When I finished my exams in February, I had plans to go home and visit the Omo forest reserve to make inquiries, because I and a few friends were interested in visiting the place. On getting home, a week or two after, COVID19 hit us in Nigeria and we had to stay home. My plan was canceled and I was unhappy about that because I really love visiting tourist attractions.
July came and a friend mentioned a trip to me. It was a trip to the home of the Kutis, which has been turned into The Kuti Heritage Museum. The Kuti is a highly recognized family in Nigeria and abroad. The family is made up of individuals who set out to make a positive difference in society. I was excited with the thought of visiting Mama Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s home. Mama Funmilayo was a political campaigner and a women’s rights activist. We were told back in school that she was basically the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria, but she is way more than that.
Mama Funmilayo was married to Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti who completed his education at Fouray Bay College, Freetown. After which he came home to work as a teacher then proceeded to be the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He died of prostate cancer in 1955. They had four kids named Dolu, Fela, Beko and Olikoye.
Beko was a doctor, while Olikoye was a health minister, and Fela was literally the giant of afrobeat in Africa. He was well known for his use of music to criticize the corruption in the Nigerian government, which led him to be arrested on several occasions and spend some time in jail. He died in 1997.
Mama Funmilayo was really blessed with such a brilliant family. I’m pretty sure all that was due to her own level of intelligence and fearlessness. Mama was the first female student in Abeokuta Grammar school. She was a vibrant young adult. In the 1930s she created the Abeokuta Ladies Club, where adult education classes were taken, including catering and sewing classes. The club was renamed Abeokuta Women’s Union. She founded the union alongside Grace Eniola Soyinka who was the mother of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.
She led thousands of women in protest to demand better representation of women. She was part of several delegates in Nigeria and overseas to discuss the national constitutions.
The Alake, who was the traditional ruler of Abeokuta, imposed unnecessary taxes on women, which led to several failed appeals to the British authorities. Then, Mama led the women to protest against the taxes. By 1947, the authorities forbid women from staging parades or protests. This mandate did not stop Mama and her women. They disguised under picnics to carry out their motives. After so much protest and demonstrations, the Alake finally attended to the women’s demands and suspended the taxes.
In 1947, a delegation was sent to London to protest the proposed Nigerian Constitution, Mama Funmilayo was the only woman in the delegation. In 1951, she contested under the National Council of Nigerian and the Cameroun party (NCNC) for regional assembly, but it was unsuccessful. She traveled widely, visiting England, China, Switzerland, and many other countries. And during her travels, she always speaks about the issues affecting Nigerian women.
As a result of her son Fela’s criticism of the Nigerian military government, their home was invaded by soldiers who destroyed properties and assaulted those who were in the house in February 1977. She happened to be in the house at the time of the invasion with her sons. Mama was thrown from a window of the second floor of their home. This led to her being hospitalized and she died in April of 1977.
The life of Mama Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was showcased in a movie titled October 1. One of her quotes which I saw on a placard in her home was the one with "As for the charges against me, I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid lying morality and so I am beyond caring.” That quote speaks volumes and silently screams fearlessness.
The Kuti Heritage Museum is open for all and the remains of the properties of the Kutis are in place. There are also tour guides available to take you around the compound while telling you their stories. My visit to the museum was the highlight of my semester/COVID 19 break.