Read more about Nigerians in history
In line with the International Women’s Day coming up on the 8th of March 2021, here is the first part of this article that will furnish us with an overview of five women as follows:
Hajia Gambo Sawaba (Women’s Rights Activist, Pioneer African Feminist)Born Hajaratu Amarteifo to a Ghanaian father and Nupe mother on February 15, 1933, in present-day Niger State, Sawaba was the fifth child of her parents. Being orphaned at a young age forced her to drop out of school and by the time she was 13 years old, she was already married off to a World War II veteran Abubakar Bello. At age 17, Hajia Sawaba had already become politically active and used her membership of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) to campaign against under-aged marriages, forced labour and also advocated for Western education. With mentorship provided by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Sawaba became a driving for northern women liberation and was a guest of security agencies for her views, which raged against the prevailing values of northern Nigeria in those days.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Women’s Rights Activist, Pioneer African Feminist)There are few women in Nigerian history who are as commanding or accomplished as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. A founding mother of Nigerian independence (she was part of delegations to discuss the proposed national constitution), her contributions to Nigerian society as a feminist and women’s rights activist are immense and present to this day. In the 1940s, she co-founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union which led a women’s protest against colonial taxation in 1946 and consequently, the abdication of the Alake of Egbaland (traditional ruler of Abeokuta). The AWU later recorded membership of some 20,000 local women, later going national as the Nigerian Women’s Union. But that was just the beginning. Ransome-Kuti also co-founded the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) with her husband Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in July 1931 — and she was in the company of people like Nelson Mandela and Pablo Picasso as the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, which was awarded to her in 1970. She established many schools around Southern Nigeria and constantly remained a resilient force for women’s rights throughout her life.
Margaret Ekpo (Politician and Women Activist)Born July 27, 1914, in Creek Town in the present-day Cross River State, Ekpo’s education was temporarily halted after her father Okoroafor Obiasulor died in 1934. Her journey into politics was fortuitous. Her medical doctor husband was working for the government and could not attend political meetings. Ekpo attended those meetings on his behalf, and her interest in politics grew. She later formed Aba Township Women’s Association in 1954, a year after the NCNC nominated her to the regional House of Chiefs. Ekpo also worked with Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest the killings of the leaders of a local group that protested against the practices of the colonial owners at an Enugu coal in the early 1950s. She was elected into the Eastern Region parliament between 1961 and 1965.
Wuraola Adepeju Esan (Nigerian teacher, feminist and politician)She combined her political ambitions with those of a traditional noblewoman by serving as the Iyalode of Ibadan. Wuraola Adepeju Esan was born in 1909 in Calabar. Her parents were not western trained although they promoted a western education course for their children.
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Although educational facilities available to women during the colonial era were limited. In 1944, she established the Ibadan People’s Girls Grammar School in Molete, to educate women in different subjects including domestic science. However, her views and subsequent political ideas did not advocate a much more expanded vision of women’s place in broader society. In the 1950s, she entered partisan politics and was a member of the women’s wing of the Action Group. Though the women were important instruments to garner votes, few were accorded official power and party-wide responsibility. However, Esan was able to rise through the ranks to become the first female member of the Nigerian National Assembly, as a nominated senator from Ibadan West. She was also a founding member of the National Council of Women Societies. In 1975, she took the title of Iyalode and thus acquired the rank of a high chief in Ibadan.
Janet Okala (Nigerian political leader)Janet Okala was born in Onitsha in 1894 as the third child and first daughter of Odukwe Odili. She later became a resident of Owerrinta where she became known for her political activism. Her alias was “Mama Bread” as she also owned a bakery. In 1929, Okala led protesting women in the Owerrinta region during the Aba Women’s War. According to historian Nina Emma Mba, Okala had previously provided leadership and counselling to local women but rose to particular prominence during the war. In 1945, Okala formed the Enugu Women’s Association and was elected one of its vice presidents. Following a 1949 visit from Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (FRK), the group changed its name to the Enugu branch of the Nigerian Women’s Union. In describing FRK’s visit, Okala wrote that “Before that time women at Enugu had no right to probe into the affairs of their country. Mrs Kuti on her arrival educated us.” Local newspapers such as the West African Pilot and the Daily Times celebrated the group’s name change as a symbol of nationalist solidarity among Nigerian women. The other five women will be published in Part two of this article. Sources: Frontlinedefenders Guardian NG Global Citizen Featured Image Source:
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