‘Draconian laws are only made and enforced on poor Nigerians’
Agile, determined and always ready for ‘battle’, is what readily comes to mind on meeting Comrade Funmi Jolade Ajayi. Ever in the forefront of struggles against government, it wasn’t surprising that she was actively involved in the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Campaign. Described as oni wahala (trouble maker) in her community in Agege, she delights in fighting for the common man and ensuring that justice is done. Whenever ‘Human Rights’ is around, everybody sits up, as no one must be cheated. She recently spoke to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on her struggles and challenges in the cause of activism
How did your journey into activism start?
Activism is in my blood. Right from my secondary school days, people knew me as someone who hates being cheated or sees others cheated. My father would tell you that among his children, I stand out because I hate cheating and wherever I see people being cheated, I make sure I don’t leave till there is fairness.
From whom did you inherit this trait?
I think from my grandfather. He was a hunter and the head of hunters at the time. These are the people the Yoruba call Oloode. Whenever the king opposed what the villagers were doing, he would mobilise fellow hunters and ensured there was trouble for the king. He spearheaded their affairs and ensured that justice was served the people.
Though you fight for people’s rights, others may see it as unnecessarily formenting trouble. How do you cope with such situation?
I fight for people’s rights, especially those who don’t know their rights. Of course, I wouldn’t keep quiet and let go, when the person being cheated cannot stand up for himself/herself. I make sure I enlighten those concerned that someone has just been cheated and I won’t let it happen. At the end of the day, they uusually come back to thank me for enlightening them on their rights.
How do you manage to mobilise people without their being destructive, as happens during mob action?
I talk to people and tell them not to take laws into their hands, as this should be left to security agencies. Recently, I heard that a boy stole a bucket from a neighbourhood. They later caught him, but they decided to inform me first before beating him. So, I told them that it is wrong to take laws into their hands and instead, the culprit should be handed over to the police. For instance, if while beating him, he slumps and dies, the whole community will be in trouble.
At what point did you decide to go into mainstream activism?
It all started, when former Governor Babatunde Fashola began making draconian laws for Okada riders. One fateful day, I was on my way to a meeting (I am one of the paralegal members of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre headed by Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi), when I got to a Bus Stop and saw a lot of people running. I asked why and I was told that some policemen were around. I learned that the said policemen took an Okada belonging to a young man, who didn’t even park it on the road, but on a pavement, while resting after the hard day’s job. I also discovered that the guy was a welder, who opted for Okada business because of the epileptic power supply, as he needed a means of survival.
As soon as I got close enough to the policemen, I took a picture of the situation with my phone. They quickly ran to me, asking who I was. I replied that I am a Lagosian and a Nigerian. I requested to know why they were confiscating the poor man’s motorbike, and they tried to rough handle me, but I stood my ground, saying I wouldn’t be arrested for standing up for the ordinary Nigerian. I asked them, “When Fashola asked you to arrest Okadas, did he say you should go into the streets or focus on those on the highway?”
When they realised that I wouldn’t budge, they pulled me inside their Hilux van, but I forcefully opened the door and began shouting. People just stood looking at me, and nobody could talk for fear of being victimised. They collected my phone and let me go. So, I went to the office and told my madam, Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi, who called the police station. She later told me that I couldn’t fight the cause alone and that I should be careful. She gave me words of encouragement, but didn’t say I should relent. Later that day, I went to the police station with one of my comrades and retrieved my phone.
Since then, whenever policemen in my area come around to seize Okadas, and I am around, they would say, “Let us leave this troublesome woman with her wahala.” One even said, “That woman is always moving around with a camera.” I became so well known it got to a point I decided to wear low cut, just to change my look.
I am in the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign by Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi. I am always the one with the megaphone. I was also in the protest of ‘Stop gender based violence’ and ‘Rescue the girl’ with Dr. Joe Odumakin. I am passionate about the struggle for women. The incident of the Keke Marwa owner’s wife, who was killed by the police, I was in the court cases. I was also in the struggle for the privatisation of water, LASU school fees and ‘Education is a right’ struggle, among others.
So far, would you say you are fulfilled engaging in activism?
I love activism. I love people who stand for the truth. Around Agege, those who don’t know where I stay can just stop any Okada rider and ask to be taken to the Human Rights woman. In my community, I am engaged in many street projects to ensure that our roads are better and passable, by engaging the youths in my community.
How do your husband and family view your activities?
My husband is very supportive. He is always the first to call other family members, when he sees me on TV. He also buys the newspapers, where my picture appears. He is so delighted. At times, he uses his car to carry my members and I to attend programmes. He sometimes gives us mobilisation funds to carry out our work.
What is your advice to Nigerians, especially when it concerns standing for what is right?
Just like the incident I narrated earlier, some people later came to me to say, ‘we were scared of being shot/arrested, if we went to your aid’. On that day, about 10 police vans were gathered all around me and I handled the incident alone. I tell people, stand for your right and say no to impunity. Just like the draconian law on Okada riding, Ambode has added to it by saying no to street trading. It is increasing poverty and taking food away from people’s tables without giving them an alternative.
The laws are made and enforced only for the poor. They did not see anything wrong with budget padding, but if a common Nigerian steals a pen in the market, he will be sentenced.
Who are your mentors?
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi and Dr. Odumakin are my two key mentors/supporters, who always have my back. I also have male comrades, including Abiodun Aremu, Bisi Adewale Director, Olooni centre, Osun, Suliamon Alimi, Barr. Yinka Muyiwa, Gbolahan Samuel and Akele Ayodele Akele, among others, who have stood by me.