Top 6 Nigerian female political activists before and after British rule

If you’re a student of history, you should have heard of some amazing female political activists Nigerians were so proud of, during their time. These are incredible women whose names can never be forgotten in the political history of Nigeria. They emerged at a time when women had no business whatsoever in governance. But with their determination, they overcame their obstacles and did all they could to advance women in Nigeria.

1. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Funmilayo Frances Abigail Ransome-Kuti was born on 25 October 1900 in Abeokuta, Ogun state. Her father, Chief Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas, was a farmer, and her mother, Lucretia Omoyeni Adeosolu, was a dressmaker.

Abigail’s parents believed in education. She was the first female at Abeokuta Grammar School. Afterwards, she became a teacher, helping to transform many women into literate. In 1932, Funmilayo established the Abeokuta Ladies Club, which focused on training women in sewing, catering, learning (adult classes), and engaging in charity work. 

By 1940, the club was not just a gathering of women ready to be empowered but a club embracing political will. Through constant engagement with the market women and others, Funmilayo understood the effect of social and political mismanagement on them.

In 1946, the club was renamed the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU). Their aim was to fight unfair prices and taxes on market women. Funmilayo, together with Grace Eniola Soyinka (Wole Soyinka’s mother), laid a strong foundation for this union, which enabled them to grow into thousands. 

Funmilayo’s political activism gained more recognition after she led AWU in a protest against a tax imposed by the Alake of Egbaland, then Ladapo Ademola II. She went on to champion many courses both in and outside Nigeria, meeting with women and political leaders from other countries.

Ransome-Kuti, an unapologetic Nigerian female political activist, supported her son, Fela Ransome-Kuti, in criticising the military government. She died on 13 April 1978 after sustaining injuries from the military invasion of her family property. She was awarded Member of Order of Niger (MON) and Lenin Peace Prize.

2. Margaret Ekpo

Margaret Ekpo was born on 27 July 1914 in Creek Town, Cross River State. She studied till standard 6 and graduated in 1934. Afterwards, Margaret started teaching at elementary schools. 

She was among the few who had the opportunity to study abroad. She went to the Dublin Institute of Technology and studied domestic science. She started participating in politics in 1945 after replacing her husband for a meeting he couldn’t attend—it was about how colonial masters were treating indigenous doctors. 

Margaret quickly developed an interest; she later attended a political rally with Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mbonu Ojike. She was the only woman that participated. Margaret Ekpo formed the Market Women Association in Aba to promote women and fight for economic and political rights. Margaret worked together with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest the killings of Enugu coal workers. 

Ekpo’s struggle for women did come with a price; she was detained by Biafran authorities for three years during the civil war. Through her effort, women voters outnumbered men in Aba. In 1961, she won a seat in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, which helped in fighting for women’s progress in economic and political matters. Margaret Ekpo has been honoured in numerous ways. She died in 2006.

3. Hajia Gambo Sawaba

Hajia Gambo Sawaba is another Nigerian female political activist of note. Born on 15 February 1933 in Zaria, Kaduna State. Her real  name is Hajaratu Amarteifo. She was one of the few female politicians and activists from northern Nigeria. Her father was a Ghanaian, while her mother was from Nupe. 

Gambo attended the Native Authority School but couldn’t proceed because of the untimely death of her parents. Hajia Sawaba joined politics at the age of 17. She joined the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) and began a vigorous campaign against child marriages, forced labour and education. Her speech among male speakers at a public lecture in Zaria popularised her.

Gambo embarked on door-to-door campaigns and meetings with women who were not allowed to participate in political activities because then, women in the north practiced “purdah” —a form of social seclusion. But Sawaba got into trouble; she was sentenced to three months imprisonment by Alkali Magistrates Court for drawing out women in purdah. 

She never stopped organising meetings to address women’s inclusion in politics. In 1956, she marched with other women to the office of the Premier, Ahmadu Bello, demanding a franchise for women in the north.  Hajaratu Amarteifo was nicknamed “Gambo Sawaba” by Aminu Kano. She was a great admirer of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She died in October 2001.

4. Adunni Oluwole

Adunni Oluwole was born in Ibadan in 1905 but raised in Aroloya, Lagos state. She was one of the prominent female politicians, activists, and preachers of her time. In 1954, she founded the “Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party.”

Adunni’s ideology was unusual; she opposed the fight for independence. Her claim was that politicians abuse the use of power, which makes them “African Colonialists.” Despite many obstacles and condemnation, her teaching still resonated with some Yorubas who called themselves “Egbe Koyinbo Mailo”, which means “The white man must not go.” 

In other words, her point of view was not recognised by the elites, but the rural people accepted it. Cases of corruption made her not trust political leaders. She was a strong advocate for equality. In a nutshell, Adunni was of the notion of gradualism against immediate independence. Adunni supported the fight for workers’ increment by marching with them. She died in 1957 after a brief illness. 

5. Elizabeth Adekogbe

Elizabeth Adeyemi Adekogbe was born in 1919. She attended St Agnes Catholic Training School and Yaba College of Technology and became a teacher, journalist, inspector and activist. 

Elizabeth founded “The Women Movement of Nigeria” with 14 other educated women on 13 December 1953. She collaborated with many women’s societies to promote women’s welfare. She established three committees within the women’s movement to address equal educational opportunities for male and female, economic stability, and a political campaign for female suffrage. 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Margaret Ekpo supported her on this course. All of them decided to have a federal body that would address women’s rights and empower them. This body was formed on 31 July 1953 in Abeokuta during Nigeria’s Women Conference — called the “Federation of Nigerian Women’s Organization” (FNWO). In 1954, Adekogbe changed the “Women Movement” to “National Council of Women.” Elizabeth participated in political campaigns for the western region in 1954 and was an activist for the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). She formed the Council of Women’s Societies (CWS) on 14 March 1957 with Mrs Ogunlesi and Mrs Esan. She died in 1968.

6. Janet Nwadiogo Mokelu

The last name on this list of Nigerian female political activists is Janet Nwadiogo Mokelu.

Janet Mokelu was born on 7 February 1910 in Asaba, Delta state. She attended Teachers Training College and became a certified Grade II teacher. She was a committed political activist, teacher, and philanthropist. She was one of the first female lawmakers in Nigeria.

She led the Anglican Women’s Conference for twenty-five years. During this period, she initiated a couple of works: the building of a boys’ secondary school, the weaving industry, and the growth of the conference.

She was a giver, someone that supported the poor immensely. Janet believed in equity; she pioneered several motions in the legislature, such as women should be paid the same salary as men. Mokelu mobilised women to protest the killing of coal miners in 1949 by the police. They demanded the police officers involved in the killing should be prosecuted. 

Her bills at the parliament addressed women’s rights to vote and be voted for and condemned colonial policy. She died on 31 March 2003.


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