By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
Happy New Year! Around this time two years ago, I wrote about how I spent Christmas in our hometown at Isan-Ekiti, Ekiti State. About an hour after I arrived home, in the midst of all the people milling around to welcome us, I saw an old man who must have been at least eighty, trying to push his way towards me. I asked him what I could do for him.
He said, ‘My daughter, I wanted to go to the market to buy something to cook for Christmas but I don’t have any money. They told me you would be coming home today so I have been waiting since morning’. I asked him about his children or family members. He said they did not come home and the people around him don’t have money either. My heart sank.
When my husband was Governor of Ekiti State during his first term (2010-2014), there was social security scheme in place to take care of the elderly who were paid N5,000 a month. Many people wonder how N5,000 can make any difference to someone living in dire poverty. For most of the elderly who received the monthly allowance, it was a lifeline. It was meant to take care of people like this old man who had no one to provide for him.
In addition to the social security scheme, I raised money to fund a Food Bank project which was run by one of the local NGOs for those who were too old or vulnerable to fend for themselves. After a while we discovered that many of the elderly people who got raw foodstuff were unable to cook for themselves, so we set up Soup Kitchens in some communities across the State.
The Social Security Scheme was stopped after my husband left office in 2014. I had initially planned to continue the Food Bank and Soup Kitchens, but the political environment became so toxic, I decided to place my energies elsewhere. Listening to the old man, I wondered for a moment if I had done the right thing. I gave him money and some of the foodstuff we had brought to give out to people during the Christmas period. I also told our aides to watch out for the old man and let him in anytime he comes around, and I sent someone to find out where he lives so we can keep an eye on him.
That was two years ago. In October 2019, HE DR Kayode Fayemi resuscitated the Social Security Scheme for the elderly known as ‘Owo Arugbo’, and I also revived the food bank project known as ‘Ounje Arugbo’. My encounter with the old man in my hometown played a key role in my decision to revisit the project. Today, not only is he one of the Ounje Arugbo beneficiaries, I have others like him across the State. My mother insists on maintaining the tradition established by my father when he was alive, of hosting a Christmas party and sending food round the neighborhood.
Each year, with the rising costs of food items, this tradition gets more and more expensive to sustain, but I indulge my mother because it is very important to her. What if none of her children are able to feed themselves or her, not to talk of distributing food to the neighborhood?
I am not going to belabor the reasons why we have so many citizens living in dire poverty, being forced to make poor choices and hard decisions for survival. That will take us into a conversation about the responsibilities of the government to do the right thing at the right time to save the lives of people. I am more concerned about what we can do as ordinary citizens who wish to take a stand against poverty, hunger and misery.I stopped making New Year resolutions a long time ago. Instead, I tell myself ‘Be better, do better’.
On December 26th 2019, I received the devastating news of the passing of a member of my staff team, Barrister Seyi Ojo. Seyi battled sickle-cell all her life, and she sadly passed away due to complications from her condition. She was the Legal Adviser and Coordinator of the Gender and Vulnerable Persons Unit, on secondment from the Ministry of Justice. Seyi was not only totally devoted to protecting women and children from abuse, she spent her personal resources to make this happen. She always had time to help. She always had something to give. Seyi was good beyond words, and I still find it difficult to come to terms with her shocking departure.
I have many examples of the ways and times in which Seyi had lessons to teach in being better and doing better, I will share these some other time. Meanwhile let us all commit to doing better in this New Year. Forget about New Year resolutions, just be resolute about doing the best you can. There are many things we can do, here are some examples:
• Place your ’Wrapper’ round someone who needs protection
• ‘Adopt’ an elderly person who needs help
• Pay the school fees of someone who is not one of your wards
• Offer to cover the rent of someone
• Support someone with prayers
• Be kind to your domestic staff
• Express your opinion but don’t insult people on social media
• Never repeat rumours or gossip about people
• Give someone capital to start a business
• Sponsor someone to learn a trade
• If you are a professional such as a Lawyer or Accountant, offer pro bono services to someone who needs your help or to a small NGO.
• Buy up the merchandise of an old woman, pregnant woman or girl who is hawking. For example, locust beans, oranges, bananas, groundnuts, and so on
• Do something nice and unexpected for someone who does not expect anything from you.
• Make a donation to support a good cause you have never engaged with before
• Join your Alumni association if you have not already done so and be an active participant
• Get involved in a development project in your community
If we all undertake to do at least two of these things this year, someone’s life will hopefully be made a lot better and easier. We cannot wait for the government to help us. Governments come and go. The Office of the Citizen will remain. Happy New Year!