Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti (born Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas) was a teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist, traditional aristocrat and founder of the Nigerian Women’s Union. She was one of the most prominent leaders of her generation and was the mother of Afrobeat musician and political activist Fela Kuti.
She was born on October 25, 1900, in Abeokuta Ogun State in Southwestern Nigeria. Her father Daniel Olumeyewa Tomas was the son of a returned slave from Sierra Leone who traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in the present day Nigeria.Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti attended St John’s Primary School, Igbe in Abeokuta from 1906 to 1913. In 1914, she attended the Abeokuta Grammar School for her secondary education before moving to Wincham Hall College in England for further studies.
There she decided to drop the names Frances and Abigail and adopted her third name Olufunmilayo as her first name. She returned to Nigeria in 1922 and became a teacher in Abeokuta Grammar School between 1923-1924. During her career as a teacher, she met Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican minister who was the school’s principal at that time. The two got married on January 20, 1925, and had four children (3 boys 1 girl): Fela, Beko, Olukoya and one daughter- Dolu.
As human right activists, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti and her husband worked together to end colonialism in Nigeria. In 1942, she founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC) a civic and charitable organization comprising of educated women.
In 1944, she opened membership to include market women who were illiterate and poor, and this new development changed the name of the organization from ALC to Abeokuta’s Women’s Union (AWU) and it received over 20,000 individuals both literate and illiterate. The organization fought against arbitrary exercise of colonial powers by the British supported puppet king of Egbaland, the imposition of taxes on women, campaigned against price controls which limited the incomes of market women. The goals of the AWU then became broad as they started campaigning for greater educational opportunities for women and girls, the enforcement of sanitary regulations, and the provision of health care and other social services for women. Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti agitated for all these with the intention of raising the living standards for women and ultimately eliminating the causes of poverty.
Olufunmilayo Ransome- Kuti became a key member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) (the party of the first Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe) as the representative of the women of Nigeria as well as of the western region for the NCNC delegation that travelled to London in 1947. However, Olufumilayo Ransome Kuti was always in conflict with Azikwe and the rest of the party leadership because she felt women were not well represented as men. As a result, she was eventually expelled from the party when she failed to win a federal parliamentary seat in the 1959 elections. This never made her give up on her political ambitions, rather she founded the Commoners Peoples Party (CPP) so as to challenge the ruling NCNC, ultimately denying them victory in her area. Her party earned 4,665 votes to NCNC’s 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group which had 10,443 votes to win. She was also one of the delegates that negotiated Nigeria’s Independence with the British government.
During the cold war and before the independence of Nigeria, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti travelled widely and angered the Nigerian as well as British and American governments by her contacts with the Eastern Bloc. 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 US visa because the American government alleged that she was a communist.
Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti was the first Nigerian women to drive a car and ride a motorcycle. She was Nigeria’s first ever representative at a women’s international conference (in the USSR in 1963). She was one of the founders of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Students Union, she received the National honour of membership in the order of the Niger in 1965, The University of Ibadan bestowed upon her the honorary doctorate of law in 1968, and she also held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs of Nigeria as an Oloye of the Yoruba people. At that time, the House of Chiefs was one of her hometowns most influential position. She was also declared the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1970.
In the early 1970’s she changed her surname to Anikulapo-Kuti which means “He who carries death in his pouch”. However, some people argued that it means “A warrior who carries powerful protection”. She changed her surname to further identify with the Yoruba culture thereby following the example of her son Fela Anikulapo- Kuti a popular musician and a fierce critic of Nigeria’s military governments from the 1960’s.
Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti’s activism was overshadowed by that of her three sons who provided effective operations to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1977, some 1,000 soldiers stormed the family property in Ikeja Lagos, which Fela had transformed into a commune known as the Kalakuta Republic. During the assault, the soldiers dragged Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti by her hair and threw her out of a second story window, she lapsed into a coma and died on the 13th April the following year as a result of her injuries.
In August 2012, the Nigerian government wanted to immortalize Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti by placing her picture on a proposed 5,000 naira note, one of her grandson Seun Kuti asked the Federal Government to apologize to his family for her death before considering immortalizing her by using her picture on proposed 5,000 naira note of which several protest groups were formed on social media adding pressure for a government apology. However, the Nigerian government neither responded to his request nor apologized. The 5,000 naira note proposal was later withdrawn by the Nigerian government.
See Also: Wole Soyinka- Biography