I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. These words from the late Audre Lourde, African-American poet and activist, have served not only as a passionate statement from an individual feminist activist, over the years, they have become a warning and reality check for those who claim to be concerned about improving the status of women. As in other social movements, the privileged minority have an obligation to use their access to leverage a better deal for the majority. A lack of understanding of this responsibility is what breeds insensitivity, disconnection, a lack of solidarity and ultimately, failure to achieve a common purpose.
Seyi Gabrielle Ojo was well and truly aware of this responsibility. As a young, female Lawyer, Seyi Ojo did not need to heap the problems of other women on her head. She had choices, a hallmark of her class and position in society. Many women in our communities do not have such choices, and even when they are able to exercise their rights to choose, societal pressures and patriarchal oppression push them into poor choices. Seyi spent her time and resources ensuring that women and their children had affirming choices. Following the wise words of Audre Lourde, Seyi understood that while she enjoyed freedoms based on her education and class, it was not worthwhile unless she applied it to helping other women remove their shackles. Every woman living in a patriarchal society has shackles, they just happen to be different based on education, age, class, marital status, physical ability, geographical location and so on.
I first met Seyi Ojo during the JKF1 years (2010-2014) but we did not work together then. In December 2018, during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign, I organized a forum to look at what had happened in Ekiti State since the passing of the first Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law of 2011. Seyi Ojo was one of the resource persons at the forum, and she gave a very inspiring presentation. Shortly after the event, the Ekiti State Attorney-General, Hon. Wale Fapounda, told me he was going to second someone to manage the dozens of requests I get on a weekly basis to help intervene in one GBV related case or the other. When the AG showed up with Seyi Ojo, I was very pleased to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated person on my team. The Gender and Vulnerable Persons Unit that Seyi coordinated did amazing work in a very short space of time. Seyi handled each assignment with determination, grace and focus. She supervised a team of volunteers who helped with the cases, she facilitated mediation and counselling sessions, she was a credible link with the law enforcement officers, and she also diligently followed up on cases for prosecution. In addition, she cared for the children and young people who are often the casualties when relationships break down, or who were targets of abuse themselves. You could not ask for a better champion of the rights of young girls. As a professional, Seyi was on top of her game. It is one thing to be a good professional. It is another to be a good person. Seyi was more than good, she was the best. Kind, caring, insightful, reflective, generous, I could go on and on. Seyi possessed both external and internal beauty. Even though she ran into many challenges and had to battle backlash from those who felt exposed by her actions, Seyi was not deterred, all these served to strengthen and energise her. She had a warm, open and charming disposition, which endeared her not only to me but to all her peers and juniors in the office. I will be forever grateful to Seyi for the role she played in ensuring that the Ekiti GBV Law of 2011 was replaced with a stronger, more comprehensive law in October 2019. Even though God only brought Seyi my way for exactly one year, it feels as if she had been with me for ten times that amount of time. No task was too much trouble for Seyi, nothing was beneath her, and she paid impeccable attention to detail. Seyi was the kind of staff member you could assign a task to and sleep soundly, knowing it was in safe hands.
In the evening, my senior staff team would jockey amongst themselves to try and see me for one thing or the other. I always gave Seyi priority because I knew she was working on time-sensitive cases. If I could not attend to her immediately, I would ask her to come back so I could give her my undivided attention. It will feel very strange not seeing Seyi’s smiling face waiting outside my door, alongside Tokunbo Gbadamosi, Bolaji Olagbaju, Bunmi Alonge, Bunmi Obanise and Remi Ajayi Babington all teasing and laughing, insisting on a right to see me first. I have lost a cherished younger sister. I have lost a dear friend. I have lost a beloved colleague. I have lost a devoted cheerleader. I have lost a trusted adviser. I have lost a passionate team member who understood my ideals and vision. Even though I know our loss is heaven’s gain, the pain of losing Seyi is almost unbearable. In her short sojourn on earth, Seyi managed to do so much for so many. Seyi had no closing hours, her task of breaking the shackles of others was a 24/7 one. Going back to Audre Lorde’s words, it is as if Seyi lived by them, ‘Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now’. Thank you Seyi, for the many things you taught me. Thank you for the joy and satisfaction you brought to those around you. Thank you for all your hard work and sacrifices, expecting nothing in return, only to see justice done. Rest in peace my beloved Seyi. You will be forever in our hearts.
Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]