The Legacy of Nigerian Feminism

Since I returned to Nigeria earlier this year, I have not met any woman who openly identified as a feminist. It almost seems as though the word ‘feminist’ is blacklisted, that is to say people don’t identify with it regardless of whether their actions and behaviour screams ‘feminist’. Now there may be many reasons for this, I understand that some women choose not to identify as feminist, yet from experience I’ve noticed  that there is something of a stigma attached to the label here that several women do not want to be identified with. I guess this is one effect of the stereotypical image of feminists as being angry unmarried women, it seems Nigerian women do not wish to be identified with this image. Also in my experience, people tend to call women ‘feminist’  to insult them and being an open-minded woman can put you in some really dangerous situations.

Likewise, there seems to be little or no information available on feminism in Nigeria and Nigerian feminists. Isn’t it somewhat distressing that there are only THREE people in the Wiki category for Nigerian feminists? I know we have more feminists than that yet I do not know their names, I do not know who they are.

However this post is not just to lament on what I believe is the stagnant state of feminism in Nigeria but rather to propose a solution. I firmly believe that through the learning of history things can change. Thus if we Nigerian women learn more about the women who fought for women’s rights and Nigeria’s independence alongside our ‘founding fathers’ we may be able to learn that feminism is not as foreign as we’d like to think. Most people know about Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti, I knew her as the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria but at the same time she was refered to as a ‘troublemaker’ it was only after reading more about her for myself that I learnt to admire her.

Margaret Ekpo

I recently came across an interview with a woman described as ‘a giant of 20th century Nigerian politics…a pioneer activist of women’s rights and an icon’. That woman is Margaret Ekpo, someone I had never heard of till I came across the interview. After reading the interview, I found myself feeling a little cheated that I was not taught about her during Social Studies classes in primary school. We were taught all about the great men from the period of Nigeria’s independence like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo yet the great women from that period were excluded. I did not know of Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti till I was in my late teens and her name was mentioned in a conversation with my mother.

Margaret Ekpo and her contemporaries — Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, M.I Okpara, Janet Mokelu, Jaja Nwachukwu, MT Mbu, Malam Aminu Kano, Alhaja Gambo Sawaba, S.L Imoke and many others — were at the forefront of relentless agitation for the nation’s highly desired Independence from Great Britain. With the much respected Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margaret Ekpo routinely toured the country, mobilizing women to become politically conscious and participate in the emerging political affiliations in order to protect their interest and ensure the advancement of the Nation.

A fierce defender of women’s rights, Margaret Ekpo never apologized for being a woman and that, it can be argued, was her greatest strength. With grace of carriage, she stood her ground as an equal of men, representing women resolutely and with great dignity in multiple capacities.

Please click here to learn more about Margaret Ekpo and to read her interview which was taken before she passed away.

I found it interesting but was not surprised, to see that Margaret Ekpo worked alongside Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti. A third name popped up, Janet Mokelu. Apparently she was one of the three women to be appointed to the House of Chiefs in the 1950s, Janet Mokelu was appointed a Cheif in the Eastern House alongside Margaret Ekpo but there does not seem to be more information on her. I’m curious to learn more about Janet Mokelu. Wouldn’t if be great if we could make a sort of archive dedicated to our ‘founding mothers’?