Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, 25 October 1900 Abeokuta, Nigeria 13 April 1978 Lagos, Nigeria. A teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat of Nigeria. She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation.
She was also the first woman in the country to drive a car. Ransome-Kuti’s political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, as well as to her being regarded as “The Mother of Africa.”
Early on, she was a very powerful force advocating for the Nigerian woman’s right to vote. She was described in 1947, by the West African Pilot as the “Lioness of Lisabi” for her leadership of the women of the Egba people on a campaign against their arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the high king Oba Ademola II in 1949.
Fela and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti: She was the mother of the activists Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musician; Beko Ransome-Kuti, a doctor; and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and health minister. She was also grandmother to musicians Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti.
During the Cold War and before the independence of her country, Funmilayo Kuti travelled widely and angered the Nigerian as well as British and American governments by her contacts with the Eastern Bloc.
This included her travel to the former USSR, Hungary and China, where she met Mao Zedong. 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 U.S. visa because the American government alleged that she was a communist.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Prior to independence she founded the Commoners Peoples Party in an attempt to challenge the ruling NCNC, ultimately denying them victory in her area.
She received 4,665 votes to the NCNC’s 9,755, thus allowing the opposition Action Group (which had 10,443 votes) to win. She was one of the delegates who negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British government.
In old age her activism was overshadowed by that of her three sons, who provided effective opposition to various Nigerian military juntas. In 1978 Funmilayo was thrown from a third-floor window of her son Fela’s compound, a commune known as the Kalakuta Republic, when it was stormed by one thousand armed military personnel.
She lapsed into a coma in February of that year, and died on 13 April 1978, as a result of her injuries