Alas, how often does one wonder about the role women played in the independence struggle? History has portrayed the active role women played in the economic and political sphere prior to British colonization. Women such as Moremi of Ile-Ife, Emotan of Benin, Queen Amina of Zaria and her mother, Queen Bakwa Turuku, Omu Okwel of Ossomari and the several Iyalodes in Yoruba land among others.
Little is known or celebrated about the women who were vital during colonization and pre-independence era. This article will showcase six women that played vital roles in the struggle for independence and the early post-independence stage of Nigeria.
1. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
She is we all known as the mother of the legendary Afro-beat musician, Fela Kuti and the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. Pertaining to Funmilayo’s contribution to nationalistic struggles, she established the Abeokuta Women’s Union in 1948 and was the brain behind the Egba women riots that protested colonial women taxation in 1948. As a leading member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), she represented Nigeria at the NCNC conference in London in 1946. Her passion for equal rights for women led to a face-off with King Ademola (the Alake of Egbaland), forcing him into exile. In the 1950s, she was the only woman elected into the Western House of Chiefs. She was a popular and respected figure in the political sphere and it is said that the mention of her name scared the colonial officials.
2. Hajia Gambo Sawaba
Born in Zaira and named Hajaratu Amarteifo, she gained the nickname Gambo as a child and Sawaba because of her activism. Hajia Gambo rose to fame despite obstacles facing women in Northern Nigeria and is considered a great mobiliser and a freedom fighter. Gambo joined Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), an oppositional political party in Northern Nigeria and immediately rose as the leader of the women wing within NEPU. Her campaigns that advocated voting and political rights for Northern women led to her arrest on several occasions and an eventual banishment from Kano.
3. Adunni Oluwole
Adunni is known for her social justice activism. She rose to the spotlight in1945 during a general strike where she financially supported the strikers. In 1954, she formed her political party, Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party where she actively campaigned against corruption of power of the rising Nigerian elites. Her political party won a seat in the House of Representative in the Western region. She was opposed to the call for independence in 1956, stating that the Nigerian political leaders abused the responsibility they had already and vied to prolong British stay. Her ongoing political activities led to her banishment from Ibadan where she was called a harlot and threats were made to beat her up. Unfortunately, her political career came to an end in 1957 when she died.
4. Mrs Margaret Ekpo
Margaret was a force that mobilized women to become politically conscious and participate in the emerging political affiliations in order to protect women’s interests. She was elected to the Eastern House of Chiefs in the 1950s and established the Aba Township Women’s Association in 1954, an association that became a political pressure group. She rallied women in Aba to exercise their voting rights which resulted in women outnumbering male voters in city election. She was also a member of the NCNC which meant she partnered with Funmilayo Ramsome-Kuti on several issues. She contested and won a seat in the Eastern House of Assembly in 1961 and was a key political figure in the First Republic between1963 – 1966.
5. Mrs. Janet Mokelu
Janet Mokelu was also a member of NCNC where she served as the secretary of the women’s wing in 1944. She was elected alongside Margaret Ekpo to the Eastern House of Chiefs in the 1950s and just like Mrs. Ekpo, she contested and won a seat in the Eastern House of Assembly. Her dedication to equality continued during her time in the House of Assembly where she pioneered legislation that mandates equal pay for women and men.
6. Alimotu Pelewura
Pelewura was a fish seller who rose to be the leader of one of the most powerful civil organization in colonial Lagos, the Lagos Market Women Association (LMWA). Under her leadership, she led Lagos market women to successful protests and dismissed the various tax proposed by the colonial administration. She also joined and became a major force in the nationalist activities of the first political party in Nigeria, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and along with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, she attended the London conference of 1946 as a NCNC delegate.
This piece is in honor of women that participated in Nigeria’s independence struggles, The Founding Mothers.