By Donu Kogbara
I WAS taken aback when an email from someone called Olamide Adeyemi dropped into my email inbox a few days ago.
It was copied to 266 other people, mostly journalists I think; and I’ve decided to share its contents with you, verbatim and unabridged, so I cannot be accused of editing it in a way that encourages misunderstanding:
“School girls in Ondo State, especially those in Ifedore Local Government Area of the State, especially those who are virgins, have been told to reject the sanitary pads being distributed by the Wife of Ekiti State Governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi.
The Ondo Progressives Movement, OPM, which made this call on Sunday, raised the alarm that the sanitary pads being distributed by Governor Fayemi’s wife could have spiritual motives that may not be unconnected to the 2022 governorship election in Ekiti State and her husband’s presidential ambition.
According Comrade Olamide Adeyemi, the group’s Spokesperson, distribution of sanitary pads, especially to schools girls, by a governor’s wife, who holds spiritual title of Erelu, is suspicious.
Fayemi’s wife, yesterday, at Ilara-Mokin, Ifedore Local Government Area of Ondo State, distributed sanitary pads among women and ladies within puberty age, claiming it was meant to prevent the spread of infections. However, the OPM asked why a governor’s wife will choose to distribute sanitary pads to school girls, most of whom are virgins at this time of economic hardship instead of providing foods.
OPM said it was not against politicians rendering help to the people of the State, especially school girls, but will not allow the future of the people to be jeopardise through diabolical gifts like sanitary pads.
It said Yoruba people all over the world are aware of what mensuration can be used for, spiritually and as such, will not sit back and allow desperate politicians to use our daughters to advance their ambitions. The group counselled that if Erelu Bisi Fayemi is genuinely desirous of helping our people, especially the school girls, she should empower them so that they can feed themselves and be able to buy sanitary pads for themselves.”
Are OPM personnel OK? What on earth possessed them to come up with such wild-eyed, superstitious and primitive accusations? It’s fine to express the view that it’s better to dish out cash that will enable girls to buy sanitary pads and food for themselves.
But philanthropists are entitled to donate items rather than money; and I am gobsmacked by all this backward, insulting, inciting nonsense about Erelu’s allegedly diabolical intentions. I would also love to know how virginity, menstruation and sanitary pads are linked!
For the record, distribution of free sanitary pads to indigent women is a respectable and warmly welcomed charitable initiative in many countries. Indeed, my sister once attended a function at which the British Queen Elizabeth – no less! – expressed interest in this issue.
Anyway, I know for sure that Erelu Bisi Fayemi’s heart is in the right place and that when she embarks on projects, she is not motivated by sinister intentions, cynical self-interest or political expediency.
I’ve known her since we were both completely unknown youngsters in the UK. In those distant days, she was more serious-minded and sincere than most of her peers; and long before anyone dreamed that her husband would one day become a governor back home, she was constantly campaigning for African women’s rights and welfare.
While many other White and Black females of her generation were dedicated to juvenile fashion and fun and foolishness, Bisi would be worrying about human rights abuses. I always admired her lack of materialism, her unfrivolous personality and her desire to do good.
And I’m not surprised that this early profound and genuine concern for humanity has doggedly followed her into middle age. She is not one of those Naija first ladies who only embraced “pet projects” yesterday! Philanthropy was hard-wired into her DNA from birth.
OK so, I contacted her to discuss the OPM email; and she was hurt and puzzled by OPM’s suspicions and made the following statement: “My mother is from Ilara-Mokin in Ondo State. One of the young women who works with me is from Ilara and she asked me to support her to distribute free pads to school girls as part of the recent Mokin Day celebrations. I gladly supported the initiative, which I believe is important for awareness raising and citizen action.
“I launched a Pad Bank in Ekiti State to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day. The aim is to raise awareness about the gaps in access to sanitary protection by very poor girls. This is one of the things that makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The distribution of free pads to girls is just a symbolic way of drawing attention to an issue many people don’t know or think about.
“My policy advocacy has ensured that in Ekiti State, the government will now make budgetary provision for reusable sanitary pads for indigent girls, through the Ministry of Education. This is also an opportunity for young entrepreneurs and we have started training them across the local governments, and some of them are being given capital to start their reusable pads projects.
At a national level, I am working with other First Ladies to draw attention to this issue and ensure that we have fiscal policies that make menstrual hygiene products accessible and affordable. We even have a working group on this at the Nigerian Governors Wives Forum which I Chair.”
More grease to her elbow!