Funmilayo Ransome Kuti , the celebrated women`s right activist, Suffragist and the mother of the King of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (25 October 1900 Abeokuta, Nigeria - 13 April 1978 Lagos, Nigeria) popularly known as FRK was a celebrated women`s right activist of her time. This hard core lady, prolific woman nationalist and representative of the feminist cause in her country and internationally started her powerful fight for suffrage and equal rights for her countrywomen long before the second wave of the women's movement in the United States. She was also a teacher, political campaigner, and traditional aristocrat. She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation. Mrs Ransome-Kuti was the first woman in Nigeria to drive car.
Mrs Ransome-Kuti the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria.
As a result of her unique political activism, Ransome-Kuti has been described as "the doyen of female rights in Nigeria." Others regard her as "The Mother of Africa." 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. It must be emphasized here that Kuti`s heritage can be traced back to her great grandmother Sarah Taiwo, also known as the ‘Lioness of Lisabi’, a title stemming from her escape from slavery and an assertiveness with which she influenced her community in Abeokuta in western Nigeria.
Given this background it was perhaps a natural evolution that Kuti herself would develop into an activist whose life circled around the struggle for suffrage and equal rights for women.
The Ransome-Kuti's in the '40's: L-R: Rev Israel, Dolu (standing behind) Fela (standing in front), FRK holding baby Beko and Olikoye(standing on right).
Kuti was the mother of the world`s celebrated musician, King of Afrobeats and political activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a renowned medical practitioner, and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and a former health minister of Nigeria. She was also grandmother to ace musicians Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti.
The iron lady Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was born on 25th October 1900 to Yoruba parents, Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu. She was named Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo. Her father was a son of a repatriated slave from Sierra Leone, 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, Abeokuta.
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. 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.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (right) with her sister
Well educated with a colonial education and a Christian background, she was radicalized through the actions of the British occupation of Nigeria: its racism, sexism and economic violence. 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
Traditionally, Yoruba society was divided into male and female administrative sections. Although men in Nigeria held the position of clan chiefs, women had traditionally held political authority which was shared with men, particularly concentrated in areas of trade. With the coming of formal colonial rule through the Berlin Conference of 1884, the British authorities occupying Nigeria restructured the governance of the society: establishing the position of “Warrant Chiefs” as middle men to act between the traditional authorities and those of the colonizers, elevating the traditional and largely symbolic position of clan chief to a political power broker and created the Sole Native Authority, to which only the men holding local political power were admitted.
Renowned Nigerian Fashion Designer Deola Sagoe has made her Nollywood debut in a movie titled “October 1″, produced by ace film maker, Kunle Afolayan. Deola is playing the role of Funmilayo Ransom Kuti, the late mother of late Afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
In 1918, a colonial tax on palm oil to be paid by all men in Nigeria had caused major uprisings; in 1929 the British extended taxation to women and also goats which were usually the personal possessions of women. As soon as the rumours of such a taxation were confirmed, the women of Nigeria rose up. After an initial incident where a Warrant Chief had attacked a female householder and thousands of local women had encircled his home, singing songs, attacking the house before insisting on his resignation and dragging him to the courthouse to be tried for assault, huge gatherings of women appeared across Nigeria protesting at Warrant Chief’s offices, burning courts and European owned shops demanding an end to the tax. The Aba Women’s Rebellion eventually ended in bloodshed after two months on December 17th 2029 as 32 women were killed when the British military fired into a crowd of protesting women.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the lioness of Lisabi in spectacles
Although some compromises were made to the governance structure and methods of collection, the tax on women remained in place. By the late 1940s, the burden of taxation was becoming unbearable as the colonial authorities squeezed more and more from its protectorates in the aftermath of the Second European War. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, then the headteacher of a local school, who had previously set up several organisations bringing together middle-class women, had heard of the struggles of the market women and the fightback that they had started and established the Abeokuta Women’s Union – an explicitly political organisation uniting the working class market women with middle class women. This was designed to challenge both colonial rule and the patriarchal structure. Two hundred thousand women joined.
From the initial demands of an end to the taxation regime, the confidence and demands of the AWU grew with proposals to replace the flat rate tax on women with taxation on expatriate companies, investment in local initiatives and infrastructure including transportation, sanitation and education and the abolition of the Sole Native Authority and its replacement with a representative form of government, including women.
Mrs Ransome-Kuti addressing a gathering
The Abeokuta Women’s Union was a well organised and disciplined organisation. Mass refusal to pay the tax combined with enormous protests, organised under the guise of “picnics” or “festivals”. The response from the authorities was brutal as tear gas was deployed and beatings were administered. Anikulapo-Kuti ran training sessions on how to deal with this threat, teaching women how to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas and how long they had to throw the canisters back at the authorities.
The British colonizers teamed up with their local lackeys to subdue the women. At one protest, the “ORO” stick was brought out – a symbolic artifact of the secretive male cult of the Ogboni – supposedly imbibed with great powers, and the women were instructed to go home before evil spirits overcame them. When the women shrank back in fear, Ransome-Kuti grabbed the stick, waved it around declaring that the women now had the power before taking it with her displaying it prominently in her home. This action gave her a reputation of fearlessness and courage that led 50, 000 women to follow her to the home of Alake of Egbaland (Alake Ademola), the “pseudo-king” of Western Nigeria and a colonial stooge. As the women protested outside the king’s house, they sang in Yoruba:
“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.”
With this unified action and song they chased him out of the house, condemning him to exile on threat of castration This.actions resulted in the king’s abdication.
Madam Ransome-Kuti`s’s international career began when together with her husband and their close friend Ladipo Solanke created the infamous West African Student’s Union (WASU). They provided support for West African students studying in London in 1925, WASU promoted nationalist and anti-colonial movements in British West Africa. A list of life long members of WASU reads like a WHO’s WHO of West African leaders and activists: Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief H O Davies, Aliyi Ekineh, H A Korsah of Gold Coast, Dr Taylor-Cummings of Sierra Leone, the Alake of Abeokuta, Emir of Kano and Asantehene of Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah and Joe Appiah were vice presidents in 1946. WASU was a huge influence on many West African students of the day and played a major part in the independence movements of West African countries. FRK and her husband acted as agents in Nigeria raising funds and distributing pamphlets for the union.
Mrs Ransome-Kuti pulls crowd
Mrs Anikulapo-Kuti embraced her Yoruba heritage and worked to give pride back to the colonized, insisting that children at her school were registered using their African, rather than European names. She abandoned her Western style of dress, favoured by middle class women in the late 40s, adopting the traditional wrapped cloth of the lower classed market traders, and gave speeches exclusively in Yoruba, necessitating the British to find translators to interpret her words.
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, an organisations and movements through which Kuti campaigned for women’s rights to education, employment and political participation.
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. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women's rights in the '50s. In fact, 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.
In 1955 the Rev Ransome-Kuti died of cancer. The next 30 years saw Funmilayo Kuti struggle to build and run a series of schools with and without support from local and national government. She also became involved with a series of land litigations which cost her and her children dearly and none of which she was able to win. One of the family properties that became the center of controversy and probably the most infamous sites in Lagos was that which was located at 14 Agege Motor Road. The property had been occupied by FRK’s musician son, FELA. FELA’s music and lyrics were highly critical of Nigerian governments. Fela was a champion of traditional African culture and like his mother a Pan-Africanist. 14 Agege Motor Road had become a commune which Fela called Kalakuta Republic and had changed his name from Ransome Kuti to Anikulapo Kuti meaning “warrior who carries strong protection”.
During the Cold War and before the independence of her 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 … 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.
Mrs Ransome-Kuti meets Sir Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, first prime minister of Nigeria
Proposed N5000 note controversy
On Thursday 30 August 2012, one of her grandsons, musician Seun Kuti responded to questions from fans and friends on Channels Television Nigeria’s hangout via Google+. Seun Kuti said his grandmother was murdered by the Federal Government and asked the Federal Government to apologise to his family for the death of his grandmother, Funmilayo Kuti, before considering immortalising her by putting her picture on the proposed N5000 note. As of 3 September 2012, the Nigerian government has yet to respond to his request nor apologized. Several protest groups have begun to form on social media adding pressure for a government apology. The N5000 proposal was later withdrawn by the Nigerian government.
Fela with Mum (Mrs Olufunmilayo Ransom Kuti – Nigeria’s 1st female driver
Achievements and honors
- 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
- Winner of the Lenin Peace Prize
She bore four sons, one dying shortly after birth, all three who survived carried on her legacy of political activism. Olikote, became an AIDS activist speaking out for the Africans abandoned to the ravages of the disease; Fela, became a musician writing songs inspiring a generation and Beko founded the first Nigerian human rights organisation.
In 1978 she was assassinated by the Nigerian Authorities at the Kalakuta Republic – a commune established by her son Fela, after it was raided by over a thousand Nigerian soldiers acting under orders from General Obasanjo. Kalakuta was often raided by the police and armed forces as was his club “the Shrine”. Obasanjo was angered by Fela’s criticism of the military as “zombies” who intimidated ordinary Nigerians while allowing the corruption and exploitation of communities to go unchecked. On February 18th 1977 Kalakuta Republic was surrounded by a thousand armed soldiers (The present president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo was then Supreme Commander of the military dictatorship of the day). That day, FRK together with Fela’s brother Bekolari, Fela’s many wives and Fela himself. This raid was a particularly brutal one. The soldiers armed with bayonets and clubs stormed the compound without any warning and began to beat people, destroy property and strip women naked.
Mrs Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Fela’s mum died as a result of injuries from Police brutality
FRK, then 77, was pulled by the hair and literally thrown out of the window severely injuring her leg and putting her into shock. The property was then burned down by the soldiers. The raid known as “Kalakuta War” received a large amount of publicity and the government was forced to undertake an investigation. However this came to nothing and the whole incident was blamed on “over zealous unknown soldiers and to Fela”. No one including the Ransome-Kuti family have been compensated for what happened that day. The raid destroyed FRK’s physical and mental health and observers said she had lost her “fighting Spirit”. A year later the family suit for damages from the Kalakuta raid was dismissed as FRK is said to have moaned “why are they doing this to us”. She died in April that year, one of Nigeria’s truely greats and one of its very few RIGHTS activists. for more photos on burnt Kalakuta republic click here: http://babajidesalu.wordpress.com/
Her coffin was sent to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence together with a newly written song “Coffin for a Head of State”.
FRK and her son,Fela
She an anti-colonialist, womanist and revolutionary to the end, it is what she would have wanted.
http://www.blacklooks.org/2004/07/for_women_and_the_nation/ (photo credits)
BEKO TESTYING BEFORE JUSTICE ANYA COMMITTEE
• Over collapse of Kalakuta Republic
BY OLA JOHNSON
Hearing at the Anya tribunal of inquiry entered a decisive phase as Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, younger brother of Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, recalled blood-curdling account of the events which transpired during the fateful army invasion of Kalakuta republic.
The medical doctor who gave evidence on the fourth day of the hearing narrated that the soldiers inspired fear and terror as they bombarded the entire building with missiles – and virtually every dangerous object they could lay their hands upon – and these missiles flew from practically every direction, hitting the inmates of the house, destroying virtually everything destroyable – ranging from windows, door and other household wares.
The irate soldiers shouted : “Disperse, or you’ll be shot! We’ll kill all of you today!”
While the missiles were flying from all directions, Fela’s mother, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti attempted to go out and appeal to the soldiers.
“I drew mama back when she wanted to go out,” said Beko. “I thought she would be mobbed by the soldiers. The pandemonium was so much as the soldiers were virtually pulling the house down.”
Dr. Kuti said that at about 4.00pm, he saw Major Daudu the camp Commandant of Abalti barracks with a few other officers. They dispersed the crowd. They moved among the soldiers, but the soldiers did not stop the aggression. Fela was asked to come down, but he refused.
He said Lieutenant Mike Ikoku was seen near the generator in a Ford lorry outside the building. The generator was then set on fire and the soldiers shouted : “Go through the barbed wire!”
In order to prove that the invading soldiers actually set the generator inside the Ford lorry on fire, Beko stunned the gathering when he showed the tribunal the picture of a soldier carrying a jerry can said to contain liquid suspected to be petrol.
Apart from the picture that was taken at the peak of the kalakuta fracas, the medical doctor also presented two other pictures showing the situation around the area, and some soldiers on the roof of a clinic in Fela’s house on the fateful day.
Asked by Mr. Justice Kalu Anya the time the photographs were taken, Dr. Beko said he would not know, because they were recovered by another person at the heat of the incident. He said he would try to produce negative film of the pictures before the tribunal. The pictures were later admitted as exhibits by the tribunal
The tribunal heard that Warrant Officer Boniface Agor told Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti : “You call yourself a doctor, and you allow that stupid ass. Don’t you know that we are in power! You said that you will not do FESTAC, and we have done it.”
He also said that he was prevented by the officer from treating some of Fela’s boys aat the Abalti barracks. Answering a question, he said the compound of Kalakuta republic was cemented, hence, there was no question of any stone being thrown from inside it. He also reiterated his earlier statement that Lieutenant Ikoku presided over setting the generator on fire by giving instruction to a junior officer.
In another dimension, he said there was no love lost between Fela and the soldiers .
“One of the causes of mutual antagonism between the soldiers and Fela was the palmphlets printed by the musician over the horse-whip order, connected with traffic regulations in Lagos,” said Beko, adding that “when the soldiers got wind of this, they became Fela’s enemy.
“There are many ways of arresting people, and I was surprised to hear from a witness about Colonel Tarfa being around on the day in question.”
Beko said many patients would have died if he had been operating on them in his clinic on the day of the incident. “In a war zone, clinics and hospitals are respected. Major Agaba Daudu was in my clinic. He was a responsible officer in charge of a camp and here was a clinic, being attacked.”
As the hearing progressed, on the day in question, a sensational drama ensued when a witness suddenly stood up and pointed at a soldier whom she alleged set fire to the generators in a lorry outside Fela’s house on the controversial day.
Burnt Kalakuta Republic
The witness ran to the other end of the hall, where the soldier sat with his colleagues and identified him.
“This is the soldier who struck matches on the generator vehicle,” she said as all heads turned towards the direction where the soldier sat, to catch a glimpse of the alleged arsonist.
The witness, Olaide Babayale, who was a disc jockey with Africa 70 organization , said a solider named Lawal was the person who carried the jerry can, She stated that she hid in a deep freezer in Fela’s room when the soldiers were searching the house.
“When I was brought out of the freezer,” she said, “I met some soldiers sharing some N20 notes looted from Fela’s room. They had dropped their guns. Some of them kept their loot in their helmets swhile others put theirs in their stockings.
Fela`s mum after the attack
In another development, a housewife, Mrs. Patricia Adiele stunned the gathering while narrating her tale of horror, revealing the atrocities which the soldiers allegedly committed during the disturbances.
Another witness who was one of the reporters officially attached to the tribunal, coincidentally, lived close to Fela’s Kalakuta republic.
Testifying to the looting which took place in her matrimonial home the day of the incident, she said her husband left for his home-town at 5.30 am while she also left for work after completing the domestic chores on that fateful day,
“While I was returning home, I noticed an unusual traffic jam,” she said, “When I finally got to my area and was turning into my house, I heard shouts of Madam don’t go there! If you pass, we will burn your car!”
Mrs. Adiele later slept in her elder sister’s house at Idi Oro, a few kilometres away from that troubled spot, that night. She returned home the following morning only to discover that her house had been looted.
“When I was escorted there, to my shock, all the rooms downstairs had been looted. My husband’s room had been disorganized, his shirts and ties stolen.
“They even went to the extent of eating the boiled meat I put inside the freezer. All the alcoholic beverages inside the fridge were also consumed.
Mr. Justice Anya ordered at the hearing that the secretary to the two-man panel probing the Kalakuta fracas, Mr. Ogundeyin to interprete evidences given in Yoruba language.
This followed the difficulty being encountered by the probe to find a suitable interpreter.
A deep pall of gloom was however to set in , when it was revealed that a female member of the Africa 70 organization whose name was given as Sheri had died. She was said to have died while receiving drips at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi Araba, following the Kalakuta fracas of February 18.
Olaide Babayale, the disc jockey with the organization who made this revelation said the deceased had just joined the organization. She also said that when the doctor was attending to the patient at LUTH, she noticed that the drip had stopped, and he quickly went round to check. He removed the drip and covered Sheri with a blanket.
Fela exiled in Accra,Ghana
“We have since been asking for this girl, but we don’t know where Sheri was. May be they have thrown her body away
Answering a question from the tribunal chairman, Babayale replied that she did not know Sheri’s surname because “I don’t bother to know people’s surname. I go about my own business in the house.”
In yet another development, Mr. Abubakar Tsav, the investigating officer in charge of the incident said it was not time that any member of the organization died.
Sheri, according to him, was escorted to the police station by her parents on March 3, to make her statements.
“She was later released to her father. When I contacted her yesterday, I was told she had been taken to Kwara State and would no longer join Africa 70 organization.”
Eye-brows were raised when a foreign newspaper journalist was sent out of the tribunal. The expartriate journalist whose name was given as John Darnton, was said to be a New York Times’ correspondent, He had come to the tribunal to report the proceedings for his home paper. Immediately the journalist was sighted by the security men, he was quickly escorted out of the tribunal hall for interrogation. Mr. Darnton, who lived at No 5 Maduike Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, was deported from the country few days later. No official reason was given for his deportation.
The New York correspondent, 36, came to Nigeria in January 1976 and his assignment covered the whole of Africa. He had his office at Ikoyi, Lagos. Darnton left the country before the 24 hours deadline given him by the government expired. He was accompanied home by his wife and two childen.
Before Darnton’s interrogation, a German woman photographer was also held at the tribunal while taking photographs of suspects.The crowd at the probe raised eye brow immediately they saw the woman snapping photographs of witnesses and the tribunal members.
Two police women quickly intercepted her, after she had taken four shots. She was escorted to the National theatre police post for interrogation, but later released.
Police sources hinted taht the woman claimed to be working with a Nigerian monthly magazine. She was also said to have been married to a Nigerian who works with a company in Ota, Ogun state.
No sooner did she come back into the tribunal than she was re-arrested and taken back to the station. Sources said the police were not convinced about her identity.