I met her headgear before I met her. She was without a doubt one of Nigeria’s leading female politicians, touching it up with the men whose playground it is and giving them a run for their money. Beyond her good looks, she was an awesome strategist and knew Lagos politics like the back of her hand. Her signature was her 100 watts smile, her low-cut hairstyle but more famously her headgear jauntily wrapped around her head at an angle.
Enter Kemi Nelson, a politician and an incredible political strategist. It was in her DNA. That’s all she wanted to do, all she wanted to be. Although trained as a nurse, Kemi was known worldwide as the Lagos-born female politician. She was always an asset to whatever group she decided to pitch her tent. But it was her headgear that caused our path to cross. As tributes continue to pour in for the late Lagos politician upon her passing, I remember clearly how we met.
She had come to grace an event where she had been invited to speak. I walked up to her and told her how I thought her headgear was fashion-forward. She gifted me with her megawatt smile and something else. I told her she had her gele tied the way only Kemi can. She burst into laughter, a shared knowing.
Kemi’s headgear became her brand asset and she had it on every step of the way. It was not Kemi Nelson if that scarf was not pushed forward to an angle giving us all so much joy
Her headgear had become her brand. As has mine. The last time I went out without my headwrap, a young lady said she did not recognise me. I understand the brand and the headdress perhaps outside politics as best as I can. I live the headgear life from broadcasting to public speaking. Kemi’s headgear became her brand asset and she had it on every step of the way. It was not Kemi Nelson if that scarf was not pushed forward to an angle giving us all so much joy. Within political circles, her headgear had been christened Kemi Nelson and around Nigerian fashion circles, people began to imitate that powerful statement that rested on her head.
Her passing has left a hole in the run up to the 2023 elections. Kemi was a colourful politician and energised any room she walked into. She will be sorely missed. Her persona, her gait, her character, her dance steps and her gorgeous redefinition of the “gele,” one of Nigeria’s greatest exports to the fashion world… Kemi style.
As a gele and turban person myself, I have experimented with different angles and wraps to finally settle at my personal style. Two ways. But Kemi showed consistency in her styled headdress. As I left her presence that day, I met her at a function, she told me how she thought my personal headgear brand was admirable on TV and wherever I went, and proceeded to send me a truly gorgeous blue and red two piece asooke. It has adorned my head for the nine o’clock network news to her delight and to weddings and social events over the last 10 or so years.
Kemi Nelson left me with a piece of her admirable brand but left us all with that image of her unforgettable personal headgear brand.
My heart goes out to her husband, Mr Adeyemi Nelson, friend, brother and colleague who was with us in the information management world before he retired as a Director from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. May Kemi Nelson’s soul rest in peace… Amen.
And talking politics and personal headdress brands. Who can easily forget President Shehu Shagari’s tall cap that was easily recognisable from miles, or Solomon Lars cap? These were caps that came to define these top level persons wherever they went. A lot of these brands in elevated spaces led to copy cat fashion as President Jonathan’s South South brimmed hat became his signature. During his presidency, everyone who could within the polity and across the nation began to spot the Jonathan hat. It became not just a symbol but defined authority. If the president wore it everyday, owning two as an ordinary citizen conferred some chip on your shoulder. You became unwittingly part of the power structure. It was both personal and psychological.
If you look closely at today’s Executive Council meetings, you would see one council member whose head gear is her personal brand… the ubiquitous minister of women affairs Dame Pauline Talle. Her headgear is her brand, tied in exactly the same way with slight variations everyday.…
She has built a formidable brand with her head gear. Something she has grown over the years. This is something a brand expert will ask for lots of money for. To define a politician’s brand.
In the middle of terrorist attacks, kidnaps and a nation shaken to its foundation by the sheer audacity of persons who abduct innocent citizens and attack the core of the nation’s security, let’s talk about those things for which we are celebrated worldwide.
Let’s talk about auto gele, turbans and the like which other nations admire us for, gorgeous. Let’s talk about our foods and persons of character who have traversed our political landscape with great gusto like Kemi Nelson. Let’s talk about community, giving food to strangers and caring for the less privileged. Lets talk about Amusan who won the gold medal for Nigeria in a far away country. Let’s talk about the smile of a fellow citizen and the kindness of strangers. Let’s talk about a baby’s dimpled smile, the sun rays in the morning, the rain… droplets on your lips and your face. Let’s talk about the stories told by old people of times past of things that give us joy.
It’s time to claim our nation back through the simple things of life like Kemi’s gift giving, like admiring another woman, like saying hello, sending a text to an old friend. Let’s not give the terrorists a chance to steal our joy.
One day soon by his grace, we trust God that this too shall pass.
Enjoy your moment of grace and joy. Mourn with those who mourn, comfort the bereaved and celebrate with those who celebrate.
Kemi Nelson’s life was full and robust. We would have wanted her to stay longer on this side, to avail us still with her signature headscarf, but God’s ways are not our ways.
My deepest condolences to her family…friends and political associates.
For the woman who made her headdress a personal branding affair and who gave us her politics and megawatt smile, we say… Adieu.