Leading The Marginalized: The Political Activities of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

In Africa Black feminism is commonly associated with the advent of Pan-Africanism even though there have notably been women championing and engaging in affairs only done by men before the penetration of pan-Africanism and even colonialism in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, where there had been women’s pressure groups and associations for generations before colonization, rural women and female traders were at the forefront of numerous protest movements that brought thousands of women from different regions together to oppose colonial interference in their country. Notified by word-of-mouth, they organized popular marches punctuated by sit-ins, sang songs deriding the white officials, conducted noisy debates and took resolute action.

Other examples of these women are Yaa Asentewa of Ghana, who led the war against the British assaults, Kimpta Vita of Kongo, and Queen Nzinga Mbandi of Angola to name a few.

It is important to note that the late nineteenth to twentieth century ushered a new era into the history of Africa. Although, the years before these have been notable for the transatlantic slave trade; however, with the birth of the Industrial Revolution which orchestrated the abolition of the slave trade on March 25, 1807, in Britain, with other countries like the USA [1808] following the path, there emerged the legitimate trade and years after, the partition of Africa which was championed by the Berlin Conference of 1885/85. This partition later gave rise to European conquest and colonialism in Africa. Hence, the ripple effect of this era birthed a novel formidable type of feminism and the likes of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.

Nigeria, having been under the trade supervision of the Royal Niger Company in the nineteenth century fell into the political hands of the British Empire by the 1900s after the annexation of Lagos in 1861, such that by 1914, the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated and lord by Frederick Lugard. These occasions joined with every other one fully birthed the idea of feminism—in the form of recalcitrance to colonial rule in Nigeria,  as women actively protest against some of the rules introduced by the British.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti: Life and Feminism Movement

"Before Daodu's return, a group had grown up around Mrs Kuti. It was an informal gathering which began with three of four women, then increased in numbers. They met, discussed problems which had to do with the community and matters relating also to their homes."

Little but effective childhood history is known of Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas who was later married to become Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She was born on October 25, 1900, she became the first female to attend Abeokuta Grammar School between 1914-1917. Having taught for a short amount of time in the school, she travelled to England to further her education. However, it is important to note that this period in Nigeria's history was quite important as it classified the colonial rule era; hence, saw a skyrocket in nationalism by which 1945 became a catalyst.

It was in England that she shortened her name from Olufunmilayo to Funmilayo. However, when she came back to Nigeria, she married Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in 1925, an Anglican Clergyman and teacher at the Abeokuta Grammar School where subsequently became the principal in 1932.

Wole Soyinka, in his book, Ake: The Years of Childhood, an autobiography of his childhood memories, wrote about the inception of the first women's organisation in Ẹ̀gbá, Abéòkúta founded by Funmilayo. Notably, Soyinka himself shared a family bond with the Ransome-Kutis, which makes his report a substantial eyewitness.

In his memoir, he wrote about the earliest ideas of the organisation. Which generally evolved as a socio-cultural organisation.

“They were all Christian, wives of 'professionals' -teachers, pastors, pharmacists, and so on. When they were not discussing problems of sanitation, the shortages or rise in price of some commodity, plans for some kind of anniversary, their absorbing concern appeared to centre on the plight of young women who were just entering a phase of domestic responsibility. Over and over again came the observation that 'they don't know what to do'; 'they seem not to understand how to take their place in society'; 'They don't know how to receive visitors'; 'even the wedding of such and such was a deep embarrassment'; 'some of them don't know about sanitation or even child care'; and more in that vein. Attempts to help individually often met with abuse, they complained. It was suggested that they could jointly visit the homes of such newly-weds and discreetly offer advice. Another suggested that such 'problem' ladies should be invited casually to their meetings and duly instructed.”

Over time, this idea developed to become a stronghold.

'You know, you women have quite good aims but you don't seem to know how you want to implement them. You've been meeting now for some time and all I see all the time are onikaba, (in English this means, gown wearers - a term for the elite) who really need your help are the aroso (in English, this means wrapper wearers. A term for the peasants) yet they are not here. Forget the problems of social graces for newly-weds. Concentrate on the aroso. Bring them in on your meetings. They are the ones who need your help.'

After a brief idea that Oludotun, Funmilayo's husband, gave her and her group of women, they realized the importance of working alongside the non-elite women of the society towards achieving a unique aim and objective by becoming a non-marginalized sect. However, this step became the foundational stone for the evolution of women's participation in political and social matters in society even after colonialism.

Shortly after the creation of this all-women group called the Abeokuta Ladies' Club, founded in 1932, there were a series of protests within the state and over time, outside Ẹ̀gbá. These protests would be analyzed in the subsequent paragraphs.

However, before the first major protest, there had been various internal affairs organised by Funmilayo in response to the women's oppression and this was stopping local authorities from seizing market women's goods. These acts were a result of the Second World War (1939-1945); consequently, in Nigeria, Egbaland to be precise, market women's goods were confiscated by the order of the monarch if these women did not sell their products at a cheaper rate for the sustenance of the soldiers at a war front. In 1944, after numerous complaints to her, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti led a protest against the confiscation of the goods which forced the confiscation to end thereafter.

Other major protests include;

The Democratic Fight Against the Ẹ̀gbá King, Aláké of Egbaland

“The women now dug in for a long siege. Shock squads roamed the city, mobilizing all womanhood. Markets and women's shops were ordered closed. Those who defied the order had their goods confiscated and sent to the field before the palace. Even before the concession was formalized, the parakoyi had vanished from the markets, the tardiest only catching a glimpse of the approaching militants before abandoning their positions and seeking other predatory grounds. The men became more fully involved, at least, they became more openly involved. At every step, they had shouted their encouragement of the women's actions and even in some cases, driven their hesitant wives from the home, angry that such wives did not know that the cause concerned them also, and that its victory would bring them much-needed relief. One physically dragged his wife to the palace one morning, gave her money to spend on food and assured her that he would look after the children until the strife was over. There were also many women there with their young who camped out in the open with them and shared the hardship. But the movement of laden lines towards the Aafin now included men. They stopped by on the way from their farms; many had even journeyed to the farm to bring the women yams, fruits, palm wine. A hunter or two stopped to drop the day's catch of bush meat and share jokes with the women.”

The first protest took place as a result of women's taxation. This taxation, which apart from the regular taxes, was enforced on the market women under the name of "Special Tax" which went to the Market Supervisor or "Pàràkòyí" (in native term) became a reason of vexation for the women thence escalated to the protest stage.

However, it is important to note that prior to this period, Aláké Ademola II, King of Egbaland, had enforced differential tax laws which were first introduced in 1918, conniving with the British colonial government, the women were severely punished, in some instances, they were stripped naked or arrested if they could not pay their taxes.

As a result of this suffering, a group of women, estimated around 10,000 led by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti marched to the palace of the King, in November 1947, to protest against the tax law. The same protest also was held in Aba, the Eastern part of Nigeria in 1922. The protest, the Aba Women Riot, was rooted in the British colonial appointment of Warrant Chiefs as well as Women Taxation. The success of the protest, however, could have been said to have influenced the Ẹ̀gbá Women Protest in 1947.

After the adoption of a new name, Abeokuta Women's Union in 1946, the organisation demonstrated

another protest against the unlawfulness of the colonial legal system, denouncement of women arrests, and the corruption of the land. In addition, the women called for the abdication of the King, Aláké Ademola II.

In Soyinka's memoir, he documented how the use of abusive songs became one of the weapons used against the monarch.  

Òbò Àtùpà ló d'íjà s'ílẹ̀ - Atupa's vagina started the strife

Aláké olókó ẹsẹ - Aláké with penis of a poison tat

In another context, they constructed a humiliating eulogy for the King;

Hail, king of hunchbacks

Ademola has carried trouble

Son of a beast who inherits okra

Child of intrigue who takes the soup-pot

Hail father of beam

Hail, king of wood daemons.

The use of these degrading songs can be traced to women protesting at home. Over the years women facing cases of inequalities, have been able to challenge their sufferers with abusive songs and a quintessential of this is what also played out in Ẹ̀gbá during the women's protest.

By April 1948, the direct taxation on women was suspended and this catalyzed women into more political issues. Also on January 3, 1948, the Aláké, King Ademola II was forced to abdicate his throne temporarily.

It should be noted that by 1947 and 1948, the women had employed a number of strategies to achieve their goals of an end to women's taxation, the resignation of the Aláké, and the reform of the Sole Native Authority system, including the appointment of women (chosen by themselves) as a member of the SNA's Executive Council.

Funmilayo on National Politics and Honours

The national political stance of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was catalysed by her prowess in the Abéòkúta Women's Union.  In 1947, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti became even more than a national heroine—an international female mentor for women worldwide.

This happened during the period she travelled to England as one of the delegates of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) in 1947. However, this delegation was sent to England

based on the proposed Richard's Constitution and a nationalistic aim for Nigeria's independence. Upon getting to their destination, there arose skirmishes between her and one of the early founders of the political parties and also a strong-willed nationalist, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe.

While in London however, she stirred up a big controversy in an article she wrote titled "We Had Equality 'Til Britain Came." This article discussed extensively the life of Nigeria Women, the economic and political marginality created by colonialism and the imposed taxes and the deniability of suffrage. In her words, she classified women's condition as "slavery—political, social and economic." In conclusion, she sought the help of British Women in ending the exploitation. Unfortunately, this article sparked several ill responses even from Nigeria, in Lagos, the capital.

Aláké denounced the article while Nigeria Women's Party, a Lagos women's elite party, also expressed their embarrassment at Funmilayo's work. While women at the grassroots firmly supported her article. Hence, while asked to defend her work, she stated "the true position of Nigerian women had to be judged from the women who carried babies on their backs and farmed from sunrise to sunset … not women who used tea, sugar, and flour for breakfast."

Her work however opened quite a number of international opportunities for her and one of these was the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF), founded in December 1945. It should be noted that this organisation was inspired by the Soviet Union after the Second World War with a ubiquitous aim of uniting all women without race barriers. One of the trips the organisation sponsored was to China to discuss Nigeria Women and Culture, where she met Mao Zedong.

In 1959, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was denied a chance to run as an NCNC Federal House of Assembly candidate from the Abéòkúta Secretariat due to the rise of Mr J Akande. However, she ran as an independent candidate instead, but both her party, the Commoners' People's Party (CPP) and NCNC won the federal seat and this culminated in Funmilayo being sacked. The Commoners' People's Party, however, was said to be Abéòkúta-based in the light of focusing mainly on women to help women get into the executive seats in politics. Unfortunately, the party failed to gain momentum, dissolving after only a year. However, It should be noted that Ransome-Kuti's political rivals created the National Council of Women's Societies (NCWS) during this period to quash her Federation of Nigerian Women's Societies (FNWS.)

During the years of the military coup, after the Nigerian independence in 1960, in opposition to military rule, Funmilayo was actively involved with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), being president of the organization's Nigerian branch since 1963.

In 1965, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti received the national honour of membership in the Order of the Niger, also the University of Ibadan bestowed an honorary doctorate of laws upon her in 1968, and she

received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1970.

Furthermore, In 1969, she was appointed chairman of the Advisory Board of Education by the Western Nigeria state government. She also worked as a consultant to the Federal Ministry of Education on the recruitment of teachers from other countries.


Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, popularly known as the African Socialist can also be seen as a Nigerian indefatigable feminist. Whose viewpoint has been tagged "Progressive Revolutionary," "Anti-Imperialist," and "pan-Africanist visionary" upon her death on April 12, 1978, after she was thrown down from two storey building when her house was raided by Nigerian Soldiers in search for her son, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti. She became a major voice in the Nigeria household sparking insubordination to women's slavery and upholding a great stance in the quest for women's equality.

Works Cited

Elaine, Salo, and Mama Amina. “Talking about Feminism in Africa.” Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, vol. 50, 2001, pp. 58-63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4066405. Accessed 18 06 2014.

“Home.” YouTube, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Funmilayo-Ransome-Kuti. Accessed 12 December 2022.

Robinson, Marius. “Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman? (U.S.” National Park Service, 17 November 2017, https://www.nps.gov/articles/sojourner-truth.htm. Accessed 20 November 2022.

Soyinka, Wole. Aké: The Years of Childhood. Vintage Books, 1983. Accessed 12 December 2022.

West Africa Pilot. “We Had Equality 'Till Britain Came.” 2 September 1948.

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