Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti: Nigerian political activist
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, original name Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas was a Nigerian feminist and a political leader. She was the leading advocate of women’s rights in Nigeria during the first half of the 20th century.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was born on October 25, 1900 in Abeokuta, Egbaland. Her parents were Christians of Yoruba descent. In 1914, she became the first female student to attend the Abeokuta Grammar school, a secondary school which she attended till 1917. After completing schooling, she taught there for a brief period before going to England. From 1919 to 1923, she studied in England. She also dropped her English name and shortened her Yoruba name to Funmilayo.
After completing her studies in England, Ransome-Kuti returned to Abeokuta and resumed her teaching career. In 1925, she married Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican clergyman and teacher. In 1932, her husband became the principal of Abeokuta school. During this time, she helped organise the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC). It was initially a civic and charitable group of Western-educated Christian women. However, the organisation gradually grew more political and feminist-oriented. In 1944, it admitted market women who worked as vendors in Abeokuta open air markets to the organisation. They were impoverished, illiterate, and exploited by colonial authorities.
In 1946, ALC changed its name to Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and opened membership to all women in Abeokuta. Ransome-Kuti became its first president and she held the position until her death. AWU became a national organisation under her leadership. In 1949, it changed its name to Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) and to the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) in 1953.
The AWU initially campaigned against price controls which limited the income of market women. They demanded fair treatment of market women by the government. They also protested against the special tax on women which was imposed by the local ruler Sir Ladapo Ademola II. From 1947, AWU organised large demonstrations against the government led by Ademola. It was successful and resulted in Ademola’s temporary abdication in 1949.
Between 1949 and 1960, Ransome-Kuti served several terms on the local council of Abeokuta.
The AWU also focussed on long-term goals which included greater educational opportunities for women and girls, the enforcement of sanitary regulations, and the provision of health care and other social services for women. Ransome-Kuti wanted to raise the living standards for women. She believed that it was the first step in eliminating the causes of poverty.
Between 1949 and 1960, Ransome-Kuti served several terms on the local council of Abeokuta. In 1951, she ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the regional assembly as the candidate of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). NCNC was an organisation which she helped to establish in 1944.
In 1953, the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) affiliated with the Women’s International Democratic Federation, and Ransome-Kuti was elected as its vice president. During her stint, she toured and lectured in several countries on the plight of Nigerian women.
In 1959, NCNC rejected her bid for a second candidacy. However, she ran as an independent candidate which split the NCNC vote. It ensured the opposing party’s victory. Ransome-Kuti was expelled from the party and she formed her own party, Commoners’ People’s Party. It disbanded one year later. By that time, her political influence was significantly declined.
In the early 1970s Ransome-Kuti changed her surname to Anikulapo-Kuti to further identify herself with Yoruba culture. She followed the example of her son Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who was a popular musician and a critic of military governments in Nigeria. In 1977 some 1,000 soldiers stormed the family property in Lagos, which Fela had transformed into a commune that he called the Kalakuta Republic. She was injured in that assault.
In 1978, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti died of complications from her injuries in Lagos.