Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Funmilayo Kuti
Photo: Alamy

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a Nationalist and activist, born in 1900 to a returned Yoruba slave in Sierra Leone who traced his way back to Abeokuta. In May 1919, Funmilayo was sponsored by the Church Missionary Society to school in England. She studied domestic sciences, education, French and music at Wincham Hall College. She returned to Nigeria in 1922 and taught at her alma mater, Abeokuta Grammar School, getting married to the School principal, the Reverend Ransome-Kuti in 1925.

The Abeokuta Women’s Union, AWU, which Funmilayo formed, coordinated a campaign against the unjust enforcement of taxation on women, leading to the abdication of Alake Ademola II in 1949. Her visit to Enugu in that year had triggered the changing of name of a female association in the town to Nigerian Women’s Union. By 1954, branches had been established in several cities across the regions of Nigeria, with the objective of achieving franchise and proper representation for women. Abolition of electoral colleges was also advocated. She started the first adult education program for women in the country, which she called “the social welfare club for market women”. She was selected, being an active member of the leading National Council of Nigerian Citizens, to represent Nigerian women in various constitutional conferences held in London in the 1940s and 1950s, and was part of the delegate that negotiated Nigeria’s independence.

Funmi Kuti later ran unsuccessfully for a federal legislative seat in 1959 and internal opposition from her party, the National Council for Nigerians and the Cameroons, NCNC, truncated her foray into politics. She continued her activism, but her voice was soon overlaid by her sons’; Olikoye, Beko and the last, Fela, the world-acclaimed Afrobeat maestro alongside whom she dumped the foreign name, Ransome for Anikulapo, meaning “one who has death in the pouch”. She was strongly influenced by Marxist rhetoric and she travelled widely establishing contacts within the Soviet Republics. In recognition of her efforts in promoting friendship between Nigerian and Soviet peoples, she was awarded the Lenin peace prize in 1970. She died in 1978, following an assault by soldiers who had come to cause disconcertment in the house of her son- the satirical musician, Fela.

Funmi Kuti’s biographers, Cheryl Johnson-Odirn and Nina Emma Mba reported how in 1952, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. According to them, as he became progressively ill, so did she seem to step up the tempo of her political activities. A somewhat exasperated Rev. Ransome-Kuti during one of his hospital confinements at the University College Hospital, Ibadan was visited by Christine Groves, an executive member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He complained to her of how his wife was eaten up with her concern for women’s affairs but conceded he left her to do it. From the time it was discovered that her husband was terminally, ill till his death, on April 6, 1955 there is scant evidence that she totally subordinated her passion for activism to concern herself with the task of attending to her ailing husband. Indeed, her biographers made this telling disclosure; that on the day of her husband’s burial, she sobbingly accused her political colleagues of having taken her away from her husband[i].
[i] The Source November 7, 2005

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer