Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, is a Nigerian educator, political campaigner, suffragist, and women’s rights activist.
She was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria and was the first female student to attend the Abeokuta Grammar School. As a young adult, she worked as a teacher.
Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti served as a board member for the Nigerian Union of Teachers.
She was nicknamed by the media as the “Lioness of Lisabi”. Marches and protests of up to 10,000 women were led by her, forcing the ruling Alake to temporarily abdicate in 1949.
As Ransome-Kuti’s political influence grew; she took part in the Nigerian independence movement, attending conferences and joining overseas delegations to discuss proposed national constitutions.
Inspired by her son Fela, who had altered his surname to reflect a discarding of colonial European influences; Ransome-Kuti informally changed her surname to “Anikulapo-Kuti” during the early 1970s. “Anikulapo” in Yoruba can be translated to mean “hunter who carries death in a pouch” or “warrior who carries a strong protection”.
Kuti Spearheaded the creation of the Nigerian Women’s Union and the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies. She advocated for Nigerian women’s right to vote and became a noted member of international peace and women’s rights movements.
In her later years, she supported her son, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s criticisms of Nigeria’s military governments.
During the 1940s, she co-founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union and fought for women’s rights. Kuti demanded better representation of women in local governing bodies and an end to unfair taxes on market women.
In 1946 the club was formally renamed the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and was open to all women in Abeokuta. With Ransome-Kuti as the AWU’s president; the organization turned its focus to fighting unfair price controls and taxes imposed on market women.
The union which she founded along with Grace Eniola Soyinka grew to represent 20,000 official members. With up to 100,000 additional supporters, who loved what the union represented. Grace Eniola is the mother of the Nobel Laurette prize winner Wole Soyinka.
In an effort to unify women and avoid class conflict; Ransome-Kuti and other educated members spoke Yoruba and wore traditional Yoruba clothing to union meetings and events.
In May 1949, Ransome-Kuti proposed the creation of the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU); in order to better support women’s rights and enfranchisement across the country. The AWU supported her proposal, and the organization subsequently became the Abeokuta branch of the NWU.
Over the following years, Ransome-Kuti travelled widely to help set up NWU branches in towns and cities all over Nigeria. She served as president of both the NWU and her hometown union in Abeokuta.
The NWU pursued goals of achieving women’s suffrage, dismantling electoral colleges. They also supported a more balanced representation of women in politics.
Funmilayo Kuti other movement
Kuti in 1932, helped establish the Abeokuta Ladies Club. The club focused on charity work, sewing, catering and adult education classes. By the 1940s, however, the club started moving in a more political direction.
Inspired by an illiterate friend who asked her for help in learning how to read; Ransome-Kuti began organizing literacy workshops for market women through the club. She subsequently gained a greater understanding of social and political inequalities faced by many Nigerian women.
In 1944 she developed a successful campaign to stop local authorities from seizing rice from market women under false pretences.
AWU used its membership dues to fund legal representation for arrested members. She trained women in how to deal with the tear gas canisters thrown at them.
Funmilayo Kuti early political activity
Ransome-Kuti’s first well-known political activity came when she led the AWU in a protest. The protest was against tax on women in Abeokuta, alongside regular taxes for income and water usage.
The Alake Ademola II, a local traditional ruler of Abeokuta who became a part of the colonial administration via indirect rule; imposed taxes on women after the Egba Native Administration had been established in 1914.
After a failed appeal to British authorities to remove the current Alake from power and halt the tax; Ransome-Kuti and the AWU began contacting newspapers, circulating petitions, aimed at putting more pressure on authorities.
In early 1949, the AWU’s efforts led to the temporary abdication of the Alake. Newspapers across Nigeria published stories about the event, and Ransome-Kuti’s work with the AWU became widely publicized.
AWU members publicly refused to pay their taxes, staged long vigils outside the Alake’s palace, and arranged an audit of the Sole Native Authority System (SNA) finance records. Along with their objective of ending the tax on women –they demanded representation for women on the SNA’s executive council.
By late 1947, Abeokuta authorities began forbidding women from organizing parades or demonstrations, denying them the necessary permits.
Undeterred, Ransome-Kuti and her fellow organizers declared that they were planning “picnics” and “festivals” instead. They drew up to 10,000 participants to their demonstrations–some of which involved altercations with police.
Funmilayo Kuti political feats
In 1947, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons party (NCNC), sent a delegation to London, England, to protest a proposed Nigerian constitution. Ransome-Kuti was the sole woman in the delegation.
In 1949, Ransome-Kuti represented Abeokuta in a Western Provinces conference in Nigeria to propose a new national constitution. Funmi, the only female participant in the talks, made compelling arguments in support of all women’s suffrage. Not to mention her strong support against the creation of an indirect electoral system.
Ransome-Kuti was a founding member of the NCNC party. In 1951 she ran as an NCNC candidate for the regional assembly but was unsuccessful. This was largely due to the fact that a special tax required for voters meant that many of her supporters; particularly women, were disqualified from participating.
She acted as treasurer for the NCNC Western Working Committee; she later became the President of the NCNC Women’s Organization in the Western Region.
In the early 1950s, Ransome-Kuti was inducted into the Western House of Chiefs; she was honoured and bestowed with the Yoruba chieftaincy title Oloye. Funmi became the first woman elected to the Western House and one of the few women in any Nigerian House of Chiefs at the time.
Funmilayo Kuti Awards
By 1970, Funmi received the Lenin Peace Prize.
In 1965, she received the national honour of Membership in the Order of the Niger (MON). The University of Ibadan bestowed an honorary doctorate of laws upon her in 1968.
The Western Nigeria state government appointed Ransome-Kuti to the Advisory Board of Education in 1969. She served as a consultant to the Federal Ministry of Education on the recruitment of teachers from other countries.
Funmilayo Kuti Demise
Ransome-Kuti often visited her son at his compound, she was there on 18 February 1977 when close to 1,000 armed soldiers surrounded and stormed the property. As soon as the soldiers broke inside, they began destroying property and assaulting the residents. Fela and Bekolari were badly assaulted and injured while she was tossed out a second-story window.
Funmilayo was hospitalized following the incident and subsequently fell into a coma. Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti died on 13 April 1978 as a result of her injuries.
In Abeokuta, her ashes were interred in the same vault as her husband. Many market women and traders shut down shops and markets across the city to mark her death. Major Nigerian news outlets published eulogies, naming the activist “a progressive revolutionary” and “a Pan-African visionary”.
On the one-year anniversary of her death, Fela took a coffin and travelled nearly 20 kilometres to Dodan Barracks in Lagos (then Nigeria’s Supreme Military Headquarters); leaving the coffin at the gate in an attempt to shame the government.
In his song “Coffin for Head of State,” he recounts the invasion, her death, and the transportation of the coffin.
Ransome-Kuti’s children included the musician Fela Kuti, doctor and activist Beko Ransome-Kuti, and Former Health minister Olikoye Ransome-Kuti.