Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas
25 October 1900
Abeokuta, Southern Nigeria
(now Abeokuta, Ogun State)
|Died||13 April 1978 (aged 77)|
|Spouse(s)||Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti|
|Occupation||Educator, politician, women's rights activist|
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, MON ( /
Kuti was the mother of the Nigerian activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician; Beko Ransome-Kuti, a doctor; and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and health minister. She was also grandmother to musicians Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti. She is highly regarded in her native Nigeria for notable acts as an African woman.
Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas was born on 25 October 1900, in Abeokuta, to Chief Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas (1869-1954) and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu (1874-1956) of the Jibolu-Taiwo family. Her father was a son of a returned slave, Ebenezer Sobowale Thomas, from Sierra Leone (see Nova Scotian Settlers), who traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in what is today Ogun State, Nigeria. He became a member of the Anglican faith, and soon returned to the homeland of his fellow Egbas.
Funmilayo Randsome-Kuti's parents believed in the value of education. She attended Abeokuta Grammar School for her 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.:33 He also defended the commoners of his country, and was one of the founders of both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and of the Nigerian Union of Students.:46-47 Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti organized literacy classes for Women in the early 1920s and founded a nursery school in the 1930s. She founded the Abeokuta Ladies' Club (ALC) for educated women involved in charitable work in 1942. She also started the social Welfare for Market Women club to help educate working-class women (which formed the first adult education programme for women in Nigeria).
Ransome-Kuti received the national honour of membership in the Order of the Niger 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 1950s. Ransome-Kuti founded an organization for women in Abeokuta called the Abeokuta Women's Union, with a membership tally of more than 20,000 individuals, spanning both literate and illiterate women.
Main article: Abeokuta Women's Revolt
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti began her active participation in feminism when she created the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC), which later became the Women's Union of Abeokuta (AWU). She created this group to promote gender equality, and to raise awareness against the injustice that women were receiving. The club began with middle-class and working-class women who were Western educated, but quickly expanded to market women, and soon, over 100,000 women were a part of the organization. Owing to the number of women who were a part of the organization, they expanded once again. This time they became the Nigerian Women's Union (NWU). The organization expanded one last time, becoming known as the Federation of Nigerian Women's Societies (FNWS). The organization with Kuti's leadership fought for equality in all areas for women.
Ransome-Kuti launched the organization into public consciousness when she rallied women against price controls that were hurting the market women. Trading was one of the major occupations of women in the Western Nigeria at the time. Ransome-Kuti lead countless protest against Abeokuta and Nigeria. Her first well known protest came in 1948 when she led a protest in Abeokuta against a tax placed on women. She was angered by this new tax not just because it was a sexist tax, but also due to women where not represented in government at that time. She controlled the ruler's palace for two years until the tax was in the end lifted. 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. (See also National Council of Women's Societies.)
Ransome-Kuti campaigned for women's votes. She was for many years a member of the ruling National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) party, but was later expelled when she was not elected to a federal parliamentary seat. 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 her support close by. However, Ransome-Kuti continued 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 Grace 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, Ransome-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 her country, Ransome-Kuti traveled 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 … 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 received 4,665 votes to the NCNC's 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group (which had 10,443 votes) to win. She was one of the delegates who negotiated Nigeria's independence with the British government.
In old age her activism was overshadowed by that of her three sons, who provided effective opposition to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1978 Ransome-Kuti was thrown from a third-floor window of her son Fela's compound, a commune known as the Kalakuta Republic, when it 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.
After Ransome-Kuti's death, Fela took her coffin and travelled nearly twenty kilometers to Dodan Barracks in Lagos(then Nigeria's Supreme Military Headquarters), leaving the coffin at the gate to shame the government. The invasion, her death, and the movement of the coffin is detailed in his song "Coffin for Head of State".
Proposed N5000 Note Controversy
In 2012, the Nigerian government had proposed the inclusion of Ransome-Kuti's image on the new N5000 currency note. In August of that year, Ransome-Kuti's grandson, musician Seun Kuti, stated to media that he found the proposal "ludicrous to say the least", in light of the government's role in his grandmother's death. Kuti said that his family had never received an apology for the assault on their compound, with official government statements declaring that Ransome-Kuti had been attacked by "1000 unknown soldiers". As of 3 September 2012, the Nigerian government neither responded to his request nor apologized. Several protest groups formed on social media adding pressure for a government apology. The N5000 proposal was later withdrawn by the Nigerian government.
- Took part in the pre-independence conferences that laid the groundwork for Nigeria's First Republic
- One of the women appointed 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
- President of the Abeokuta Women's Union from 1946–1978.
- Leader of Commoners Peoples Party
- Leader of Nigeria Women's Union.
- First woman to drive a car in Nigeria
- Winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1970
Cultural Depiction and Legacy
Ransome-Kuti is one of the most prominent figures in Nigerian history and inspired women across Nigeria through her brave acts and most notably her fight for women in the country. Some say that she paved the way for women in Nigeria to have better lives.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.|
- Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the Women's Union of Abeokuta. Illustrations by Alaba Onajin, script and text by Obioma Ofoego, UNESCO, 2014
- Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
- Biography of Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938–1997)
- Mhairi McAlpine, "Women on the Left: Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti", International Socialist Group, 8 June 2012.