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Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti: Teacher, Nation-Builder, Clergyman

The Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a bastion of excellent character and success, was born to an Egba family in Abeokuta on April 30, 1891. His father was Reverend Canon Josiah J. Ransome-Kuti well known for his outstanding administrative competence as well as his talents as a singer, which earned him the nickname “the Singing Minister”, while his mother was Bertha Anny Olubi. Azariah and Eniola Ransome-Kuti (Wole Soyinka‘s mother) were his siblings.

Early Life and Education

Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born at the Anglican parish of Gbagura, Abeokuta, where his father was serving as a teacher/catechist. After attending the Suren Village School there he went to the C.M.S Grammar School, Lagos, but returned to his hometown to complete his secondary education at the newly opened Abeokuta Grammar School. He was the first pupil to be enrolled at the school in 1908.

In 1913, Ransome-Kuti matriculated at Fourah Bay College, Freetown and returned to his country in 1916 with a B.A. degree. He began work in Lagos, as a teacher at his former grammar school from 1916 until 1918 when he left for Ijebu-Ode. For thirteen years he was principal of Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, which had been established in 1912 and provided the only secondary education for all of Ijebu province.

Image of Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
(1891-1955).

Educational Career

One of Ransome-Kuti’s innovations at this pioneering institution was to form the first Boy Scout troupe there which became known in the province as the first Ijebu-Ode Troupe.

Ransome-Kuti’s great intellect and sensitivity towards people soon won him the admiration and respect of the Ijebus. He became their spokesman, pleading their cause with the British colonial residents in the province. His great achievement in Ijebu was to break down the myth that his own ethnic group, the Egbas, could not work among the Ijebus. 

Through his example, and the utmost concern for all, he was able to draw the two groups together. His departure from Ijebu was marked with widespread expression of loss. Of his successor at the Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, the people used to say: “This new Kuti is not as the old.”

Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT)

On leaving Ijebu-Ode in 1932, Reverend Ransome-Kuti returned to Abeokuta where for the next 22 years he served as principal of the Abeokuta Grammar School. During that period he visited Britain in 1939 and again between 1943 and 1945; he spent the latter years as a member of the Elliott Commission reviewing higher education in West Africa.

During his posting at Ijebu-Ode, Ransome-Kuti founded an association of local teachers known as the Association of Headmasters of Ijebu Schools. This was in May 1926 a year after a similar association had been formed in Lagos by another renowned Anglican clergyman, Reverend J. O. Lucas, who inaugurated the Lagos Union of Teachers in May 1925.

These two bodies became the base from which the idea of a national organisation that could embrace teachers from all parts of Nigeria grew and culminated in the formation of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, on July 8, 1931.

At its founding that year, in Lagos, Ransome-Kuti was elected its first national president. At successive elections, he was re-elected and he held that post until his retirement in 1954 at the age of 63. A man of a strong, forceful and charismatic personality, he guided the union in its early campaign for improved working conditions for teachers and against colonial education policy in general.

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Ransome-Kuti and his colleagues in the NUT executive, notably Alvan Ikoku (1900-1971), Eyo Ita Esua (1901-1973; later Chairman of Nigeria’s Federal Electoral Commission in the First Republic; 1964-1966), and the Reverend (later Bishop) Seth Irunsewe Kale (1904-1996), succeeded in winning recognition from the British colonial authorities as well as benefits for their members, which by October 1948 were said to number 20,000.

With the improved conditions, the union grew rapidly and by the 1960s had become the largest professional organization in Africa, with a membership that exceeded a quarter of all the teachers in the continent.

Today, education is still the largest single employer in Nigeria, directly touching more Nigerians than any other service. The thousands of teachers who joined the NUT annually soon found not only respectability but also strength in their union. It was the foresight and dedication of Reverend Ransome-Kuti that led to that dignity and unity.

Marriage and Family

On January 25, 1925, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti married his heartthrob of 12 years, former Miss Frances Funmilayo Thomas, who became Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti upon marriage. He had met her when she was 13 and Oludotun waited for her to complete her education before he got married to her. He was 33 while she was 24. They had four children together: Dolupo, Olikoye, Olufela, and Bekolari.

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

On April 6, 1955, less than a year after his retirement and 24 days to his 64th birthday, Israel died of a cancer-related illness at his residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State. He was 63.

Ransome-Kuti, who was instrumental in the founding of the first university in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, at Ibadan, which was to be sited in his hometown of Abeokuta, as a musician, composed the national anthem of Egbaland.

His most favourite quote was, “My character is greater than my books.

Many great and prominent Nigerians have passed through Ransome-Kuti (and Abeokuta Grammar School) some of which were his nephew, Nobel Prize Winner, Wole Soyinka, late Ooni of Ile-Ife, Oba Sijuwade Olubuse, Iyalode of Egbaland, Bisoye Tejuoso, her son, Oba Dapo Tejuoso, Femi and Dotun Oyewole, and others too numerous to mention.

Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti holds the record for the longest-serving president of the NUT (23 years) and principal of Abeokuta Grammar School (22 years).

The Reverend Kuti Memorial Grammar School, Isabo, Abeokuta and Kuti Hall, one of the halls of residence at the University of Ibadan which opened in 1954, are named after him.  Also, a statue-head of him is mounted at the entrance of the Abeokuta Grammar School at Idi-Aba, Abeokuta.

Sources

Tunde Adeyanju (1993). The Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti: Teacher and Nation Builder. Litany Nigeria. ISBN978-978-31846-0-2.

You can also know more about Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in the video below:

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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