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Ìwé Ìròhìn: Nigeria’s First Newspaper

Image of Iwe Irohin
Iwe Irohin, 21st edition, September 1860.

Ìwé Ìròhìn fún àwọn ará Ẹgbá àti Yorùbá was a Yoruba and English language newspaper that ran for eight years from 1859 to 1867 for the Egba people of Abeokuta and the rest of Yorubaland. The newspaper is Nigeria’s first newspaper.

The paper is also considered the first indigenous language newspaper in West Africa and was under the direction of a Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) Missionary of the Anglican Church, Reverend Henry Townsend (1815-1866). James Ede, an Egbaman, who was trained by Henry Townsend, served as the chief printer of the newspaper.

Townsend’s main intention was to propagate the Anglican faith of Christianity and to also encourage the Egbas and other Yorubas to read and write.

The paper first hit the streets of Abeokuta on December 3, 1859 and was published every 15 days. A single edition had about 8 pages in total and was sold for 120 cowries. It published news of church activities, arrival and departure of religious dignitaries, ordinations and so on. It later broadened its contents by adding stories about Abeokuta, cotton and cocoa statistics, and from 1860, carried advertisements from local firms and government agencies. The newspaper was highly patronized by the few literates of that time living in Abeokuta and the entire Yoruba land.

Image of Reverend Henry Townsend (1815-1866)
Rev. Henry Townsend (1815-1866)/DACB.

The circulation of the paper was around 3,000 copies fortnightly as at that time. The newspaper was cautioned by the C.M.S authorities in 1863 for some of its contents that antagonized the colonial government, but this did not stop Townsend from running his newspaper. In January 1866, it appeared in two versions; one in English and the other in the Yoruba language. The English language version sold for one penny.

Due to the insufficient technical equipment during the period, the paper was printed with the crude technology available and had no pictures, with its pages divided into two columns.

Townsend’s main intention was to propagate the Anglican faith of Christianity and to also encourage the Egbas and other Yorubas to read and write. The paper embraced the anti-slavery movement of the time and also made the proprietor, Henry Townsend, who with Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c.1809-1891) translated the Bible and hymns to Yoruba language, an influential man in Abeokuta.

However, the newspaper was also involved in some political matters of the time, especially those emanating from the view points of the Egbas and it became a major repository of major views on different political events affecting the residents of Abeokuta during the period.

An uprising in Abeokuta in 1867 due to political and cultural differences between the colonialists and the Egba indigenes led to the expulsion of all Europeans from Abeokuta, at that time, and the destruction of the newspaper’s printing equipment which grounded its production as Egba rioters razed the premises, just eight years after its establishment.

The paper first hit the streets of Abeokuta on December 3, 1859 and was published every 15 days. A single edition had about 8 pages in total and was sold for 120 cowries.

This unfortunate event brought an end to Ìwé Ìròhìn, the first newspaper in Nigeria. But before its total decline, it had already fulfilled its mission to develop the reading habit in the Abeokuta people therefore leaving them to yearn for news after its demise.

Image of Iwe Irohin
Modern Iwe Irohin, December 2012/Premium Times.

Nevertheless, other newspaper industries sprung up, all in Lagos but were published by non-Nigerians; Robert Campbell’s Anglo-African in 1863, Lagos Times (1880), Gold Coast Advertiser (1880), Lagos Observer (1882), Ìwé Ìròhìn Èkó (1888), Lagos Weekly Times (1890), Lagos Weekly Record (1894), Lagos Echo (1894), Lagos Reporter (1898), Nigerian Chronicle (1908) and Nigerian Times (1910).

However, Sir Kitoye Ajasa (1866-1937) became the first Nigerian to publish a newspaper, National Pioneer, in 1914 until its demise in 1936.

Interestingly, on Friday, December 21, 2012, Ìwé Ìròhìn was resuscitated in Abeokuta, the Ogun State Capital, after 145 years of its demise by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Ogun State Council. This time, in six columns and eight pages, of the 32-page tabloid, in full-processed colours (source).

Thomas Blood: A Thief pardoned, rewarded for stealing the King’s Crown

Image of Thomas Blood
Early 18th-century portrait of Colonel Thomas Blood by George White.

On May 9, 1671, one “Colonel” Thomas Blood made a bold and daring attempt to steal the British crown jewels. He was narrowly thwarted, adding to a long list of bold, daring, and foiled crimes perpetrated by the Anglo-Irish outlaw.

Thomas Blood was an Irishman, born in County Meath in 1618, the son of a prosperous blacksmith. He came from a notable family: his grandfather, who lived in Kilnaboy Castle, was a Member of Parliament and Blood himself became a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood initially took up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progressed he switched sides and became a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. In 1653 at the cessation of hostilities Cromwell awarded Blood land grants as payment for his service and appointed him a justice of the peace.

King Charles asked Blood, “What if I should give you your life?”, and Blood replied, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!” To the disgust of Ormond, Blood was not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year.

However, when the Monarchy was restored to King Charles II and the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Colonel Blood lost all his lands and founder to financial ruin. In revenge in 1663, he conspired to capture James Butler, the Duke of Ormond. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was based at Dublin Castle. In disguise, and with the help of accomplices, he tried to force his way into the castle, but the plot had been discovered. Most of the gang were arrested but Blood, using various disguises as a Quaker and as a Priest, eventually escaped to Holland, where he stayed for several years.

While in the Dutch Republic, Blood gained the favour of Admiral de Ruyter, an opponent of the English forces in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and was implicated in the Scottish Pentland Rising of 1666 by the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters.

During the 1660 restoration of the monarchy, two new scepters and an orb costing £12,185 had been made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661.

In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returned to England and is believed to have taken the name Ayloffe and practised as a doctor or an apothecary in Romford Market, east of London.

Image of Thomas Blood theft of Crown Jewels
An artist impression of Thomas Blood’s theft of the Crown Jewels, 1793/Wikipedia

So, in 1671, Colonel Blood hatched a bizarre plan to steal the new Crown Jewels. His plans were elaborately laid. He went to the Tower disguised himself as a parson. He gained the confidence of Talbot Edwards, the Keeper, and promised to arrange a marriage between his imaginary nephew and Edwards’ daughter. Blood and his accomplices became well acquainted with the security arrangements.

On May 9th, 1671 the daring plan went into action. Blood persuaded Edwards to show the Crown Jewels to his friends. The gang bound and gagged Edwards and made off with the loot. Edwards managed to remove his gag and raised the alarm shouting: “Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!” The thieves were captured and Blood was imprisoned in the Tower. He refused to speak to anyone except the King.

Image of King Charles II
King Charles II of United Kingdom (1630-1685)/Wikipedia

He was consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he was questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert, and others. King Charles asked Blood, “What if I should give you your life?”, and Blood replied, “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!” To the disgust of Ormond, Blood was not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the king’s pardon are unknown.

Some historians have speculated that the king may have feared an uprising in revenge by followers of Blood, who were thought to have taken an oath to their leader. Others speculate that the king had a fondness for audacious scoundrels such as Blood and that he was amused by the Irishman’s claim that the jewels were worth only £6,000 as opposed to the £100,000 at which the Crown had valued them.

There is also a suggestion that the king was flattered by Blood’s revelation that he had previously intended to kill him while he was bathing in the Thames but had been swayed otherwise, having found himself in “awe of majesty.” It has also been suggested that his actions may have had the connivance of the king because the king was very short of money at the time.

Following his pardon, Blood became a familiar figure around London and made frequent appearances at Court, where he was employed to advocate in the claims of suitors to the Crown.

Blood fell into a coma on August 22, 1680 and died two days later on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. Due to his reputation, his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as they suspected he might have faked his death and funeral.

The Crown Jewels have never been stolen since that day – as no other thief has tried to match the audacity of Colonel Blood!



Historic UK

On This Day

The Vintage News


Muhammadu Ribadu: Nigeria’s First Minister of Defence

Image of Muhammadu Ribadu, first Nigeria Minister of Defence

Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu was the first Minister of Defence after Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Ribadu was born at Bulala, in present-day, Adamawa State. He was active in Politics in the Northern Region and entered the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna in 1947.

Muhammadu Ribadu Political Career

The Minister of Defence of Nigeria is a senior cabinet official in the Nigerian Federal Executive Council in charge of the Nigerian Ministry of Defence. The Defence Minister’s main responsibility is to manage all branches of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to maintain a modern, competent, and professional military force for the protection of the national territory, maritime interests, airspace, and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

As a result, Ribadu began a political career in which he rose rapidly. He soon became a leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), founded in 1949 as a cultural organisation but soon turned into a political party in order to meet the requirements of the Macpherson Constitution.

Image of Muhammadu Ribadu
Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu (1910-1965), Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence.

Under the leadership of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966), the most powerful politician during his era, the NPC won all the Northern seats in Nigeria’s first general elections of 1951-52 and Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu was one of the Northern candidates who won the election to the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos where he was appointed Minister of Natural Resources. He was previously a director of the Nigerian Produce Marketing Company but resigned this post on becoming a Minister.

Historians believe that had Ribadu been alive, the January 15, 1966 coup wouldn’t have happened.

As Member of the British Empire

In 1954, he was appointed Federal Minister of Land, Mines, and Power; he served in that ministry until 1957 when he was transferred to the portfolio of Lagos Affairs. He was second Vice-President of the NPC, and of the most influential leaders of the NPC-dominated regime in the Federation.

He received a British decoration, being awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1952.

As Minister of Defence: Power of Powers

While serving as Minister of Defence, Ribadu presided over a rapid expansion of the Nigerian Army, Navy as well as the creation of the Nigeria Air Force. He established the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna, the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna and a Second Recce Squadron in Abeokuta.

Image of Muhammadu Ribadu and Aguiyi-Ironsi
Ribadu with Lt. Col. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, 1960.

No doubt, Alhaji Ribadu was a towering figure. A giant among men. He was in all but name, the deputy Prime Minister. He was powerful and intrepid. His colleagues often refer to him as “Power of Powers”. He completed the Nigerianisation of the Nigerian Army. Till today, he’s still being remembered as one of the most outstanding Defence Minister Nigeria ever had.

Historians believe that had Ribadu been alive, the January 15, 1966 coup wouldn’t have happened.


On May 1, 1965, he was to be honoured along with the then Prime Minister, Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello with gold medals of the Usmamiya order in Kaduna, but he died on the morning of that day. He was 55. Nigeria’s incumbent First Lady Aisha Buhari is a direct descendant.


Eric Teniola (2014): From Ribadu to Danjuma.

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How UNILAG’s VC, Saburi Biobaku was nearly killed in 1965

Image of Saburi Biobaku, UNILAG Vice Chancellor
An artist representation of the assassination attempt on Biobaku.

As a result of the NPC/NCNC alliance with the AG in opposition, the Federal Government of the First Republic (1957-1966) was dominated by Northerners and Easterners while the Westerners were “marginalised” until Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola formed the NNDP and formed an alliance with the NPC.

How Saburi Biobaku was made VC

Aja Nwachukwu, an Igbo of the NCNC, was the Federal Minister of Education from 1958 to 1965. He was instrumental in the appointment of Professors Eni Njoku as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos in 1962 and Kenneth Onwuka Dike as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 1963. Both were Igbo men. Though qualified, there were more senior Yoruba professors, among them, Professor Oladele Ajose (1907-1978), the first tenured professor in Nigeria.

This didn’t go down well with the leading Yoruba politicians of the day and when Chief Richard Akinjide became Minister of Education in 1965, the University of Lagos Governing Council refused to renew Eni Njoku’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor and Professor Saburi Biobaku (1918-2001), a renowned historian and an Egba man from Igbore, Abeokuta, present-day, Ogun State was appointed as Vice-Chancellor.

Image of Saburi Biobaku
Professor Saburi Biobaku (1918-2001)/Trade Newswire


As a result, the university community was engulfed in crisis and students of the University of Lagos at the time believed that the government’s decision was laden with ethnic favouritism; they resisted the idea and protested against the action. They threatened fire and brimstone and asked the Minister of Education, Chief Richard Akinjide to stop Biobaku from moving near the university’s premises. The students were opposed to change in the leadership of the ivory tower. But the government ignored the students’ threat and vowed that its decision was final and irreversible.

Having foreclosed the issue, the Federal Government notified the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Saburi Biobaku that he had no cause to fear that the security agencies are there to give him adequate protection on the campus.

In ecstatic mood, Saburi Biobaku relied on the assurances given to him by the government to resume at his new duty post, and he made his way straight to the Vice Chancellor’s lodge at UNILAG where he dropped his belongings. Interestingly, he was received by the principal officers of the university and thereafter formally assumed duty at the Vice Chancellor’s office.

The Murder Attempt

On assumption of duty, in June 1965, it was customary for a new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Saburi Biobaku prepared to address the students and other members of the academic community. He needed to extend his hands of fellowship to them and acquaint himself with the environment.

Against this backdrop, adequate arrangements were made for him to address the students. As Biobaku mounted the podium of the university auditorium in the presence of a large crowd of the students and members of the academic community awaiting his inaugural speech, he received more than he had bargained for.

Biobaku least expected it. A radical student activist, identified as Kayode Adams, surged forward from the crowd and stabbed the Vice-Chancellor at the back, ostensibly in protest against Njoku’s removal. Biobaku fell and Adams was immediately arrested by the Police.


There was tension in the university and the incident resulted into the closure of the university for months. After Biobaku’s medical treatment, he returned to UNILAG and served his tenure without any further hitch.

Since that unfortunate incident 53 years ago, the university has never again witnessed any physical attack on any of her Vice Chancellors.

After his release, Kayode Adams committed suicide by drowning in the Tarkwa Bay Beach in Lagos in October 1969.


NPC: National People’s Congress

NCNC: National Council of Nigerian Citizens

NNDP: Nigerian National Democratic Party

AG: Action Group

UNILAG: University of Lagos

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25 Interesting Facts about Cross River State

25 Interesting Facts about Cross River State

The appellation for Cross River State is The People’s Paradise. Have you ever wondered why? What makes the capital city, Calabar, so special? Did you know that Cross River State is also home to some firsts in Nigerian history? Don’t worry. Relax. I have packaged twenty-five interesting facts that will keep you at the edge of whatever you are sitting on; and on your toes, if you are standing. If you are lying down, well, just enjoy!

Emblem of Cross River State

Cross River State

  1. Originally created in 1967 as South-Eastern State, Cross River State was named after the River Cross or the River Oyono in 1976. The river rises from the Cameroon Mountains and empties itself into the Atlantic Ocean.
  2. Cross River State is bounded to the East by the Republic of Cameroon, to the South by Akwa-Ibom State and the Atlantic Ocean, to the West by Abia and Ebonyi States and to the North by Benue State.
  3. The State is the 19th largest state in Nigeria in terms of size and 28th in terms of population.
  4. Ejagham and Efik are the major spoken languages in Cross River State.
  5. The Efik language is widely spoken in Cross River State, and as far as Arochukwu in bordering Abia State.
  6. The capital is Calabar, one of Nigeria’s cleanest and safest cities. It also has a major seaport.
  7. There are 18 Local Government Areas (Abi, Akamkpa, Akpabuyo, Bakassi, Bekwarra, Biase, Boki, Calabar Municipal, Calabar South, Etung, Ikom, Obanliku, Obubra, Obudu, Odukpani, Ogoja, Yakurr, and Yala) in Cross River State that make up three senatorial districts.
  8. Major cities in Cross River State are Calabar, Ugep, Ikom, Obudu, and Ogoja.
  9. Only one major (federal) road connects 10 local government areas from the popular Watt Market in Calabar. They are Calabar South, Calabar Municipal, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Biase, Yakurr, Obubra, Ikom, Yala, and Ogoga. The road still goes on to Kastina-Ala in Benue State.
  10. As of 2018, Cross River State is the only state in Nigeria, which Governor (Ben Ayade) and Deputy Governor (Ivara Esu) are eggheads (professors). Ayade hails from Obudu while Esu is from Biase.
  11. The rarest animals and plants in Cross River State can be found in forests located in Boki Local Government Area.
  12. Interestingly, the highest concentration of different species of butterflies in the world can be found in Akamkpa Local Government Area of the State.
  13. With an average population density of about sixty-five persons per square kilometers, Cross River State is about the most sparsely settled state in Southern Nigeria.
  14. Cross River State boasts of being the venue for the largest carnival in Africa.
  15. Various annual festivals are Cross River State Carnival (26-29 December) in Calabar, Yakurr Leboku Yam festival (28 August) in Ugep and the Calabar Boat Regatta.
  16. Cross River State is the leading tourism state in Nigeria. Especially the capital, Calabar. Visitors from different parts of Nigeria come to the city in large numbers all year round.
  17. Tourist attractions are, the soaring plateaus of the mountain tops of Obanliku, the Obudu Mountain Resort, the Rain forests and Mountain walkway canopy of Afi, Waterfalls at Agbokim and Kwa, the monoliths at Ikom, Cross River National Park at Boki, and the Obubra Lake at Obubra. Others are the Etanpim Cave in Odukpani, the Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar Marina Resort (which houses the Calabar Slave Museum, the Cinema, and a view of the Calabar River where one could take a boat ride around or to Oron in Akwa-Ibom State), Calabar Residency Museum, and Mary Slessor Tomb.
  18. Cross River State can be accessed by air through the Margaret Ekpo International Airport at Calabar and the Bebi airstrip at Obanliku; by sea through the Calabar seaport and by road from different parts of the country to other parts of the state.
  19. The main crops can be found in the northern and central parts of the state. These are cassava, yams, rice, plantain, banana, cocoyam, maize, cocoa, rubber, groundnut, and palm produce. While in the south, various kinds of seafood are mostly eaten.
  20. Major livestock in the State are cattle, goats, and sheep. Rearing activities are mainly undertaken by the Fulani herdsmen, except in Obanliku at the Obudu Cattle Ranch where organized cattle ranching takes place.
  21. Mineral resources in Cross River State include limestone, titanium, tin ore, ceramic materials, and hard stone.
  22. Tertiary educational institutions include the University of Calabar and the Cross River State University of Technology both in Calabar, the Ibrahim Babangida College of Agriculture in Obubra and Technical College, Ugep.
  23. The weirdest of all cultures. Compared to other cultures in the state, in Obudu, Northern Cross River, where the incumbent State Governor hails from, the wedding ceremony is done in the groom’s house instead of the bride’s house.
  24. Notable people from Calabar include Louis Edet (Nigeria’s first indigenous Inspector General of Police), Etim Henshaw (The Red Devils of Nigeria’s famous football team captain), Margaret Ekpo, Donald Duke, Benedict Ayade, Kate Henshaw Nutall, Florence Ita-Giwa, Victor Ndoma-Egba, Shan George, and others too numerous to mention.
  25. On Thursday, November 30, 2017, Governor Ben Ayade presented the Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation of N1.3 trillion for the 2018 fiscal year to the Cross River State House of Assembly. The budget was the largest for a single state in Nigeria’s history.
Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar.
The Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar.

Are there other interesting facts or personalities from Cross River State that are not captured in this article, kindly share them in the comments below.

You can also follow me on Twitter @AmazingAyo.

How Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti ‘sacked’ the Alake of Egbaland in 1949


On January 3, 1949, Oba Samuel Ladapo Ademola (1872–1962 ) the 7th Alake of Egbaland (1920–1962), abdicated the throne due to a strife with Egba women, led by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978) and her sister-in-law, Eniola Soyinka, mother of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka (b. 1934), on the issue of tax. The women were made to pay heavy taxes and were also maltreated.

After days, months and years of protest, the Alake, who was regarded as a stooge of the colonial master, was removed and forced out of the palace and had to move to Ogbomoso (other records say Oshogbo) where he stayed till December 1950 before things came back to normal.

Image of Alake of Egbaland, Samuel Ladapo Ademola
The Alake (ruler) of Abeokuta, Sir Samuel Ladapo Ademola II (1872-1962), Abeokuta, Nigeria, 1959. | ©Eliot Elisofon.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti: The Lioness of Lisabi

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was born Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas to Daniel Olumuyewa Thomas and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu, on October 25, 1900. She was a teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat.

She served with distinction as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation. She was also the first woman in Nigeria 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 clan that she belonged to, on a campaign against their arbitrary taxation. That struggle led to the abdication of the Egba high king Oba Ademola II in 1949.

Education, Marriage, and Family

Funmilayo was raised by parents who valued education and became the first girl-student admitted to Abeokuta Grammar School, hence, her nickname–Beere (which means a first girl in Yoruba). She later went to England for further studies. She soon returned to Nigeria and became a teacher.

On January 20, 1925, Funmilayo married the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (1891–1955). He also defended the commoners of his country and was one of the founders of both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and of the Nigerian Union of Students. The marriage was blessed with four children; Olikoye, Beko, Fela and a girl, Dolapo.

Indirect Rule in Egbaland

In 1918, Governor-General Frederick Lugard had introduced a system of direct taxation and created the Sole Native Authority which was a form of indirect rule whereby the traditional rulers acted as agents for the colonial government.

The Sole Native Authority (equivalent to today’s Local Government) was headed by the Alake. It had far-reaching powers and all the previous checks and balances on the power of the Alake was eroded under the indirect rule system as kingmakers, chiefs, and priests who could act to limit the abuse of power of the Alake were now dependent on the Sole Native Authority for their appointment to advisory councils. In plain words, they were rendered effeminate.

Image of the The Ransome-Kuti family, c.1940.
The Ransome-Kuti family, c.1940.

Before the advent of the British, women had participated in politics and had their own representatives. The most important was the Iyalode on state councils whose duty was to protect and promote women’s interest.

When they (the British) came, it never occurred to them that women had any significant role and so they never made any provision for it. Nevertheless, some women titles like Iyalode and Erelu remained but they lacked power and influence.

Political Limelight

The aching issue for the Egba women was taxation. Having been subjected to tax by the colonial government, they provided as much as one-half of district revenues. Yet, they had no direct representation on the Sole Native Authority council, a situation they abhorred so much.

Further, the manner by which taxes were collected was often through insult, violence, chasing of women, beatings, and stripping of young women ostensibly to assess their age.

As time went on, complaints increased, reaching a point where women decided that their only chance to gain redress of their grievances was a more militant approach. They considered the tax as foreign, unfair and excessive. They also objected to the method of collection.

This was the one issue that catapulted Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti into the political limelight, first in Abeokuta and then in Nigeria.

Abeokuta Women’s Union

In 1923, she (Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti) had organised a group of young girls and women into the Abeokuta Ladies Club. The group was made up of a western-educated middle class and mostly Christian women who concentrated on crafts and social etiquette.

Around 1943/1944, the Abeokuta Ladies Club regrouped and expanded to include market women who had approached Kuti to explain their ordeal to her. Most of these women were uneducated and it was at this point that Kuti began her political activism which aimed at raising the standard of womanhood in Abeokuta, encouraging learning among the adults and thereby wiping out illiteracy.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was appalled to hear of the level of exploitation by the colonial and Egba Native Authority, harassment by police and representatives of the Alake against women. She discovered that the Alake, the traditional ruler of Abeokuta was diverting confiscated rice to his own stores, selling it and pocketing the profits (the rice had been confiscated by the government from women traders).

In 1946, the burden of taxation became unbearable and the Abeokuta Ladies Club metamorphosed to Abeokuta Women’s Union. This was designed to challenge both colonial rule and the male-controlled structure. Through the union, they opposed price controls and the imposition of direct taxation, engaged in press campaigns and mobilized so much pressure against the Alake.

The Fight with the Alake

The Abeokuta Women’s Union was a well-organised and disciplined organisation. Mass refusal to pay the tax combined with an enormous protest led to a brutal response from the authorities as tear gas was deployed and beatings were administered. Ransome-Kuti ran training sessions on how to deal with this threat, teaching women how to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas and how long they had to throw the canisters back to the authorities.

In late 1946, the Alake increased the tax rate for women. Thousands of women marched to the palace to protest these increases. The Alake’s only response was that if any woman felt her taxes are too high, she should appeal to him individually.

It seemed there was nothing to achieve, so the Abeokuta Women’s Union, through their leader, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, engaging in a tremendous letter-writing effort, outlined the women’s grievances to newspapers in Lagos and Abeokuta.

A mass movement was organised and they laid down objectives, some of which included:

  • Resistance against the poll tax
  • Resistance against harsh enforcement of sanitation regulations, the payment of water rate, and
  • The removal of the Alake from office.

The Alake was vigorously criticised since he was considered the personification and symbol of the Sole Native Authority to the detriment of his people’s well-being.

Although the colonial government was the real source of power, the Abeokuta Women’s Union attacked its agents, the Sole Native Authority and the Alake. They challenged the Alake’s abuses of food and price controls, his interference in trade and court matters. He was also charged for demanding sex from some women who had left their abusive spouses to take refuge in his palace and charging them for accommodation.

In addition, the Abeokuta Women’s Union called for representation of women on all bodies that administered Egba affairs by members of the union. Their rationale was that since the men had not protected their rights, women’s representatives were needed to do so. The anti-tax protest was a long one with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti at the head leading the women in the struggle.

In 1947, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti refused to pay her taxes and was arrested. At her arraignment where she pleaded “not guilty”, thousands of women congregated at the courthouse to demonstrate their support. The next year, she again refused to pay her taxes. She led the Abeokuta Women’s Union in laying down plans for a systematic programme of mass protest.

The first major demonstration held on November 29 and 30, 1947. Many women took part. As they neared the Alake’s palace, she commanded the marchers to stop, closed her eyes and told them that all those who were afraid should leave while her eyes were closed. None withdrew. They maintained vigil during which they sang abusive songs.

The Women’s War

In reference to the Aba Women’s Riots of 1929, the women were careful to stress the importance of not allowing the authorities any excuse to attack them or use violence by making sure no weapon was carried. Many women were jailed but were later released.

In January 1948, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was banned from the palace for insulting the Alake and the British administration supported it. Administrative attempts to woo away the Abeokuta Women’s Union executive from its support of Kuti failed. They also refused to attend any meeting without Kuti.

Image of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti sacked Alake of Egbaland
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978), the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car.

By April, the women were determined to get rid of the Alake and obtain their demands, one of which included that the Alake be removed from office. They continued their demonstration and vowed to go on the streets in nudity (a taboo in Egbaland).

As they got to the palace, they blocked the two main colonial officers, the Resident and District Officer, from leaving the palace.

As they protested, they sang in Yoruba:

“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today, we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of a husband.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

To gain time, the Alake decided to go for a holiday at the beginning of June in Jos, hoping things would cool off in his absence. He appointed a special committee to investigate the complaints of the women. He also suspended their taxation and agreed to a women-representative on the central committee.

Alas, the women were no longer interested in anything he did. They were only interested in his abdication, so they continued their demonstrations.

After he returned, he ceded further ground by resigning from his position as Sole Native Authority. But the women would not budge and blatantly refused to accept nothing less than his total abdication and continued their demonstrations.

In July, the Egba chiefs and members of the Egba Native Authority passed a resolution against the Sole Native Authority system. They also charged the Alake with corruption and abuse of power. They thereby rejected him as king, rang the bell and beat the traditional drums to that effect.

Finally, on January 3, 1949, the Alake abdicated. The women’s protest which had intensified from October 1946 to July 1948 had been successful. Four women, all executive of the Abeokuta Women’s Union, including Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti were appointed to the Egba Central Council that replaced the Sole Native Authority and the women’s taxation was also abolished.

As a result of the success of the Abeokuta’s Women Union, Ransome-Kuti decided to expand its organisational structure on a trans-ethnic and trans-regional basis changing its name to the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU), as branches were opened in Aba, Benin, Calabar, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, and Lagos.

The Union continued to operate literacy classes in addition to maternity and child welfare classes. However, it remained a special-interest group and did not attempt to engage in overtly political action on a national scale.

If you enjoyed the article, you can also watch the video below for more about the Alake and Ransome-Kuti:

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