Following an almost five-year stint as Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Ghana, Mr Niyi Ojuolape has resumed in a similar capacity with the organisation in Somalia.
Representing UNFPA in Ghana between July 2017 – May 2022, Mr. Ojuolape piloted several ground-breaking initiatives for the Country Office, such as the Youth Leaders (YoLe) Fellowship Program, a graduate internship programme that introduced young people to the professional UN work environment, along with skills in innovation and training for them to be actively involved in development work across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As I inch towards a second decade in the vocation of advocating for social justice, gender parity, maternal health and youth empowerment, I am constantly reminded of where some of the passion that drives me came from. With every sense of modesty, I like to think that the family I came from, (where among others, there are no household chores reserved for boys or girls) provided me with an initial disposition towards matters of social justice. I celebrate two of my Sisters (Sister Funmi and Sister Funke) who were solid examples of how systems of exclusion can be challenged with dignity and humanity. Sister Funmi is now late (God rest her soul) and Sister Funke will attain the 70 year landmark this year.
Today, we mourn the untimely departure of a remarkable leader, Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, a beacon of strength, compassion, and a tireless and outstanding advocate for women and human rights. Her sudden passing leaves a void that cannot be easily filled.
Minister Diriye’s commitment to the betterment of society was evident in every step she took. Her tenure as the Somali Minister for Women and Human Rights Development was marked by unwavering dedication, grace, and a deep sense of responsibility. She tirelessly championed the cause of equality, leaving an indelible mark on the path towards a more just and compassionate world.
Beyond the corridors of power, Minister Diriye touched the lives of many with her warmth and kindness. Her legacy extends far beyond the titles she held; it resides in the hearts of those who experienced her unwavering support and encouragement.
My personal interactions with Minister Diriye were a testament to her indomitable spirit. In my role as the UNFPA Country Representative in Somalia, she easily stood out as my first interlocutor with the Somali public, and a dynamic force advocating for the emancipation of women, gender equality, and empowerment. In our numerous meetings, her energy was infectious, and her passion for the cause radiated in every discussion. In those precious moments, she expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support provided by UNFPA in her unwavering pursuit of women’s rights and human development.
Minister Diriye’s genuine appreciation underscored the collaborative spirit that defined our working relationship. Her acknowledgment of the collective efforts served as a poignant reminder of the impact that sincere collaboration can have on advancing noble causes.
What remains etched in my memory is our last encounter, merely six days before her untimely departure. Despite her ailing health, Minister Diriye sought a meeting, and came to the compound. It was her first visit to our new office complex. Her unwavering dedication to the agenda she held dear was palpable. In the confines of my office, alongside esteemed colleagues from UNICEF and UN Women, she painted a vivid picture of her dreams and hopes for the empowerment of women. It was a poignant reminder of her resilience and unwavering commitment, even in the face of personal challenges. During her visit, Minister Diriye shared her thoughts, aspirations, and dreams with an enthusiasm that transcended the challenges of her failing health. Her determination to make every moment count, to advocate for women’s rights and the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill, was palpable. Despite knowing the uphill battle she faced, her spirit remained unyielding. In those precious hours, Minister Diriye exemplified resilience, strength, and an unrelenting commitment to the causes she held dear. As we bid farewell, let us not only mourn her passing but also celebrate the vibrancy of her spirit, a spirit that continued to shine brightly until her last moments with us.
As we remember Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, we must also acknowledge her unwavering commitment to the advancement of legislation that safeguarded the rights and well-being of all. Her passion extended to a significant piece of legislation, the Sexual Offences Bill, a testament to her dedication to the cause of justice.
Minister Diriye’s fervor for this bill was palpable. She envisioned a future where the rights of every individual, particularly in the face of sexual offences, were protected by law. It was under her watchful guidance and commitment that the first version of this bill took shape from the Ministry. Tragically, Minister Diriye’s journey ended a day before a significant milestone she eagerly anticipated. In our conversation last week, she was very hopeful, committed and determined that the Bill would go before the Cabinet for approval ‘next week’, and had planned to celebrate that milestone with us the following week. Despite the reluctance of myself and colleagues, she insisted that we must come together for an end of year party to celebrate the advances and achievements we have attained this year. Her dedication to ensuring the realisation of this legislative milestone serves as a poignant reminder of her tireless efforts and unwavering advocacy for justice.
In a touching conclusion to our last meeting which I earlier referenced, Minister Diriye, probably foreseeing the significance of the moments captured, insisted on taking several pictures. Her request to infuse action into the photos was symbolic of her desire for tangible progress. Little did we know that these captured moments would become cherished memories, a testament to her foresight and the vibrant spirit she brought to every endeavour.
As we pay tribute to Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, let us carry forward the torch of collaboration, appreciation, and action that she so passionately championed, ensuring that her aspirations for a more just and equal society are realized. Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye’s legacy lives on in the pursuit of a better world that she so ardently championed.
Niyi Ojuolape is the UNFPA Resident Representative in Somalia
President of the Nigerian Senate, H.E. Godswill Akpabio [in blue] with a section of the Somali delegates (Photo: YouthHubAfrica, 13-Nov-2023)
Between 13-19 November 2022, Somali female members of parliament (MPs) embarked on a study tour to Nigeria. Facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund in Somalia, the visit aimed to foster collegial bond and knowledge exchange on the legislative experience in both countries. I arrived in Nigeria together with the highly enthusiastic members of the delegation with two primary objectives. The first was to understand how Nigeria was able to pass bills on gender-based violence and other gender-related bills. The second was to share experiences and compare notes and learn from each other in the process.
Given our aim of achieving this relational dialogue and learning, the choice of Nigeria was natural. This is down to several commonalities between the two countries. Though Nigeria is a much older democracy compared to Somalia, both countries share cultural, religious, and social similarities. Nigeria has also dealt with issues of women rights where religio-cultural pushbacks have posed a stumbling block to legislation. However, these hurdles were eventually overcome through concerted efforts from civil society organisations, development communities and federal legislators. Nigeria also made for a revealing case study because we share a similar governance structure; a bi-cameral legislature at the federal level and unicameral legislature at the state level. Importantly also, both countries share similar challenges in combating terrorism and dealing with humanitarian situations.
Our tour was marked by high level visits to the Office of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representative (HoR). The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio warmly received the 15 visiting female MPs drawn from 54 members of the Somali House of the People and 14 members of the House of Senate. He hailed the visit as a critical development that must continue because “we share the same objectives of ensuring good governance and prosperity,” were his exact words.
The Office of the Speaker equally welcomed the team in a meeting chaired by the deputy speaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu. Acknowledging that Somalia had more women representation in its parliament than Nigeria, he remarked that 13 out of 16 women MPs are chairing various committees. In effect, Somalia could show the way on how to increase female representation in parliament while Nigeria presents a worthy example of entrusting leadership positions to women in parliament. Interestingly, the deputy speaker went on to propose the possibility of establishing a Nigeria-Somalia MPs Association to cement the friendship and dialogue between both sides for the strengthening of constitutional democracy, legal protection and freedoms for all.
That said, there were more dialogue opportunities with legislative and gender advocacy organisations in Nigeria. The National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) hosted the delegates where the director of the institute, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman offered to partner with the MPs to expand their capacity through training and related resources. Our visit to the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) was an equally instructive and encouraging experience. Welcoming the delegation, the Secretary-General of WRAPA, Saudatu Mahdi praised the MPs for their courage in being part of the political decision-making by putting themselves forward. As the leader of the delegation – Hon. Zamzam Ibrahim Ali noted that the experience of female politicians as well as the perception of women in both Nigeria and Somalia were likely similar, making the dialogue not only timely but something that should carry on into the future. The Secretary-General of WRAPA presented an incisive account on the challenges witnessed in Nigeria’s attempt to push through its GBV law. “It took 14 years to get the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act to be passed in Nigeria” she remarked, while noting the lessons learnt from the arduous advocacy involved. Overall, there was a lesson to reflect on regarding the anticipation of pushbacks by and the influence of cultural and religious gatekeepers. In the Nigerian case, she concluded, it has taken over a decade of research and constant dialogue with religious authorities to convince them that the rights of women are not at odds with Islam. But progress has eventually been made, and that is what truly matters.
Further, I was honoured to have moderated a session at the United Nations House, Abuja, which brought together members of UNFPA-Nigeria and UNESCO-Nigeria leadership, as well 14 CSO and NGOs who have played their part in pushing gender advocacy at the federal and state level. The enriching discussions that took place touched on how daunting gender advocacy can be and the importance of never relenting.
There were opportunities for informal discussions facilitated by the Senate Committee Chairperson on Women Affairs, Senator Ireti Kingibe who hosted the delegates at her residence. It was an opportunity to deliver the unique blend of Nigerian hospitality and culinary experience. Also, there were television and radio interviews, which gave the Nigerian public a peek into what brought the delegates to the country. Speaking on the Voice of Nigeria (VON) radio programme, Hon. Nadia Saleh Abdi, who is chairperson of the social committee (House of the People, Somalia) mentioned that their visit has lived up to their expectations. Hearing from CSOs, NGOs and parliamentarians themselves on how they worked in tandem to move bills forward was one of the highlights of their visit, she noted.
Further encouraging on this mission was that every organisation or state institution that we held a dialogue with assured us that their doors were opened for more substantive discussion on the particularities of the Somali condition. On their path, the delegates relayed their keenness on inviting their legislative colleagues and interested NGOs to Somalia to witness the country firsthand. It feels good to say that UNFPA-Somalia and the Somali female MPs dared to dream; believing that Nigeria holds some of the answers to the questions they have.
I am exceedingly thankful for all the high-level personalities and agencies that kept their doors open to us and supported us: the National Assembly, UNFPA-Nigeria, Youth Hub Africa, amongst others. This marks the beginning of stronger bilateral ties between Somalia and Nigeria on gender advocacy and legislative cooperation.
Niyi Ojuolape is the Country Representative of UNFPA Somalia
My friend turned brother, Kunle Adeniyi marks yet another birthday today. It is not a landmark birthday and but I can no longer withstand the temptation of writing about this perfect gentleman. If I decide to let it slide and save it for another day, I might not come round to write this piece for which the inspiration presently abounds. So, I have quickly swathed away the spirit of procrastination and took up my ready pen.
As I grow older, personal experience has come to make me realize that, in the symphony of life, there are friendships that resonate beyond the ordinary, weaving a melody that transcends the years. Today, as the calendar marks another chapter in the life of Adekunle Adeniyi, a cherished friend and brother, I find myself compelled to articulate the profound nature of our bond—one that has not only weathered the seasons but has evolved into a brotherhood that defies conventional labels.
Navigating the labyrinths of memories we’ve created and one that has survived through the ups and downs of life, it is not surprising why our bond remains a thing of exceptional quality. From the laughter that echoed through the corridors of our shared adventures to the quiet understanding that spoke volumes in moments of quiet pain, each experience has become a mosaic, illustrating the depth and resilience of our friendship.
Friendships, much like fine wine, acquire richness and validity with time. I first met Kunle when I needed to fix a problem on the MTN line of my late Boss, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin (God bless his memory, as he continues to rest in peace) and my brother, Abiola took me to meet a former school mate of his who was then ‘serving’ (our way of describing those on the National Youth Service Corps). It turned out to be Kunle, and he promptly willingly and enthusiastically fixed the problem. Abiola was to later mention that he is a lawyer, a smart one who’d made a 2:1 (Second Class Upper Degree) in university, and was currently in Law School.
His demeanour and industriousness struck me, such that when Prof requested that I find a young person to join our team in the Executive Office of NACA (National Agency for the Control of AIDS) where he was then the Executive Chair, I didn’t have to look too far. And that was how the ties that binds us today began. Hence, what commenced then as a simple camaraderie has blossomed into a relationship that embodies the essence of familial ties. I rave about this friendship and brotherhood bond not merely for the moments of laughter and joys it has produced, but the transformative anchor of support it has provided in the tumultuous points of life’s journeys.
Kunle’s friendship is special because it is energising and complementary. I found in him a kindred spirit who shared the same level of commitment in the pursuit of excellence. Our energies align because our understanding of life and the meaning we attach to friendship remains profound. We have mostly grown together professionally, fell in love with the work that we do and share the same enthusiasm in making the world a better place. It sometimes feels like the harmonisation of two destinies, hemmed from the same cloth.
Birthdays are not merely milestones; they are reflective pauses in the journey, offering an opportunity to acknowledge growth, celebrate achievements, and anticipate the adventures that lie ahead. As my Friend and brother stands on the threshold of another year, I wish for him a path adorned with joy, success, and the realization of aspirations—a journey where each day unfolds as a canvas for new experiences and every challenge serves as a stepping stone to personal growth.
In a world that crowds and distracts us too easily these days, taking a moment to honor the people who shape our narrative is of absolute necessity for me. More so, for a deserving person. It is an attestation of a bond that has withstood storms, celebrated triumphs while staying unshakeable.
So, here’s to you, my brother from another mother. May this birthday not only mark the passage of time but also symbolize the flourishing of dreams and the fortification of our bond. As the candles flicker and the festivities unfold, let us raise a heartfelt toast to the extraordinary journey we’ve shared and the multitude of adventures that await us.
In the grand tapestry of life, some friendships are not just threads but vibrant strokes of color that define the beauty of the whole canvas. Today, as we commemorate the birth of a dear friend, we also celebrate the richness that true friendship brings—an enrichment that transforms acquaintances into allies, and friends into family. Here’s to the journey we’ve had, the challenges we’ve conquered, and the countless chapters that await our insatiable pen!
To those who know Kunle, and have taken the pains to read this piece this far, expecting that I will pop the ‘obvious’ outstanding question, I am sorry that I have to disappoint you, because we already know and pray that before his next birthday, we will sing the song of Dr. SID, featuring D’Banj ‘pop up, pop up, pop up something…….we dey pop champagne’
Happy Birthday to my brother of life !!!
Niyi Ojuolape is the UNFPA Country Representative in Somalia.
Cherished remembrance of my Sister. Her name is Funmilayo Sanusi, nee Adeniran. She would have been 58 today, 30th October.
October, for me, carries profound significance, extending beyond personal milestones. It stands as a month of remembrance, where the threads of joy and sorrow are intricately woven. It’s the month that cradles not only my own birthday but also that of my late mother and dearest sister, Olufunmilayo. These two remarkable women, though sometimes at odds, etched indelible imprints on my soul.
The objective of this piece is to pay a more than deserved tribute to a remarkable woman whose life was a living embodiment of virtue. Funmilayo Sanusi, known for her roles as a sister, daughter, mother, aunt, and mentor, transcended these titles to become a guiding light in the lives of those fortunate enough to know her.
The year 2007 marked a significant turning point when we lost my dearest Sister, in the month of October. She left behind a loving husband and three beautiful daughters. Over the years, these daughters have grown into accomplished young women, with two of them finding love and beginning their own journeys in matrimony.
As a younger sibling, I carry vivid memories of my Sister’s unwavering mentorship and deep affection. She was not only my sister but also a source of wisdom and support during the tumultuous years of youth. Her patience and tolerance for my youthful exuberance were boundless.
The chapter of her life that began with marriage might have seemed like a transition to an unknown world, but in her husband, we discovered a true gentleman, a man of unparalleled humility and grace. It will not be an exaggeration to testify of Brother Fatai as the most gentlemanly homo sapien I know. This gentleness and kindness have remained steadfast even in the face of her untimely departure.
October!!! Because it is the month of my birthday, no one ever realizes the struggle I go through during this period. October 30 is my late Mother’s birthday and also that of my darling Sister. October is also the month in which the cold hands of death took her away. They share birthdays. I remember with profound amusement and fondness, how these very lovely and loving beings used to disagree on a lot of things. Both of them were the prime Women I first got to know in life and the fact that they are no more is a burden I carry albeit very calmly and with strength every month of October. It is also the month of birth of my Wife, my first Son, my Mother in law and my Sister in law also. And, that is not all, my eldest Sister (Sister Funke) was also born in October. Sister Funke’s is another completely different story which I will take time to etch on paper soon. Between her and my Mum, I am not sure I have seen any other women with such strength of character, gait, poise, confidence and courage. They have the famed characteristic ‘never say die’ spirit of October borns. No wonder!!!
With this convergence of family celebrations and reflections, October is indeed a month where emotions ebb and flow. So, if there is anything called the month of mixed feelings, this is it for me. I find solace in the enduring memories of these incredible women.
In honoring Sister Funmi and all the October-born women who have touched my life, I acknowledge and recognize the divine order in which their paths intersected with mine, or rather became the predicate of mine. The scripture reminds us to “rejoice always,” and it is with this sentiment that I choose to celebrate their lives, their love, and the profound impact they have left on my heart.
In my role as the Country Representative of UNFPA in Somalia, I find a profound intersection between my work and the legacy of these remarkable women. Just as my dear sister Funmilayo and the strong October-born women in my life exemplified unwavering strength, I am dedicated to advocating for the rights and welfare of women and girls worldwide. Their enduring spirits fuel my commitment to creating a world where every woman and girl can thrive, just as they did in their own unique ways. The work I do at UNFPA is not just a vocation; it is a tribute to their memory, a dedication to continue the legacy of strength and resilience they embodied.
Shalom! May their memories be a blessing that endures for all time.
Niyi Ojuolape is the Country Representative of UNFPA in Somalia. He carries within him the legacy of these remarkable women, whose spirits continue to inspire him.
Prof. Femi Odekunle (1st from left), Prof.Layi Erinosho (2nd from left), Justice Edward Ojuolape, Sr. and Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin
One week ago, the world celebrated fathers on Fathers’ Day commemoration on June 18. The event rightly applauds fathers for their sacrifices for their families and the burden they bear. In recognition of the event, I had initially written a press release, since the occasion is one that my organization, the UNFPA, dotes, given the high premium that we place on issues that affect the family, and the interplay of roles and rights of individuals therein. And as a corollary, is my belief in the fostering of responsible fatherhood as a path and a massive boost to advancing the issues we care about, such as sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality and women empowerment, as well as ending gender-based violence. On second thought, I considered that I could discuss the vitality of fatherhood as it concerns the duty owed to the girl child.
Looking back in soul-searching reminiscence I realize that I have been lucky to enjoy the friendship and mentorship of exemplary fathers whose relationship with their daughters (children) I admired and still do admire deeply. Occupying a ringside seat in their lives and watching at close quarters the way and passion with which they related to their daughters, supporting them fiercely left an indelible mark on my mind and continues to resonate with me till this day.
Professor Babatunde Osotimehin
Working with Professor Babatunde Osotimehin of blessed memory in the capacity that I did, allowed me to gain a peek into his professional and personal life. While passion for education for girls defined aspects of his work, it was at home and in the relationship he had with his daughters (he had four girls and a boy) that I came to experience the impact of a father’s support on the confidence, well-being, and life course of the girl child. In the most important of meetings, be it with the Executive Board, or even the UN Secretary General, Prof’s connection with them was such that he would pick his daughters’ call and excuse himself even just to say ‘Je ki n pe e pada lai pe’ (let me call you back shortly). From the stories he told me about their younger years and from what I saw personally, it didn’t take any time for me to realize that with Prof, his daughters can do no wrong. As a matter of fact, they are forgiven in advance for whatever lines they cross. It is apposite to mention that the Daughters also responded with love and deep affection. That, for me is quintessential fatherhood.
Professor Femi Odekunle
Another father figure, Prof. Femi Odekunle, also of blessed memory, represents one of the finest examples of fathering girls. Being in the inner corridors of his life gave me the privilege of witnessing his uncommon passion for his girls, two of which were his last borns. His eldest daughter could make him do anything, and such was the emotional connection between them that you needed not go far to understand why she was named after his mother; Ojuolape, which also happens to be my last name, and which was one of the earliest points of his endearment to me, as he took me under his arms as a son. It was satisfying to watch him dote his daughters in the most gracious and passionate manner.
Professor Layi Erinosho
To complete this academic trilogy of those by virtue of whom I have since earned the sobriquet of ‘Associate Professor’ is Prof. Layi Erinosho, who is still very much with us, and by the grace of God is still going strong. A father of four, of which three are girls, Prof. Erinosho’s passion for the cause of women and girls extends beyond his home sphere, and is represented significantly in his research interest. Some of his best works in his discipline of Sociology are in-depth scholarly academic works and research that deals with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and inheritance rights for women in Africa. And then there is my father, a jurist for whom the equality of genders is an unassailable fact, and a human right issue.
The above encounters with these mentors enriched my approach to what needs to be done for women and girls, whether as a father at home or at my place of work. Appreciating the urgency of some of the actions that need to be taken, the UNFPA Country Office in Ghana, under my leadership, instituted the Youth Leaders (YoLe) Fellowship—a youth internship designed to attract young graduates from Ghanaian tertiary institutions. Setting up the fellowship was the first step; ensuring that most recipients were young women was even more critical. Thus, among the inaugural fellows, 70% of them were young women. In the second year, 14 out of 21 were young women. In the third year, young women made up 18 out of 26 YoLe fellows. In effect, not only were there more young women than men, we progressively increased the numbers, having seen the demonstrated impact.
Understandably, the question here would be whether such a course of action does not disadvantage young men and boys. The answer is that they are too disproportionately favoured in different facets of human endeavour for this disadvantage to arise. Maintaining a level playing ground when one team is behind will not provide the solution we need for a more equitable world. Yet, part of the solution could be simpler and commence with fathers becoming intentional about delivering the needed psychosocial and material support women and girls need to thrive. I have often imagined that while UNFPA created an opportunity to better the lives of young people through the YoLe fellowship, the preparation to meet that opportunity involved fathers who valued the educational pursuits of their daughters.
Making way for the Girl Child
Therefore, I suggest that fathers go out of their way to make space for the girl child to become as empowered as the boy child, not only within their homes but also to instruct their friends and neighbours to do the same. The cumulative effects of every father pulling their weight from all corners of society is potentially enormous. Protecting and supporting our young women and girls is in our enlightened self-interest. The ones we empower today will grow up to become empowered women who will understand and address the needs of women and girls more deeply in the future. For example, the outstanding leadership of Natalia Kanem as head of the UNFPA is persuasive proof. As a feminist and women’s rights advocate, she has utilized her empowered position to design numerous uplifting programmes for young women and girls. She continues to drive and champion the most creative methods to meet the unmet needs of women and girls and delivering on them with uncommon urgency. The privilege of having a Boss and mentor in her mould and understanding her ideas on empowering women and girls enriches my commitment to the cause. It allows me to see how much more there is to do for young women and girls, even as measured progress has been achieved. I, therefore urge all fathers to take up this challenge with us.