Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Personal details
Born (1900-10-25)25 October 1900
Abeokuta, Southern Nigeria
(now: Abeokuta, Ogun State)
Died 13 April 1978(1978-04-13) (aged 77)
Lagos, Lagos State, Nigeria
Spouse(s) Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Children Olikoye Ransome-Kuti (son)
Beko Ransome-Kuti (son)
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (son)
Dolapo Ransome-Kuti (daughter)
Relatives Femi Kuti (grandson)
Seun Kuti (grandson)
Wole Soyinka (nephew)
Occupation Educator, women's rights activist

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, MON (25 October 1900 Abeokuta, Nigeria - 13 April 1978 Lagos, Nigeria),[1] was a teacher, political campaigner, women's rights activist and traditional aristocrat of Nigeria. She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation. She was also the first woman in the country to drive a car.

Ransome-Kuti's political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, as well as to her being regarded as "The Mother of Africa." Early on, she was a very powerful force advocating for the Nigerian woman's right to vote. She was described in 1947, by the West African Pilot as the "Lioness of Lisabi" for her leadership of the women of the Egba people on a campaign against their arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the high king Oba Ademola II in 1949.

Kuti was the mother of the activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician; Beko Ransome-Kuti, a doctor; and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and health minister.[2] She was also grandmother to musicians Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti.


Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti the graduate

Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas was born on 25 October 1900, in Abeokuta, to Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu. Her father was a son of a returned slave from Sierra Leone (see Nova Scotian Settlers), who traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in what is today Ogun State, Nigeria.[1][3] He became a member of the Anglican faith, and soon returned to the homeland of his fellow Egbas.

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.[3][4]

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.


Throughout her career, she was known as an educator and activist. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women's rights in the 1950s. She founded an organization for women in Abeokuta, with a membership tally of more than 20,000 individuals, spanning both literate and illiterate women.[5]

Women's rights

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and The Women’s Union of Abeokuta[6]

Ransome-Kuti launched the organization into public consciousness when she rallied women against price controls that were hurting the market women. Trading was one of the major occupations of women in the Western Nigeria at the time. In 1949, she led a protest against Native Authorities, especially against the Alake of Egbaland. She presented documents alleging abuse of authority by the Alake, who had been granted the right to collect the taxes by his colonial suzerain, the Government of the United Kingdom. He subsequently relinquished his crown for a time due to the affair. 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.[3] (See also National Council of Women's Societies.)

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. She was the treasurer and subsequent president of the Western NCNC women's Association.[7] 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 continued her activism.[8] 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).[9] This organisation is said to have once had a membership of 20,000 women. Among other things, Funmilayo Ransom Kuti organised workshops for illiterate market women.[10] She continued to campaign against taxes and price controls.[9]

Travel ban

picture from "Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti And The Women’s Union of Abeokuta"[6]

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."[11] 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 received 4,665 votes to the NCNC's 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group (which had 10,443 votes) to win. She was one of the delegates who negotiated Nigeria's independence with the British government.


In old age her activism was overshadowed by that of her three sons, who provided effective opposition to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1978 Funmilayo was thrown from a third-floor window of her son Fela's compound, a commune known as the Kalakuta Republic, when it was stormed by one thousand armed military personnel. She lapsed into a coma in February of that year, and died on 13 April 1978, as a result of her injuries.

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+. Saying that his grandmother was murdered by the Federal Government, Seun Kuti asked the Federal Government to apologise to his family for the death of Funmilayo Kuti, before considering immortalising her by putting her picture on the proposed N5000 note. As of 3 September 2012, the Nigerian government neither responded to his request nor apologized. Several protest groups formed on social media adding pressure for a government apology.[12] The N5000 proposal was later withdrawn by the Nigerian government.



  1. 1 2 "Funmilayo Ransome Kuti Nigerian Statesmen".
  2. "Family tree: jibolu-taiwo-of-egbaland".
  3. 1 2 3 Margaret Strobel, "Women agitating internationally for change". Journal of Women's History. Baltimore: Summer 2001. Vol. 13, Issue 2; p. 190, 12 pp.
  4. Johnson-Odim, Cheryl; Mba, Emma (1997). For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06613-8.
  5. "Nigerian Biography: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Biography and Activism.". Retrieved 2016-05-13.
  6. 1 2 Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti And The Women’s Union of Abeokuta, Illustrations: Alaba Onajin, Script and text: Obioma Ofoego, UNESCO, 2014
  7. Sklar, Richard L. (2004). Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation. Africa Research & Publications. ISBN 1-59221-209-3.
  8. Joyce M Chadya, "MOTHER POLITICS: Anti-colonial Nationalism and the Woman Question in Africa". Journal of Women's History. Autumn 2003. Vol.15, Issue 3; p. 153.
  9. 1 2 Adeniyi, Dapo. "Monuments and metamorphosis" (PDF). African Quarterly on the Arts Vol.2 No.2. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  10. Mama, Amina; Teresa Barnes. "Editorial: Rethinking Universities I" (pdf). Feminist Africa. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  11. "Funmilayo Kuti - 30 Years of Absence". April 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  12. "Apologise for killing my grandmum before putting her face on naira, Seun Kuti tells FG". Channels Television, Nigeria. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  13. Ian Sansom (11 December 2010). "Great Dynasties: The Ransome-Kutis". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  14. Johnson-Odim, Cheryl (January–February 2009). "'For their freedoms': The anti-imperialist and international feminist activity of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria". Women's Studies International Forum, special issue: Circling the Globe: International Feminism Reconsidered, 1910 to 1975. ScienceDirect. 32 (1): 58. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2009.01.004. Pdf.
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