Bisi Fayemi

Erelu Fayemi, as a nursing mother carrying her infant son to protest for the release of the Human and Environmental right activist Ken Saro Wiwa at the Nigerian High commission in England in the 1990s

It is with serious indignation that I revelled at the claims and counter-claims over the Federal University Of Oye Ekiti (FUOYE)  incidence, and the insinuations that the First Lady of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Fayemi ‘ordered her police detail to shoot at protesting students’ or the attempt to place culpability of the loss of lives on her person. A lot has been said and a lot has been reputed. However, The First Lady, in her capacity as a writer and a journalist has also given her account of the incidence. I can confirm to you that she personally wrote that official statement, if you follow her widely published writings, you will hear voice in the writeup. 

Like the popular saying goes, there are 3 sides to every story, your side, the other side and the truth, so unlike our social media pundits and warlords, this piece is not seeking any of the opposing sides but the truth. This is not to say that I do not have the inclination to side with the narrative of the First Lady on the clarity, consistency and timely account of the incidences on the said day.

The fact remains that like many other people I wasn’t there and I will not claim a bird eye view like Segun Awosanya @segalinks and his cohorts on social media who were miles away but could swear they heard the ‘shoot to kill’ order from her themselves or pick holes in the official statement based on patchy video clips online.

In the words of the highly respected Wole Soyinka ‘History teaches us to beware of the excitations of the liberated, and the injustices that often accompany the righteous thirst for Justice’. As an unreserved supporter of police reforms and an advocate of the police reform bill championed by Segalinks, we have spoken on at least 2 occasions and he was one of our guest discussants on the maiden episode of Connect&Conversations radio program, an initiative of TLSDI, a non-profit organization I co-founded and Women Radio 91.7 focused on the mainstreaming the voices of Young Nigerians on Governance & Development. The incidence in Ekiti involving protesting students, hoodlums, the Nigerian Police and the First Lady of Ekiti State is not an isolation event, it speaks to the broader issues included in the police reform bill around the rules of engagement with citizens of the Nigerian Police and other military and paramilitary arm. Let us therefore not seek to appropriate blame unjustly in our gusto for justice and a better society.

The Erelu Bisi Fayemi we know has lived her entire life as social crusader of justice and has always fought on the side of the oppressed even at the point of arm to herself. One event comes to mind similar to the FUOYE incidence. I accompanied Mrs. Fayemi as a private citizen to deliver a lecture at the 3rd International Conference on Gender at the University of Benin in September 2016. The government of Edo State was magnanimous enough to detail a mobile policeman to accompany us on the road trip back to Lagos. I was seated in the Toyota Hilux escort vehicle behind the car conveying her when all of a sudden a suspicious car with 5 male occupants displaced the escort vehicle off the road to the side-walks and was closing in on her vehicle on the Benin-Ore expressway.

While we were still trying to recover our displacement I could see the police detail inside Her Excellency’s vehicle brought out his gun through the glass window and pointed it at the suspicious car trying to displace them off the road or perhaps bring them to a stop. This action by the policeman caused the assailants driver to reduce his speed drastically while we all sped away as fast as we could. In all of this gross misconduct by the driver of this vehicle and the potential security threat they were to us all, Erelu was more concerned and furious at the police orderly who faced his gun at the driver of the assailant vehicle. She was demanding a professional explanation for his action. Still trying to catch my breath, I was caught aback by her inquisition. That is the Erelu we know!

On arrival in Lagos, I personally engaged the police orderly in a conversation and far as he concerned it was his best line of action. His position was that the assailant vehicle displayed all of the trappings of a serious security threat and he would be the first person gunned down if the threat was confirmed and they were successful. He couldn’t understand why Madam was querying him for doing his job!

The Erelu we know will put protocol aside and join those protesting students to carry their protest placards around town in line with her life-long career as an activist, or in recent years as the spouse of a public servant ensure that the protest message gets to the appropriate office and follows up. This is her essence and what she lives for, So why will it be claimed that she refused to address the protesting students and that she ordered her police detail to open fire on unarmed citizens? The protest wasn’t even directed at her or the Ekiti State government, and at what point did the hoodlums rampaging under the guise of studentship begin destroying the vehicles in the convoy?

On this note, I want to stand with the Nigerian youth across ethnic and religious lines, particularly the great Nigerian students of FUOYE. There is no gain-saying that we are all in an abusive relationship with Nigeria. The country is not delivering the dividend of democracy to the most of us yet, and we are at the precipice of despair. I empathize with you on the message of your protest.

Lack of electricity is only but one of the myriad of plaques afflicting our country. I can still vividly recall my personal experiences of been teargassed for protesting similar student welfare challenges as a student on the Obafemi Awolowo University, or more recently the fracas with the Nigerian Police during a protest to the Lagos State House of Assembly for the passage of the Not Too Young To Run Bill in 2017. The onus already lies on our generation to take the bull by the horn and fix this country. I respect your courage in exercising your right to protest. However, what we need to do is organize and not agonize. This kind of organising calls for strategy, and strategy requires us not to wear our emotions on our sleeves. We must operate with a clear head and a plan. A plan  that will ensure that our ranks are not infiltrated by hoodlums who will give us a bad name by using the cover of our rights to protest, to go on a destruction orgy. To go the long haul in this plan, we need allies in high places who have walked this path. We cannot afford to make enemies of our potential allies in the struggle for a better Nigeria.

Let us not fall into the temptation of throwing the baby away with the bath water, or the apathy of believing nothing good can come from anyone in position of power or influence.

The loss of the promising lives of Dada Kehinde and Joseph Icon in the aftermath of the incidence is most regrettable and very unfortunate. As a country, we have lost potential solution carriers for our problems. They are now martyrs in the struggle for a better Nigeria and to immortalise them we must keep hope alive and continue to organise in the spirit of Aluta!

My utmost condolence goes out to their parents and colleagues. It is an irreplaceable loss and I know Her Excellency shares their pain the most as a mother beholden to all.

Social media as a decentralized platform has availed us the opportunity to be heard and to harness our voices. Mrs. Fayemi remains one of the very few middle aged Nigerians who welcomed the transformative power of social media for Nigeria’s youth, women and other marginalized population by investing in it through the launch of in 2016, an online platform for inter-generational conversations and a medium  for young people and women to express their preferences, aggregate their interests, and influence public officials and public policy, using avenues and opportunities in the political system towards helping to maintain government accountability and demanding government transparency and responsiveness.

We must resist the temptation to use it tear down instead of building. We must move away from ‘If It shocks it rocks ‘sensational engagement on social media. It is ok not to say anything if you don’t have all the fact. In all that we do we must seek to be empowering in our actions and words.


Aluta Continua!

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