Funmilayo Olayinka
Funmilayo Olayinka

Olufunmilayo Aduni Olayinka: The People’s Deputy Governor Cut Short By Cancer

It was a flood of tears and wailing on Sunday, April 7, when news of the demise of the Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Mrs Funmilayo Aduni Olayinka, broke. She has been on a sick leave for some time. She gave up the battle for her life on the evening of Saturday, April 6, at St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, after a protracted battle with cancer. She had been in and out of the country for medical treatment in the past few years, and according to reports, had been in coma for five days before she finally gave up the ghost.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the late Mrs Funmilayo Olayinka, made her mark and left her footprints on the sands of time. The accomplished banker-turned politician contributed immensely to the smooth sail of the political boat of Ekiti State and the nation in general. But most importantly, Olayinka was not found wanting as a wife and mother.  Through her committed and dedicated lifestyle, this epitome of beauty and intellect proved the truth of the saying that it’s not how long you live that matters, but how well, Toluwani Olamitoke, writes.

Early Life and Education

Olufunmilayo Aduni Olayinka, née Famuagun (June 20, 1960 – April 6, 2013), was a Nigerian banker and politician who served as the deputy governor of Ekiti. She was born in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. She attended Holy Trinity Grammar School, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, where she obtained her First School Leaving Certificate with distinction. She subsequently proceeded to Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo State, where she obtained her Higher School Certificate (HSC). She held a master’s degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, United States in 1981 and 1983 respectively.She was three times winner of the Dean’s Honour roll.

Career

Olayinka, a marketing analyst and strategist started her career in banking with First Bank of Nigeria Plc in 1986. She later worked as Relationship Manager for Corporate Accounts in Access Bank, the now defunct Merchant Banking Corporation [MBC] and United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc. In August 2002, she started working in Corporate Communications and proceeded to head the Corporate Affairs Division, UBA. She later became Head, Brand Management & Corporate Affairs, thereby leading the team responsible for delivering a compelling brand proposition and re-branding of UBA which helped to drive the bank’s business strategy and added value to the total image of the Brand.

Olayinka was also the 2nd Vice President of the Association of Corporate Managers of Banks between 2002 and 2004. She played a strategic role during the merger process of the erstwhile UBA and Standard Trust Bank where she co-chaired the Branding Sub-Committee. She also served as a key member of the Media Relations Sub-Committee. Until her election as the deputy governor of Ekiti, she was Head of Corporate Services, Ecobank Transatlantic Inc where she was responsible for communicating the bank’s activities to the public, relationship management with the public and providing feedback to management as it relates to the total image of the bank. In addition, she also oversaw the General Internal Services Unit with responsibility for overall co-ordination of administrative services for the entire bank.

Political Career

Following a disputed election process during the 2007 gubernatorial elections, the candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Segun Oni was declared winner of that election. Olayinka in conjunction with Kayode  Fayemi, the incumbent governor, headed to the court to contest the veracity of the results. On October 14, 2010, after a three and a half year prolonged re-election process and court battle, an Elections Appeal Tribunal sitting in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, sacked former Governor Segun Oni of PDP and declared Dr Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) then, as the new governor of Ekiti.

Mrs Olufunmilayo Olayinka was subsequently sworn in as the substantive deputy governor by virtue of her existing role as the running mate of Fayemi during the 2007 Governorship Elections.She was the second woman in the history of Ekiti to occupy the position of deputy governor. She was a member of ACN, one of the coalition parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The political Amazon was in 2009 diagnosed of breast cancer when she went for her routine medical check-up. The affected breast was operated on and removed. But her health was reported to have later deteriorated due to complications resulting from the spread of the disease to most of her other organs. Her absence from the public for close to two months fuelled speculations as to the state of her health. The news of her helpless state about a fortnight ago made the Ekiti State government to organise special prayer sections in different parts of the state for her.

But despite her failing health, no one ever thought that death would come knocking at her door so soon. A statement by the state’s Information Commissioner, Tayo Ekundayo, says: “Mrs Funmi Olayinka died after a tough but courageous battle with cancer.”

At the moment, gloom pervades the residence of the late deputy governor’s parents in Ado-Ekiti. The parents, Chief Festus Famuagun, and his wife, Grace, were obviously inconsolable. The 80-year-old mother, during the condolence visit of Governor Fayemi and her wife, Bisi, in tears, was reported to have rhetorically asked, “Kayode, where is Funmi? Kayode, where is your deputy?” These questions had evoked emotions in the govenror who could not hold back his tears.

He removed his glasses intermittently to wipe his tears. The widower of the late political Amazon, Lanre Olayinka, tried as much as possible  to control his emotions while speaking to journalists at their Osborne Foreshore residence in Lagos. But, grief was written all over him. “Her last moments was peaceful; she died in my hands”, he said.

Describing his late wife, Olayinka said, “she was a sister, friend and confidant. I found her to be a very reliable, courageous and dependable partner. If I had to do it again, I would still marry her.” The widower, who said he wished to be spared the ordeal of recounting his late wife’s ordeal during her illness, added: “She bore everything in her characteristics courageous disposition.” Recalling fond memories of their relationship, Olayinka disclosed that he met his late wife while they were teenagers.

“She was 17 and I was 19. We later travelled out of the country to the United States for further studies. There was never a dull moment in our relationship. She was an exciting woman to be with, strong in character and purposeful,” he said. As a confirmation of what her husband has said, the late Olayinka in an interview with the Saturday Tribune in 2009, when asked what role her husband played in her political career, had said: “What I always tell people is that if you work in the bank, if you are a politician, like myself and you are married, and you stay married, then you must be married to your own husband; not just your husband, but your heavenly given husband.

“I have a husband who is loving, kind and understanding. And of course, I would not have ventured into politics without his support. He was with me almost throughout our campaigns and also at the tribunal. Most times, he comes to Ekiti to be with me.”

Chief Jide Awe, the State Chairman of ACN then, who had tried to fight back tears, burst into tears as Olayinka was referred to as the “late.” He said: “One thing that is unique about this woman is that you would not know the condition of her health unless you were very close to her. She was always with us and from 2009 to 2010 when we retrieved our mandate, she was very strong.”

As a liberator, the late deputy governor became a force among Ekiti women. The late Olayinka, according to records, was instrumental to the establishment of a branch of UBA in Ado-Ekiti when she was working with the bank. Displaying her political prowess, the late deputy governor, while speaking with Saturday Tribune on the expected role of a deputy governor, had said: “Ordinarily, a deputy governor should qualify to be a governor. So, a deputy governor who is not qualified to be a governor in the event that the governor is not available should be seen as a spare part. I believe the deputy governor’s main job is to support his/her principal to make sure that the promises the principal made to the people are delivered.”

Describing the death of his deputy as a great loss to the state and his government, Fayemi said he had lost his co-pilot. “The death of my deputy would be likened to the plight of a pilot who loses his co-pilot mid air. We will make her happy by ensuring that her dreams for a better Ekiti are realised”, he said.

Among those who paid condolence visit to the deceased’s residence was Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In her tribute, she said “it’s with deep sense of loss that we learn of the passing of our beautiful, intelligent sister. She was a true representative of Nigeria’s womanhood.”

Describing the news of her death as a “thunder bolt,” the then ACN National Publicity Secretary, now Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohummed, said, “the fact that she left her footprints on the sands of times in banking and politics provided all those left to mourn her with some consolation.” Popularly acknowledged as beautiful and fashionable, the late Olayinka had during her life time displayed taste and simplicity in her appearance and ways. And the mother of three had often attributed her good looks to God and peace of mind.

In his sermon during the burial service of the late deputy governor which took place at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel, Anglican Communion, Ekiti Diocese ,the cleric noted that the problems of kidnapping, militancy, insecurity  and corruption continue to fester in the country owing to priority placed on money. The man of God called on the political class to ensure that lifestyles of Nigerians are changed for better, if the country as a nation must move forward. Okoh, who was represented by the Archbishop Ecclesiastical, Province of Ondo , Bishop George Latunde Laosebikan wondered why politicians must continue to kill themselves in the name of politics, attributing this to superfluous and extravagant lifestyle.

In his short remark at the occasion, the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan preached peace and the need to love one another Jonathan observed that  with love and unity, the country could overcome its security challenges and become stronger among the advanced countries of the world. Jonathan made the statement  at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel , Anglican Communion, Okesa in Ado Ekiti during the burial of the late deputy governor of Ekiti, Mrs Funmilayo Olayinka.

Represented by the then Police Affairs Minister, Navy Capt Caleb Olubolade, described the death of Mrs Olayinka as unfortunate and premature, saying the cold hands of death snatched her away at a time her full potentials had not been fully tapped. She was buried at a newly constructed heroes’ Park in Ado Ekiti, present were her husband, Lanre Olayinka, her children, Olamide, Ololade and Yeside including members of her extended family paid their last respect. 

Fayemi in his short comment said the government would soon unveil its plan on how to immortalize the departed Deputy Governor and measured to take to curb  cancer. Mrs. Olayinka was no doubt a successful career woman and politician. One doesn’t need to know her closely to discern her accomplishments. Although, in the contemporary Nigerian situation, high placed government officials always enjoy glowing tributes, this tribute to Mrs. Olayinka is more on account of recognition of her contributions in terms of redefining our societies as spaces guaranteeing increasing measure of opportunities for both men and women.

With women emerging as deputy governors in five out of six states controlled by the ACN, the political success of Mrs. Olayinka led to her emergence as a deputy governor may no doubt be a reflection of ACN’s liberal disposition to women participation in politics.

Whether this liberal disposition translates into a strong commitment to take on board issues of women participation as priorities for the APC is a different matter entirely. In some ways, given entrenched male dominated prejudices, prioritising issues of women participation in the structures of APC may have to depend on the degree to which women structures both with the merging parties and outside engage the merger process. The reality is that women structures within the merging parties are weak. Partly, on account of the weaknesses of women structures, participation in party structures as candidates for elections and invariably at different levels of government is low. In virtually, all the parties, women constitute less than 1% of the leadership. In 2007, women were only 6% of candidates.

In 2011, it was 9.1%. Beyond weakness is the reality of low quality representation by the few women that are successful in Nigerian politics. Most of our successful women have no relationship with women organisations as a result of which they lack any form of loyalty to women issues. Conversely, many of our women organisations hardly support the emergence of women politicians. In most cases, women organisations establish links with women politicians only after they emerged as potential party candidates for elections. It is however important to note that, even in the face of this weak relationship between politicians and organised groups, more than any group, women have a better score sheet. In the face of this reality therefore, it could be argued that women have a brighter prospect of making stronger impact in Nigerian politics. If one is to deduce from this, it then means that the fastest way to Nigeria’s democratic development is through strengthening women structures both within political parties and in wider society.

Where will APC stand in relation to attempts to respond to this reality? Will APC be indifferent to the task of strengthening structures for women participation or will it adopt a proactively progressive position providing wider spaces and opportunities for women participation in politics and government at all levels?

Is APC going to actively engage platforms of Nigerian women organisations as part of its broader strategy of recruiting quality women politicians or will it continue with currently implied untargeted patronising recruitment approach? Are women organisations going to continue with current framework of weak relationship with women politicians or will there be new initiative aimed at engagement to influence the emergence of quality women candidates for elective positions? Answers to these questions will define the nature of tributes to Mrs. Olayinka.

Nigerians are expecting the moving tributes of the ACN leadership, to bear strong commitment within the APC to increased participation of women in all of its structures particularly in governance at all levels. For Governor Fayemi, the death of Mrs. Olayinka must not translate in lower participation of women in the politics of the state in anyway. Olayinka was a devout Christian. She is survived by her aged mother, husband and their three children.

The people of Ekiti and Nigeria at large are hugely indebted to the husband and children of Mrs. Olayinka. Mrs. Olayinka’s career and political successes represented high measure of family sacrifices. Her strength and capacity to persevere was a testimony of the high quality support she enjoyed from the family.