The situation is such that if one asks an average secondary school student in Nigeria, “Who are the heroes of Nigeria?” the answers would be quick, predictable and almost exclusively male: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Murtala Mohammed, etc. A particularly studious one might say Ken Saro Wiwa or Aguiyi Ironsi. A daring one might say Fela. It would be a really rare response that offers Queen Amina, Moremi, Flora Nwapa or Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.
Women’s history ignored
The world has a long history of relegating women to obscure and less acclaimed spheres. It was convenient to view women almost exclusively as wives, mothers, daughters, housekeepers, girlfriends or whores. For a very long time, this way of thinking justified maintaining women as the only maids for unpaid domestic work, or as servants of men.
It’s common knowledge, but it also enshrined something so ubiquitous but less noticed and noticed: the mute by many – often without them even realizing it – women’s contributions to nation-building and civil advancement.
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During the Nigerian Civil War, for example, a large number of women kept things going while the men were on leave. Beyond keeping the home front, they cultivated, traded and maintained a national economy. Keeping the country alive would have been almost impossible if these women had been less strong and resourceful. This work, collective and largely uncredited, cannot be ignored, and where the names behind the acts can be found, the names should be written down and remembered. Not to do so would be to remain complicit in a kind of violence, the violence of erasure.
Just before World War II broke out, engulfing all of Europe and their African colonies, a group of women – mostly merchants, traders and artisans – gathered in Aké in Egbaland for a meeting.
At their head was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, or “Beere,” as he was called in his childhood memories of the famous Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka. Aké.
Another prominent woman in the gathering was Mama Aduni. The women were gathered in the writer’s family compound, hosted by his mother “Wild Christian”.
They had come together to find a solution to the distressing tax problem. The British colonial government had imposed a Oppressive tax on all farm products put on the market for sale. Tax officials and parakoyi (market keepers) harassed women and forcibly collected taxes on their way to the market. The women could barely support their families through the sale of their produce and so they decided to do something bold and decisive about it, taking the case to Alake and its Council of Chiefs. in protest.
The Egba Women’s Union was formed with Ransome-Kuti in the lead, lead the protest to demand an end to the taxation of women. It was one of the first political organizations led by women in the country.
Also worth mentioning is the Lagos Market Women’s Association headed by Madame Alimotu Pelewura. It was founded in the 1920s and has become remarkable strength in the 1930s and 1940s with a peak membership of some 8,000 members.
Under Madame Pelewura’s leadership and activism, they pushed back against oppressive taxation and the colonial government’s underhand tactics to control food trade and prices. These movements, like the 1929 Aba Women’s Riot, went a long way in establishing women as always having was at the forefront of resistance to the oppressive rule of the colonial government.
Ransome-Kuti partnered with Margaret Ekpo, who strongly believed in the need for women to become more active politically and to help shape the future of their country. Ekpo forced the husbands of a locality of Aba to allow their wives to join his political union, the Aba Market Women’s Association by buying all the salt in the region, an essential commodity that had become scarce in the aftermath of World War II and stipulated that she would only sell to women members of her union.
The Aba Market Women’s Association defended the political rights of women in the region and fought for their economic protection.
The actions of these women were not limited to challenging exploitation and oppressive domination; they were oriented prevent cultural changes that would disadvantage women, leaving them less and less influence and relevance than before the takeover by the colonial administration.
Redrawing the restrictive gender frontier: an example
In addition to backward education policies, societal and ideological constraints have helped thwart women’s aspirations to higher stakes in nation-building. Despite this, however, Nigerian women have shown remarkable ingenuity, working under constraints and yet finding loopholes to make their impact felt. In the words of anthropologist Karen T. Hansen, women have redrawn the restrictive line of gender.
Ladi Kwali, a renowned potter from the village of Kwali in north-central Nigeria, was redrawing the borders. Having little formal education, she brought to pottery such an art and a formalist invention that she received a honorary doctorate from Ahmadu Bello University in 1977, and a Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award in 1980 – the highest national honor for academic achievement.
Other awards and honors include an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1963, an OON (Officer of the Order of Niger) in 1981 and his image printed on the back of the Nigerian 20 naira banknote. .
At the end of the line
Important women in the history of Nigeria are many and their names – Queen Amina, Moremi, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Alimotu Pelewura, Mama Aduni, Ladi Kwali, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Mabel Segun, Nana Asma’u and a host of others – deserve to be written more boldly and legibly. They deserve more than just a quick mention. History can also be a document of women.