Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti alongside two other historical Nigerian women Margaret Ekpo and Hajia Gambo Sawaba are to grace the front of the newly to be introduced N5,000 note.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (25 October 1900 Abeokuta, Nigeria – 13 April 1978 Lagos, Nigeria), born Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas to Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu, was a teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat.
She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation. Ransome-Kuti’s political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, as well as to her being regarded as “The Mother of Africa.”
Early on, she was a very powerful force advocating for the Nigerian woman’s right to vote. She was described in 1947, by the West African Pilot as the “Lioness of Lisabi” for her leadership of the women of the Egba clan that she belonged to on a campaign against their arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the Egba high king Oba Ademola II in 1949.
Kuti was the mother of the activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a doctor, and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and a former health minister of Nigeria.
Francis 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. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti received the national honor of membership in the Order of Nigeria in 1965. The University of Ibadan bestowed upon her the honorary doctorate of laws in 1968. She also held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs of Nigeria as an oloye of the Yoruba people.
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.
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. After her suspension her political voice was diminished due to the direction of national politics, as both of the more powerful members of the opposition, Awolowo and Adegbenro, had support close by. 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 organisation is said to have once had a membership of 20,000 women.
Among other things, Fumilayo Ransom Kuti organised workshops for illiterate market women.She continued to campaign against taxes and price controls.
During the Cold War and before the independence of the country, Funmilayo Kuti travelled widely and angered the Nigerian as well as British and American Governments by her contacts with the Eastern Bloc. This included her travel to the former USSR, Hungary and China where she met Mao Zedong.
In 1956, her passport was not renewed by the government because it was said that “it can be assumed that it is her intention to influence nigerian women with communist ideas and policies.” She was also refused a U.S. visa because the American government alleged that she was a communist.
Prior to independence she founded the Commoners Peoples Party in an attempt to challenge the ruling NCNC, ultimately denying them victory in her area. She got 4,665 votes to NCNC’s 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group (which had 10,443 votes) to win.
She was one of the delegates that negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British government.
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.
- One of the women elected to the native House of Chiefs, serving as an Oloye of the Yoruba people
- Ranking member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons
- Treasurer and President Western Women Association of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons
- Leader of Abeokuta Women’s Union
- Leader of Commoners Peoples Party
- Leader of Nigeria Women’s Union
- First Nigerian woman to drive a car