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CHIEF MRS FUNMILAYO RANSOME-KUTI

Born in Nigeria more than a decade before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria by Lord Lugard in 1914.  Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti at a very early age showed great promise and conviction in her quest of fighting for women’s rights.  Funmilayo was bold and brazen. Funmilayo sired four children with her husband whom she married in 1925 and she was very involved in women’s rights activism for the rest of her life, her story is one of defiance, perseverance and uncommon leadership for a woman of those times.  She fought for universal adult suffrage.

Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900–1978) was a leading activist during Nigerian women’s anti-colonial struggles.  Born Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas on October 25, 1900. She was  aunt to Wole Soyinka the Nobel Laureate for Literature (1986) she died on April 13, 1978 at the age of 77 shortly after she had been thrown down a balcony by soldiers who went to arrest her son and also shut down his famous “Afrika Shrine” popularly known as Kalakuta Republic.

After her Secondary school education at the Abeokuta Grammar school she later went to England for further studies. She soon returned to Nigeria and became a teacher.  Well educated with a colonial education and a Christian background, she was radicalized through the actions of the British occupation of Nigeria: its racism, sexism and economic violence. Ransome-Kuti received the national honor of membership in the Order of Nigeria in 1965. She also held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs of Nigeria as an oloye of the Yoruba people

She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, one of the most impressive women’s organizations of the twentieth century (with a membership estimated to have reached up to 20,000 women), which fought to protect and further the rights of women. The best way to describe Mrs. Kuti is educator, politician, womens right activist. She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation.  She was also the first woman in the country to drive a car. Ransome-Kuti’s political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, as well as to her being regarded as “The Mother of Africa.” Early on, she was a very powerful force advocating for the Nigerian woman’s right to vote. She was described in 1947, by the West African Pilot, as the “Lioness of Lisabi” for her leadership of the women of the Egba people on a campaign against their arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the high king Oba Ademola II in 1949.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti organised literacy classes for Women in the early 1920s and founded a nursery school in the 1930s. She founded the Abeokuta Ladies’ Club (ALC) for educated women involved in charitable work in 1942. She also started the social Welfare for Market Women club to help educate working-class women (which formed the first adult education programme for women in Nigeria) Throughout her career, she was known as an educator and activist. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women’s rights in the 1950s.

Ransome-Kuti campaigned for women’s votes. She was for many years a member of the ruling National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) party, but was later expelled when she was not elected to a federal parliamentary seat. She was the treasurer and subsequent president of the Western NCNC Women’s Association.  After her suspension, her political voice was diminished due to the direction of national politics, as both of the more powerful members of the opposition, Awolowo and Adegbenro, had her support close by. However, Ransome-Kuti continued her activism. In the 1950s, she was one of the few women elected to the house of chiefs. At the time, this was one of her homeland’s most influential bodies.

During the Cold War and before the independence of her country, Ransome-Kuti travelled widely and angered the Nigerian as well as British and American governments by her contacts with the Eastern Bloc. This included her travel to the former USSR, Hungary and China, where she met Mao Zedong. In 1956, her passport was not renewed by the government because it was said that “it can be assumed that it is her intention to influence … women with communist ideas and policies. She was also refused a U.S. visa because the American government alleged that she was a communist.

Prior to independence she founded the Commoners Peoples Party in an attempt to challenge the ruling NCNC, ultimately denying them victory in her area. She received 4,665 votes to the NCNC’s 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group (which had 10,443 votes) to win. She was one of the delegates who negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British government.

Ransome-Kuti received the national honour of membership in the Order of the Niger in 1965. The University of Ibadan bestowed upon her the honorary doctorate of laws in 1968. She also held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs of Nigeria as an Oloye of the Yoruba people.

Funmilayo Kuti’s achievements and honours include•One of the women elected to the native House of Chiefs, serving as an Oloye of the Yoruba people•Ranking member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons•Treasurer and President Western Women Association of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons•Leader of Abeokuta Women’s Union•Leader of Commoners Peoples Party•Leader of Nigeria Women’s Union•Winner of the Lenin Peace Prize.

Adetunji Omotola wrote this article from Johannesburg. He is an Africa Analyst, a socio-political commentator and an African Media personality. He is also a Bloomberg Certified Financial journalist.