Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was born as Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas on October 25, 1900 in Abeokuta, in present-day Ogun State, Nigeria.
She attended St John’s Primary School, Igbe in Abeokuta from 1906 to 1913 before becoming the first female student at the Abeokuta Grammar School.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti attended the secondary school from 1914 to 1917. She also taught briefly before leaving to further her education at the Wincham Hall School for Girls in Cheshire, England from 1919 to 1923.
A powerful revolutionary is born
Upon her return to Abeokuta, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti dropped her English names, shortened her name to Funmilayo and made a point of speaking Yoruba rather than English, even with the colonial authorities.
She resumed teaching at Abeokuta and married Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican clergyman and teacher, in 1925. When her husband became principal of the Abeokuta school in 1932, she helped organize the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC).
It was initially a civic and charitable group of mostly Western-educated Christian women. Over time, it became more political and feminist. By 1944, the organisation formally admitted market women, who were exploited by colonial authorities.
The ALC became open to all women in 1946 after changing its name to the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and making Kuti the first president of AWU. Under her leadership, AWU became a national organization, renamed itself the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) in 1949 and eventually the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) in 1953.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti ’s organisation fought for fair treatment of market women by initially campaigning against price controls, then protesting a special tax on women imposed by the local ruler, Sir Ladapo Ademola II. From 1947, several large demonstrations were led against Ademola’s government.
"She was organising a big protest demonstration with the women of Abeokuta," her son Fela Anikulapo-Kuti recalled in his book. "She was protesting on the streets with the women. They were everywhere, in the front, behind the house, everywhere. The Alake couldn't get out of his own house. You know what that means? What would you do? You would flee too. And, man, that's exactly what the Alake did. He fled to Oshogbo."
These protests led to Ademola's temporary abdication in 1949. The organisation also advocated for greater educational opportunities, provision of health care and other social services for girls and women.
Outside her organisation, this feminist and activist served several terms on the local council of Abeokuta between 1949 and 1960. She made sure to represent her culture by always wearing her traditional attire wherever she went. She decided to change her surname to Anikulapo-Kuti in the early 1970s to further identify with the Yoruba culture.
Her fight for equal rights for Nigerian women earned the titles — “The Mother of Africa” and the “Lioness of Lisabi.” She was also honoured with a doctorate, the Order of the Niger, and the Lenin Peace Prize.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti is regarded as the first woman in the country to drive a car and ride a motorcycle. She was the only woman to join the Nigerian delegation when they went to lodge a formal complaint in 1947 with the secretary of state for the colonies. She was also one of the delegates who negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British government.
In her old age, she was well represented by her children Beko, Olikoye and the famous Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who played important roles in education, healthcare, political activism and the arts. Her grandchildren, Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti, also stand out in their field.
The fatal injuries sustained from the incident put her a coma sometime in February before she passed away on April 13th. She was buried in Abeokuta on May 5, 1978.