By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
Maybe I am turning into one of those Prickly Aunties we used to avoid when we were young. The ones who always had something to say about what, when, why and where we said or did something. I am usually quite easy going, even if I say so myself. I don’t believe I take myself too seriously, and I do not stand on ceremony. I don’t do many of the expected ‘Excellency’ or ‘Big Madam’ things. I do not like to keep people waiting, and on the rare occasions when I am late, I apologise. I respond to calls, texts and WhatsApp messages, maybe not immediately, but I try.
Now, these days, I am prickly. It all began during the COVID-19 lockdowns in April. I started to get more calls than usual, all from strangers claiming to be hungry and needing help. I would refer them to my PA who would ask for their account details to send them money. That seemed to have been a mistake. The more people we helped, the more they told, passing my number from one person to the next. I stopped picking calls from numbers I did not know, and when someone called more than five times without sending a text, I would save the number as ‘Unknown Caller 1, 2, 3’ and so on till there is now ‘Unknown Caller 127’.
I have been able to sort out roughly a quarter of them and I hope to be able to do them all, but they keep coming! A particularly persistent woman called 245 times, believe me, I counted and I had a witness. We sought her out and when she was asked why she called so many times, she responded that she thought the network was preventing her calls from getting through. Please do not ask how they got my number in the first place. I am always saying that if people can have our numbers when we are campaigning, we should not change them when we vote them in, that is a breach of trust.
Unfortunately, I am one of those people who is unable to manage more than one telephone number, not for lack of trying. I simply can’t. So perhaps I shouldn’t complain when I am called 245 times. In fact, I am not complaining at all, I am grateful to be in a position to help, but it does get quite tiring, which makes me prickly.
During the lockdowns, I was also busy with the Ekiti State Food Bank, making sure that we could help as many people as possible. We managed to get food packs to over 60,000 households in the state. Then there were the sexual and gender-based violence cases we had to deal with during that period, and it still continues. You can imagine my exasperation and dismay when I heard that because I had not been seen in public for many weeks, people were speculating that I was ill! Some of my aides were even ready to bundle me into a radio studio so that people could hear my voice! What part of ‘Stay At Home’ do people not understand? Even if I had indeed been ill, what would have been the big deal? As I mentioned, I like to think that I am relatable, but this is misread as being available or open to all kinds of things.
So, I hereby present a list of things that can aggravate my ‘prickliness’. Things might change, but till further notice, this is the list:
¶Invitations to attend a wedding, birthday, launching, or any such celebration that is not on Zoom. The COVID-19 experts have advised that those of us over 50 should avoid crowds and be careful as we go about. I am quite happy to support the event, but I am unavailable till further notice. Yes, this is one time I am happy to dance around singing, ‘I am over 50, I am over 50, I am over 50, well over 50, well over 50, lalalalalalala….’.
¶WhatsApp messages and letters about products that your company is selling and would like endorsement for from Ekiti State, or investors you would like to bring to Ekiti State. Kindly go to the Ekiti State website and contact the Ministry of Trade and Investment. There is also a Special Adviser on Trade and Investment. The day he offends me, I will put his number in the public domain, but he hasn’t, so I will not release it for now.
¶Information concerning my husband, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and his politics – kindly send the information to the Chief of Staff, c/o Governor’s Office, Ado Ekiti. I would love to deliver all such messages, but because there is so little time available for conversations, forgive me if I choose not to spend my politically-truncated time in the ‘other room’ on things that are outside of my lane. Please be assured that the day the Chief of Staff ‘runs into barbed wire’ with me, I will make his number available on Facebook and Twitter.
¶This is for my numerous sons and younger brothers. As ‘Mother-General’ I am always willing to help. However, there is a persistent request that baffles me. The one about ‘Excellency, your wife has just delivered a baby/twins and I don’t have money for the hospital bill’. This is not the same as your car having an accident or your home being burgled or you breaking your limbs. This is something you had nine-months notice of. You don’t need to use your wife and new baby/babies as an excuse to get my attention. You can just inform me of your new blessing and see whether I will do the needful or not.
¶If you would like to see me, kindly book an appointment. Believe me, it works. What does not work is trying to ‘ambush’ me. When I ask why people do not book appointments before showing up, I am told that they are afraid you will say no, but if they show up unannounced, you will have no choice but to attend to them. I am sorry, no please. If I give you an appointment I will keep it. The only people who can get away with the ‘ambushing’ tactic are my elders. If the issue is very urgent, even if I can’t attend to you, I will make sure someone does, and that you are treated with the respect and dignity you deserve.
Now, the people who stress you out the most are the ones around you, and I am sure some of them will read this, they know themselves. You, who waits till there is only one drop of honey in the bottle before you replace it. You who is always so nervous, you almost need a diagram for everything. You who will come and ask me in front of the person I want to give money to how much should you give the person. You who sneaked away to Lagos during the lockdown and was calling as if you were right here in Ado-Ekiti, you think I did not know? You who posts on Facebook everyday about all your enemies, real and imagined, can’t you give it a rest? You who called me to complain that you heard I said you are getting too old to drive from Ekiti to Lagos and you can’t see well at night, even if I said so, would I tell you I said so? You all know yourselves. Be careful, don’t turn me into a Prickly Auntie!
•Adeleye-Fayemi, a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer, is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women,and also the First Lady of Ekiti State, and can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com