My father taught me that men could be kind, could be compassionate and could support women’s dreams and aspirations.
Erelu Bisi Fayemi is the wife of the Ekiti State governor-elect, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who will be sworn-in on October 16. While awaiting the handing over of power from the incumbent governor of the state, Erelu Fayemi attended the Africa Fashion Week London, as a special guest of the organisers, during which she spoke with Sunday Sun on a range of issues.
In what ways do you think the Nigerian government should support the fashion industry?
I think the government has been trying to help the fashion industry through various schemes. Look at the Bank of Industries for example, it has an initiative with the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) and has also been supportive of individual designers. But what we need to do is to try and ensure that there’s more synergy in what the government is able to offer and what the private sector is able to offer, because I also know that some private entities have been supporting fashion designers. For instance in Nigeria, we have the Nigeria Fashion Week, the Lagos Fashion Week, and some of them have supported Africa Fashion Week in Nigeria.
I think there should be more partnership synergy and more awareness around these initiatives. We have a lot of designers now in Nigeria who have become global brands Deola Sagoe, Ade Bakare, Ituen Bassey and quite a number of them. We need to see new faces and the creativity of other designers unleashed. The only way that can happen is if they have opportunities, exposure and patronage. I try to support a lot of people who make things because you don’t know who is going to be the next Deola Sagoe or the next Lanre DaSilva-Ajayi. I think we should all do what we can to establish as many partnerships as possible and let more people have opportunities. Nigeria is doing that as the fashion capital of the continent. I am very proud of Ronke Ademiluyi, the convener of Africa Fashion Week London. I’m so proud of her and I would do my best to ensure that she continues to get all the support she needs.
As a fashionable woman, what are the kind of things you like to wear?
For me, the most important thing is comfort. Fashion can be elegant, chic and you can define what elegance means to you. But for me, fashion has to be first and foremost comfortable. For someone like me, when I dress up to go for an event, I will probably have to go for four or five events in a day, and probably change in-between or probably not. So, if you are going to be wearing something all day it has to be something comfortable, both the dresses and the shoes.
Another thing that is important is appropriateness. There are things you wear for different occasions. You don’t wear a ball gown to lunch. You don’t wear a mini skirt to dinner. Though people have their different choices. I go to events and I see people dressed in some things, and I marvel. There are certain things you should not wear to a wedding or to a funeral. I see lots of people making mistakes around that. So, being appropriate is quite important.
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Another thing for me in terms of fashion is that you could also use fashion as a tool to communicate. Sometimes you wear certain things because you are in good mood and sometimes you just grab the next thing to wear. Because I’m an internally optimistic person, I wouldn’t want to go out and people are asking ‘Madam, are you okay?’ maybe because you forgot to put your earrings, your bra is showing, just try and communicate that you are confident, that you are happy in your own skin, and that you are having fun.
After four years out of office as Ekiti First Lady and very soon you will be back to same government house, how do you feel, or should I say how did you feel when the election results were announced?
I was of course very happy. I was relieved. But there’s a part of me which thinks there are things I would start doing all over again. Like being under scrutiny. But thank God. I give God all the glory. I am happy.
What things are you going to do differently as First Lady when resume office?
I see my primary assignment as supporting my husband. There’s not going to be anything different. Another thing that I take very seriously is the work I do with women. That is what I have done all my life, I’m a gender specialist; I have worked for women right issues all over the world in different countries. If I do that in other countries there’s no reason why I should not do the same at home.
All the things that I do with women, for example, ensuring that we have enabling environment for women to thrive, that we have legislation in place that protects women from violence, that protects women from abuse, that provides employment opportunities for women, leadership opportunities for women – to get adequate representation in government and provide for the girl child, I will pay attention to all these issues.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
Many lessons. But the things that I could share for the purpose of this interview is that we should always hold on to our faith because when all else fails it is our faith that gets us through and when you have faith you have all. There are lots of things that will be said to you as a person and about you, the most important conversation is the conversation you have about yourself, about who you are. If you know who you are whatever anyone says to you or about you, it doesn’t make any difference. Also, hold on to your friends, to the people who really care for you, because it is only time that would tell.
Growing up, who influenced you, was it your dad or mum?
That was my dad. I have spoken about him a number of times, I have written about him too. My father raised me to be a bright star, to be confident; I could do anything I set my mind to do. He belongs to the generation where it was believed that boys would do better than girls.
He had three of us (two girls and a boy) and he would tell anyone who cared to listen that his daughters are worth more to him than 10 sons and there’s nothing his daughters can’t achieve. That definitely influenced the kind of person I decided to marry. My father taught me that men could be kind, could be compassionate and could support women’s dreams and aspirations. And that’s what I tell young people who come to me for advice and mentoring. I tell them, believe in yourself, believe in who you are, respect yourself, and other people would respect you and value you if you value yourself.
Then what kind of man is your husband and what was the attraction when he “toasted” you?
What makes you think that he toasted me? We were both in the same class at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where we did our Master’s degree together. I went to Ife for my first degree while he graduated from University of Lagos. We both met at OAU when he came to do his masters in International Relations. I did my Masters in History but I took a class in International Relations and that was where we met.
So what was the attraction?
His smiles. Funny enough, what attracted me to him was also what attracted him to me. He said he was attracted to me because I was one of the brightest people in class.
How do you relax?
I like to read. I watch TV and play scrabble.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I read is a recent book about Queen Victoria. The title is just ‘Victoria.’ Over the years,
I have read things about Queen Victoria but this book was a dedicated study on her life as queen, on her public personae as leader of the British Empire and the personal life of a mother of nine children. Reading the book, it struck me that this was the woman who lived almost 200 years ago and the challenges she faced, the struggles that she had are still on till today in this century. Women who are trying to hold down a job, hold down careers, make decisions that affect their lives and others. It is just the same conversation, maybe different context and environment. That really struck me.
What’s your favourite TV program?
I have lots of TV favourites but I will choose Grey’s Anatomy.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I have been to several nice places around the world but one of my favourite places is Cape Town. I have been there many times and anytime I go I fall in love with the place all over again. Another place that reminds me of Cape Town because of its typography is Ekiti. We have lovely hills in Ekiti. One of the things my husband tried to do in his first term was to develop a tourist industry in Ekiti. You know that we have the Ikogosi warm spring, shopping centers and golf course. Definitely he’s going to revisit those things after he is sworn as governor. When that is done, Ekiti will be one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the country.