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Celebrating the mother of Nigerian feminism


On International Women’s Day, Pulse Gist celebrates one of Nigeria’s most iconic women- Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.

The matriarch of the Kuti clan was a political activist and women’s right fighter. Decades after her death, she remains an inspirational figure for today’s Nigerian woman.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was from the proud Egba kingdom of the Yoruba nation. She was born October 25, 1900, in the city of Abeokuta. She married Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in 1925. The good reverend himself is the composer of the famous Ogun state anthem.

Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti

Mrs Kuti was a true aristocrat. It’s no surprise that she is the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car according to history books.

The Lioness of Lisabi: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
The Lioness of Lisabi: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Fela’s mother wasn’t too concerned with the glitz and glamour of the Abeokuta social scene. Her passion was for the rights of women and the progress of the society. She was a co-founder of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Union of Students.

Fela's mother, the woman who chased a king from his throne
Fela’s mother, the woman who chased a king from his throne

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was fierce. She challenged the colonial authority without fear. She didn’t take nonsense from the established authority at the time.

In 1946 or 1947, Bere (that was her nickname) was the talk of the town after she slammed a white colonial officer.

She was organising a big protest demonstration with the women of Abeokuta” recalled her son Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in the book Fela: This Bitch Of a Life.

Fela with his mum
Fela with his mum

She was protesting on the streets with the women. And they went straight to see the District Officer of Abeokuta. He was a young white boy; one of those fresh British guys who tried getting arrogant with my mother.

…The District Officer must have said something in a disdainful voice, like: “Go on back home.” To which my mother exploded: “You bastard, rude little rat…!” Fela further revealed.

This was the type of woman she was. She didn’t grovel, beg or hide. She demanded justice and fought against sexism.

In 1949 she did the unthinkable. When the traditional ruler Alake of Egbaland imposed taxes on market women, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti went to work.

She mobilised thousands of women in Abeokuta and they hit the streets to protest. According to Fela Kuti’s account, 50,000 women stormed the palace of Oba Alake Sir Ladapo Ademola. “They were everywhere, in the front, behind the house, everywhere. The Alake couldn’t get out of his own house. You know what that means? What would you do? You would flee too. And, man, that’s exactly what the Alake did. He fled to Oshogbo.

Oba Alake Sir Ladapo Ademola
Oba Alake Sir Ladapo Ademola

Yes, Fela’s mother made a king abdicate his throne because he was a puppet of the colonial government. Her protest was a success and the taxes were abolished.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

The Alake wouldn’t come back to Abeokuta until a few years later thanks to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. As a result of her historic achievement, the West African Pilot called her the ‘Lioness of Lisabi‘. Called the “Mother of Africa“, she also fought for women’s rights to vote.Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti never stopped fighting. She was very active in politics. She founded a political party that defeated theNCNC in her area and was also a delegate who negotiated the independence of Nigeria.

These are some of her many achievements as a political activist and feminist.

FRK died in 1978. She fell into a coma after ‘unknown soldiers’ threw her from the third floor of the Kalakuta Republic. She never woke up from that coma. Even in her old age, she was vocal against military rule along with her three sons, Beko, Felaand Olukoye.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti her three sons and two grand sons
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti her three sons and two grand sons

Today, her legacy lives on with her grandsons, Femi and Seun Anikulapo-Kuti.

On  International Women’s Day, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti is a beacon of inspiration and hope for feminists in Nigeria.

Courtesy: PULSE




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