Women Activism through the years
Words By- Josephine Agbonkhese
Somehow, when women intervene in any process, they add not only colour but stir emotions which, in turn, trigger results. A classic case in hand is the now viral heroic shot of northern rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, as she showed-up in one of the #EndSARS protests in Abuja.
Post-colonial to post-independence Nigerian history is replete with narratives of great women who stood up for causes they believed in.
From Queen Moremi of Ife to Queen Amina of Zaria, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and even to young contemporary champions like Bolatito Oduala aka Rinu in the on-going #EndSARS protest originally birthed on the streets of Twitter by irritated, tired and determined Nigerian youths, the contributions of women activists to enforcing change at various points in history, sadly, remain under-celebrated.
In this edition, we highlight some of the women who laid the foundation for activism in Nigeria, as well as those currently in the frontline of the on-going nationwide #EndSARS protest; even as we declare our utmost respect for every unsung hero involved in this reformative process in one way or the other.
One of the pioneers of women activism in Nigeria, only very few men are as accomplished as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in Nigeria. A founding mother of Nigerian independence, having been part of delegations to discuss the proposed national constitution, her contributions to Nigerian society as a feminist and women’s rights activist are ubiquitous to this day.
Ransome-Kuti used her privilege to co-ordinate the resistance against colonialism in Nigeria that not only targeted the British, but also, the local traditional figureheads they used to enforce their rules.
The Abeokuta Women’s Union, which she founded, protested unjust taxes, corruption and the lack of women’s representation in decision-making corridors. Although widely known as the mother of Afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti, Ransome-Kuti, in actual fact, led the women’s movement in her region of Southwest Nigeria. She died in 1978 after soldiers threw her from the second floor of Fela’s Lagos home during a 1977 raid.
One of the leading figures in Nigeria’s fight for democracy was Margaret Ekpo, a feminist politician, teacher, activist and trades union leader. Born in 1914, Ekpo toured the country in her quest to help women insert themselves into the First Republic.
An Eastern Region Advisor, in the 1950s, she teamed up with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to spearhead several protests in the country.
As a leader of the Aba Township Women’s Association which she founded one year after her nomination to the Regional House of Chiefs in 1953, she was able to garner the trust of a large number of women in the township and turned it into a political pressure group. By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a city-wide election. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, she became a hero to a generation of men and women.
Ekpo was detained by Biafran authorities for three years in prison during the Nigerian Civil War. She died in 2006.
Aba Women’s (Riot)
The Aba Women’s Riot of December 2, 1929, remains the most popular mass protest staged by women in Nigeria’s history. Numbering over ten thousand, rural Owerri and Calabar women demonstrated against the colonial government’s tax enumeration exercise which they suspected was a prelude to the extension of direct taxation to them (women). This event lit a fire across most parts of the Eastern Region within the next four weeks of the women’s war that spread across no fewer than six ethnic groups. The women, by so doing, successfully curbed the direct taxation regime.
Born in 1974, Aisha Yesufu is a socio-political activist. In 2014, after 300 girls were kidnapped from a secondary school in Northeast Nigeria by the terrorist Boko Haram group, Yesufu, alongside Oby Ezekwesili, launched the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign to demand the release of the girls.
The campaign was one of the biggest Nigeria has ever seen and attracted global attention from people like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a host of celebrities. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trended across multiple platforms worldwide, and it sparked physical protests in various countries. Yesufu has continued to remain a vocal critic of lax government policy and frequently advocates for the accountability of political office holders.
She has also been at the forefront of the #EndSARS movement. “I will not leave the fight against #EndSARS in Nigeria for her children,” she was reported to have said recently. Her popular shot in the protest which has been recreated by a young graphic artist, Abidemi Kudayisi, has been widely described as the Nigerian Statue of Liberty.
Today, one of Nigeria’s foremost young activists, Kiki Mordi’s Sex For Grades documentary released by the BBC in October 2019, sparked uproar within and outside Nigeria. In fact, a day after the documentary was released, the Nigerian Senate re-introduced the Anti-sexual Harassment Bill and a state-of-emergency was declared on rape and sexual harassment with some states launching a Sex Offenders Register. The documentary was also nominated for an Emmy in 2020.
She has been a constant voice for women and children’s rights.
Back in 2017, she started an online petition to end police extortion and exploitation after some Nigerian policemen invaded her home and accused her and her boyfriend of being cultists; a crime which carries a five-year jail term.
Expectedly, Mordi has been actively involved in the on-going #EndSARS protest rocking the country. She was, in fact, spotted arriving one of the Ajah, Lagos, protests on a Mack truck while leading a call-and-response.
Bolatito Oduala aka Rinu
Popularly known as Rinu, Bolatito Oduala is one of the frontline leaders of the #ENDSARS protest in Lagos.
A young, dynamic human rights advocate distinguished for her outspokenness and fearlessness, she, in fact, deserves to be called a heroine for standing for the rights of the Nigerian youths even in the face of intimidation and harassments from authorities. Even when her voice seemed to have lost its sonority, Rinu did not stop speaking.
The entrepreneur and Convener of Operation Sanitise, holds a Bachelor of Education in Chemistry from the Lagos State University, Ojo.
Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin
Josephine Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin, a veteran fighter for justice, is one of the most prosecuted female rights activists in Nigeria. With over 682 awards in her kitty, the human rights activist has been arrested at various times and locations 17 times in the bid to ensure no Nigerian is marginalised.
Okei-Odumakin is the head of many human rights groups including; Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy.
She has over 25 years of human rights struggles in the country, having given herself to human welfare and the realisation of justice. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, once described her as “a tireless fighter” whose resilience betrays her fragile physique.