Issue #25   •   Quarter 3/4 Edition   •   December 2018

 

2013q3-funmilayo kutiFrances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas was born on 25 October 1900, in Abeokuta. Her father was a son of a returned slave from Sierra Leone, who traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in what is today Ogun State, Nigeria. She attended the Abeokuta Grammar school for secondary education, and later went to England for further studies. She soon returned to Nigeria and became a teacher. On 20 January 1925, she married the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti. Throughout her career, she was known as an educator and activist. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women's rights in the '50s. She founded an organization for women in Abeokuta, with a membership tally of over 20,000 individuals spanning both literate and illiterate women.

Mrs. Ransome-Kuti launched the organization into public consciousness when she rallied women against price controls which were hurting the female merchants of the Abeokuta markets. Trading was one of the major occupations of women in the Western Nigeria of the time. In 1949, she led a protest against Native Authorities, especially against the Alake of Egbaland. She presented documents alleging abuse of authority by the Alake, who had been granted the right to collect the taxes by his colonial suzerain, the Government of the United Kingdom. He subsequently relinquished his crown for a time due to the affair. She also oversaw the successful abolishing of separate tax rates for women. In 1953, she founded the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies which subsequently formed an alliance with the Women's International Democratic Federation.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti campaigned for women's votes' She was for many years a member of the ruling National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons party, but was later expelled when she was not elected to a federal parliamentary seat. At the NCNC, she was the treasurer and subsequent president of the Western NCNC women's Association.  However, she never truly ended 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.

She founded the Egba or Abeokuta Women's Union along with Eniola Soyinka (her sister-in-law and the mother of the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka). This organization is said to have once had a membership of 20,000 women. Among other things, Fumilayo Ransom Kuti organized workshops for illiterate market women. She continued to campaign against taxes and price controls.

In old age her activism was over-shadowed by that of her three sons, who provided effective opposition to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1978 Funmilayo was thrown from a second-floor window when her son Fela's compound, a commune known as the Kalakuta Republic, was stormed by one thousand armed military personnel. She lapsed into a coma in February of that year, and died on 13 April 1978, as a result of her injuries.

Looking at the snap shot of her life as we have, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from this woman. Her bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds has given me and women in Nigeria the right to vote and be voted for. The current battle for more inclusion of women in appointed and elected political offices in Nigeria and active female representation on national and multinational boards of companies in other parts of the world can be traced back to this act.

We have a part to play to continue to build where she and others like her through the generations have fought, struggled, campaigned, negotiated and mediated their way to the benefits we see and take for granted today.

The question to you is what will you be remembered for? Do you have footprints in the sands of time or are you a wave of the ocean here today and gone tomorrow with no evidence of being there?

Make a difference while you can.