20 Oct 2015

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Biography and Activism.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, also known as Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas was born on October 25, 1900, in Abeokuta, Ogun State of Nigeria. Her father was a son of a Nigerian slave
who returned from Sierra Leone, and traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in what is today known as Ogun State, Nigeria.

After her early education, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti attended the Abeokuta Grammar school, after which she traveled to England for further studies. She later came back to Nigeria and became a teacher.

On January 20, 1925, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti  got married to Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti, one of the founders of both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and of the Nigerian Union of Students, and a defender of the commoners. In the year 1965, Ransome-Kuti received the national honor of membership in the Order of Nigeria, and was also bestowed the honorary doctorate of laws by the University of Ibadan in the year 1968.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was also an Oloye of the Yoruba people and held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs.

Throughout her career, Funmilayo was known as an educator and activist. She joined forces with Elizabeth Adekogbe in  providing dynamic leadership for  the women's rights in the 1950s. It was her, who founded an organization for women in Abeokuta, that had more than 20,000 women as members, including both literate and illiterate women.

The general public became aware of her organization, when Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti rallied women against price controls that were negatively affecting the female merchants of the Abeokuta markets. In the year 1949, she led a protest against the Alake of Egbaland, a native authority. She then made a presentation of documents alleging abuse of authority by the Alake, whom the then government, granted the right to collect the taxes. The Atake subsequently relinquished his crown. She also led a movement that oversaw the successful abolishing of separate tax rates for women. 

In the year 1953, she founded the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies, an association that subsequently formed an alliance with the Women's International Democratic Federation. 

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti campaigned for, and ensured that women's votes counted during elections. For many years, she  was a member of the ruling National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons party. However, she was later expelled when she failed to be elected into a federal parliamentary seat. At the time at NCNC, she was the treasurer and subsequently, the president of the Western NCNC women's Association. After she was suspended, she could no longer hold her political voice high in the national politics, as the more powerful members of the opposition, Awolowo and Adegbenro, had support of the westerners. 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the founder of the Egba or Abeokuta Women's Union, an association she co-founded with Eniola Soyinka (her sister-in-law and the mother of the Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka). This organization is said to, at a particular point in time, had a membership of 20,000 women. During her life time, Funmilayo Ransom Kuti organised workshops for illiterate market women. 

During the period of the Cold War between the West the former USSR, and before the independence of Nigeria, Funmilayo Kuti traveled widely around the world, and this got the Nigerian as well as British and American Governments angry because they believed that she maintains contacts with the Eastern Bloc, as she traveled a lot to the former USSR, Hungary and China where she met Mao Zedong. In 1956, the government refused to renew her passport because it was assumed that she intended to influence the Nigerian women with communist ideas and policies. Almost at the same time, the United States refused her visa because the American government alleged that she was a communist.

Before the Nigeria’s independence of 1960, Funmilayo founded the Commoners Peoples Party in an attempt to challenge the ruling NCNC, this action ultimately denied the NCNC victory in her area. 
When she became old, Funmilayo’s activism was overshadowed by that of her three sons, who ultimately provided effective opposition to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1978 Funmilayo was thrown down from a third-floor window of her son (Fela) 's compound, when the compound was stormed by about one thousand armed military personnel. She went into coma in February of that year, and died on April 13, 1978, as a result of her injuries.

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