efforts, I have spent the past year picking up from where I left off in 2014. I was distressed to discover that the Gender Based Violence Management Committee that is the implementing body of the Gender Based Violence Law of 2011, had not met in the past four years. The committee was revived by JKF in May 2019 and held its first meeting in five years. In December 2018, as part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign, we convened a meeting to assess what needed to be done to address GBV issues in the State, now that there was renewed political will. There was a consensus that the 2011 Law needed to be updated to address emerging issues as well as stiffer penalties.
As a result, the GBV Law of 2011 was repealed and a new law took its place. The new law harmonises the GBV Law of 2011, the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015 as well as old local laws covering Female Genital Mutilation and Widowhood Practices. In addition to the stronger law, a Sex Offenders Register is in place, with a Name and Shame Policy for sex offenders. Perhaps because victims of violence or their families believe they will get justice if they come to my office, I am often inundated with pleas to help or intervene in such cases. The Ministry of Justice seconded a Lawyer to work on such cases that are brought to me so there is now a Gender and Vulnerable Persons Unit that handles these cases and ensures that victims get the support and justice they need.
I have also been working on a Keep Girls in School project, to raise awareness on the need to keep girls in school for as long as possible. Even though education is free in Ekiti State, there are many children running around and rates of teenage pregnancy are high.
The Ekiti State Government has therefore taken the unprecedented step of putting measures in place to ensure that if girls get pregnant, they can stay in school till it is time for them to have their babies. When they deliver their babies, they can go back to school. If a problem like this is not addressed it means that years from now Ekiti State will be short of Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers and so on because hundreds of girls fell through the cracks.
During the JKF1 period, I supported a Food Bank Project for the elderly, widows and orphans. Now the project is up and running again, but focused on the elderly and known as ‘Ounje Arugbo’ as a complement to the social security scheme of the government known as ‘ Owo Arugbo’. Last year, I found out that based on recent statistics, Ekiti State ranks third in the country with Female Genital Mutilation prevalence.
I was horrified. As a result, in addition to the community sensitization and awareness strategies that have been the conventional approaches, I decided to try something I had seen work in other African countries. While I was at the African Women’s Development Fund, we had supported several FGM projects in Mali and Kenya which had an economic empowerment component.
In exchange for support with alternative livelihoods, local circumcisers volunteered to stop the practice. In September 2019, we began a series of ‘Dropping the blades’ ceremonies, during which local circumcisers and community leaders agree to end the practice in exchange for economic empowerment opportunities. So far it has been hugely successful and I am hopeful that this will save thousands of little girls from this harmful and outmoded practice.
Everywhere I go in the State, I advocate for healthy living, cancer awareness, attendance of ante-natal programs and use of healthcare facilities, as well as the importance of having women in leadership positions. On the whole it has been an interesting year, with high and low moments. I was devastated after the Federal University of Oye incident in September when two students lost their lives after a peaceful protest turned violent. It was appalling how some elements tried to politicise the tragic death of the students. I know that public life comes at a price and sometimes it can be painfully high.UN calls for more commitment to end Female Genital Mutilation by 2030(Opens in a new browser tab)
I am proud of my State, Ekiti, and the Land of Honour. I am proud of my Governor, HE Dr John Kayode Fayemi, CON. I am proud of my husband, comrade and friend, he is simply the best. Thank you JKF, for restoring the values of Ekiti people, values of respect for hard work, integrity, honesty and truth. I did not want to write this article.
I did not want to be accused of praise singing my own husband. I however choose to write to bear witness to his humanity, diligence, service and love to his people and country. I choose to salute his doggedness, courage and tenacity. I choose to write this from my heart, not because I am paid to do so or because I want to prove I am loyal. I write this because it is the truth. Leaders like him are very hard to come by, and it is my prayer that more like him are encouraged to engage in the political arena. Viva Ekiti! Viva JKF! Viva Nigeria!