Since the emergence of life, women have been a resilient authority for all affairs of men. By nature, men are superior but men are object to women. The intricacies and complexities of women are far superior to men and also very worrisome. It is commonly said that for every successful man, there is a diligent and more successful woman behind him. The fairer sex are great but subdued to men by nature.
The women have several roles they play in the development of the community. Women are ordained to place the crown on the head of the new king, they determine the next king and give the new king the heart of the deceased predecessor to eat before taking up the leadership seat. In Yorubaland, women are believed to be the source of all fertility and power. This story is about a dauntless woman that singlehandedly dethrone one of the most powerful Kings in yorubaland, OBA Alake of Egbaland.
Late Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, also known as Lioness of Lisabi, won the tussle between herself and the present king, Alake of Egbaland. She was dauntless and very courageous. The family of Reverend Dotun Ransome-Kuti and his wife, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK) was a close alley of Oba Sir Ladapo Ademola (Ademola II) the Alake of Egbaland, who was the grand patron of the Abeokuta Ladies Club which had Mrs. Kuti as one of its members. King Ademola II emerged as the king of the Egbas in 1920, two years after the destructive Adubi War in which 30,000 Egba soldiers fought against the European imperialists over hike taxation which made them destroy all the infrastructures, from railway tracks to telegraph lines and even murdering a senior Egba chief and a European merchant as an act of reprisal. It was a great menace for the British colonialists but the British colonialists had enough confidence in Ademola II and his leadership of the Native Authority. When the colonial soldiers stationed in Abeokuta after the Adubi War were withdrawn in 1922, the control of the police, prison and other departments of authority fell into the hands of Alake Ademola II.
During the period of this imbroglio, Reverend Dotun Ransome-Kuti opened a complaints office to receive grievances from the public against the police and native authorities.
However, these two bodies were in the control of the king, OBA Alake of Egbaland, this really purported menace to his struggle. His wife, Funmilayo Kuti also co-established a new women’s union in Abeokuta to support the struggle against the imminent disloyalty of the king. It was called the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU)
Under the governance of Funmilayo Kuti, the women demanded the removal of direct female taxation of the women of Abeokuta also agitated for representation of women in local politics and governance , thus, making them relevant in the community. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti advocated for women concession in crucial decision making in the community. Prior to the emergence of the British colonialist, no taxed was mandated on the women of Abeokuta directly and they were sternly represented and participated in government. The British colonialist brought the indirect rule and the idea of tax on women. The women were represented by the iyalode, this position was subdued by the British colonialist and the realm of power was conferred to the King and British colonialist.
When Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti started her protest, it was ridiculed and termed trivial. Even the king and the chiefs didn’t take her serious, they assumed it was the normal scenario of the woman as they used to have, they undermined her and felt her uproar was as a result of her uncontrolled emotion. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti had an ulterior motive, which later shocked the whole of Abeokuta.
Her protest lasted for almost two years, starting from 1946 all through to 1948. The theme of her protest ranged from taxation of women, the lack of female representation in the Native Authority and policies that are not women friendly. She protested against some of the business activities of the King Alake. She had a vanguard of over 20,000 women for the cause of the struggle. She was indeed an ebullient woman with many virtues. The group wrote several petitions to the king demanding the withdrawal of illicit taxes and other means of financial extortion.
The movement clamored for taxation on expatriate companies, inclusion of women in the governing council of the community and also investment in infrastructural projects that make life easy for the masses like health, education and transport facilities. The AWU women refused to pay the tax. From August 1946 to May 1947, countless protests were staged and numerous petitions were sent to the Alake, yet all weren’t fruitful. With all the failures, the AWU decided to meet the king for dialogue, perhaps things would turnout well. This meeting was fixed on On the 5th of October, 1946, the delegates of the AWU women met with the Alake himself but the outcomes of the meeting wasn’t favourable at all, rather it added salt to the AWU’s injury as the Alake decided to increase the flat-rate tax on the women . this decision was immediately supported by the British resident officer.
As a result of the unfruitful outcome of the meeting with the King , Funmilayo Randsome Kuti resulted in more grievous protest. This reaction made The Alake added fuel to the blazing fire, he gave a verdict which stated that all Abeokuta women who owned property to pay income tax. This is obviously inhumane . this gave her a more understanding about the King as he expressed his selfish interest and seemed to be a threat to the women of Abeokuta. This made their protest more dauntless, chanting and expressing their plight on the new painstaking policy at every strategic places of the town including the palace in large magnitudes and things started turning out terrific.
Around the second week of October of 1946, this was a bad day for Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and her group, the act of reprisal to their protest was baleful. the marched a protest to the Palace of the Alake of Egbaland to protest the increase in taxes. The British colonial officers responded brutally as the protesting women were beaten mercilessly and injured. This was a very huge humiliation, the King and the British colonial thought this would mitigate the protest of the women but guess what? They didn’t give up. They saw it as their strength, it gave them more morale and will power to continue the protest in a more aggressive way this time. During this time, they released a document they called the AWU’s Grievances and therein, they penned down all their accusations against the Alake of Egbaland and the Sole Native Authority.
The next form of protest took a new format, it overwhelmed the King and community at large it lasted for over 48 hours at the palace of the King . it started on 29 th of November 1947 to the morning of 30th November with over 10,000 women fuming outside the palace of the Alake of Egbaland, led by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Several tall talks were chanted coupled with numerous incantations to rebuke and demean the King. At this time, the British authority tried to seek solace from both parties, the king and the AWU’s. They implored the king to hold an olive branch, to ensure the community is at ease, they were feeling uncomfortable already due to the diehard attitude of the women. They further made false promises to the women that the bone of contention, the tax, would be suspended and the final outcome about would be communicated in three days. When the women noticed it was just a fallacy, they geared up and marched to the palace with over 10,000 infuriated women for the protest. They demanded the release of their detained members and the tax. This took over two days in a spot and uproar outcry of Justice and respect for the women. This started on the 8 th of December and as at 10 th the detained women were released. Very incredible!
This didn’t end here, countless petitions were sent to the British Authority. They broke even on the 3rd of January, 1949, and made a remarkable history till date. To the effect of this, The Alake of Egbaland absconded his throne and left Abeokuta to extinction, With the support of the Ogboni. The Sole Native Authority was also changed due to the loss of the King’s support. A new system of administration was installed with four women in control of the affairs of the community to complement their struggle for justice. The Abeokuta Women’s Union made a remarkable victory under the tutelage of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She didn’t restrict her good will for the women to Abeokuta alone, she advocated for justice among women and the peace of the community throughout Nigeria. , she made a firm statement on the women of northern Nigeria in March.
‘I have made up my mind to stand for election this year and to fight the government of Northern Nigeria into giving the franchise to the women of the Emiral North.’
Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti nee Thomas died at 77 as a result of the injure she sustained when she was thrown from the third-floor window in 1978 when over 1,000 armed troops of the Nigerian government stormed the Kalakuta Republic compound of her son, Fela .
In case you don’t know she was the first woman to drive car in Nigeria. She founded AWU which later became the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) in 1949 and then Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) in 1953
Today she’s in the history book of Nigeria by the virtue of her bravery and love for women. Cowardice doesn’t shorten lifespan and Bravery doesn’t increase it but makes it remarkable and worth celebrating. May her soul continue to rest.