Jack Welch once theorized that before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. On this note, we continue our discourse on one of Nigeria’s prodigies, Alvan Ikoku, which we had earlier started and shall conclude today. Thereafter, we shall explore the life and times of two other national icons, Eyo Ita and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti.
Ikoku’s imperishable strides (continues and concluded)
In 1962, Ikoku called for an ‘Education Bill of Rights’ for primary school education, to be free for six years nationwide in Nigeria. This was later accepted by the Federal Military Government with effect from 1976. Dr. Ikoku still remains a great icon in Nigerian academic development and one of the most outstanding educationists ever in Nigeria.
Upon retiring from government politics, Ikoku served in various educational bodies in the country. He was a member of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the Council of the University of Ibadan as well as chairman, board of governors of the Aviation Training Centre, Zaria. Honours for his contribution to education in Nigeria include an Honorary Doctorate in Law, 1965, at a special convocation of the University of Ibadan; the establishment of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education; and his commemoration on a bill of Nigerian currency, the N10 note. He died on November 18, 1971.
Eyo Ita (1903 – 1972), was a Nigerian politician from Creek Town, Calabar, in the present Cross River State, who was the leader of the Eastern Government of Nigeria in 1951. He was one of the earliest Nigerian students who studied in the United States instead of the frequent route of studying in the United Kingdom. He was a Deputy National President of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Early life and education
Ita attended the Presbyterian Hope Waddell Training School in Calabar, before pursuing his tertiary education at London University and Columbia University in New York. He stayed in the U.S. for eight years.
While in Calabar, he was exposed to the teachings of James Aggrey, who pursued academic opportunities for African students in Historical Black Colleges and Universities in America. Calabar became a training ground for some nationalist politicians due to early siting of secondary schools in the city and the influence of people like Agrrey.
Ita’s arrival on the national scene
Ita was a leading Nigerian nationalist during British colonial rule. Upon his return from the U.S., he formed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in 1934 and galvanized the Nigerian youths for nationalism. The cannons of the Youth Charter adopted in 1937 centred on nationalism, inter-tribal harmony and a greater tomorrow. The Youth Movement became the catalyst championing for Nigerian Independence. The return of Nnamdi Azikiwe from the U.S. in 1937 enlisted more prominent Nigerians in the movement.
Ita’s imperishable strides
In the 1930s, Ita was a member of two movements in West Africa, the Youth Movement and the education movement. He was a member of the former with the establishment of the Nigerian Youth League in Calabar and he also campaigned vigorously for education as a tool for freeing the African mind and soul and liberating them from forces of political repression. He formed the Nigerian Youth Movement in 1934, which rapidly expanded with the addition of Azikiwe in 1938. He later became the proprietor of the West African People’s Institute in Calabar. He joined the NCNC in the 1940s and was elected vice president after the death of Herbert Macaulay, which saw Azikiwe emerging as the new leader of the party. Ita left NCNC to form the National Independence Party (NIP), which became one of the five Nigerian political parties that sent representatives to the July 27, 1953, London Conference on a new Nigerian Constitution.
Some of his mentors were W.E.B. Du Bois and Edward Wilmot Blyden, who were notable pan-Africanists of their eras.
National Independence Party
In 1946, the Richards Constitution, which advanced a regional political framework for the country to enhance regional political and economic autonomy, became law. The Constitution was made law without the proper consultation of Nigerians, leading to Azikiwe and Ita opposing the regional political arrangement, while they presented a minority report of a federation of eight states. However, in 1951, the Constitution was reviewed with minor changes to the original but opposed by Azikiwe. The major politicians of the time resorted to work within their ethnic and regional base as a foundation to gain political power. This led to regional politics and concentration of power in regional and federal ministers, who were largely nominated by the party and the regional Houses of Assembly. In 1951, major elections were held in the Eastern region of Nigeria, with Eyo Ita becoming leader of the Eastern government and Azikiwe, leader of the opposition in the Western Regional Assembly, a potential obscure position in the light of his national repute.
A few federal ministers, however, from the NCNC, supported a trial run of the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, in contravention of Azikiwe’s view of opposition. The ministers had an ally in Eyo Ita. This led to internal wrangling, and a power struggle began, leading to the exit of some of the ministers and Eyo Ita. The new group latter formed the National Independence Party and Eyo Ita later became a member of the movement for the creation of the Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers State (COR State). He left the movement, however, and re-joined the NCNC in 1956.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, MON (1900 – 1978), formerly known as Francis Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas. She was a teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat of Nigeria. She served with a difference as one of the most prominent leaders of her generation. She was the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car. Her political activism led to her being described as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, and “The Mother of Africa.”
Funmilayo was born to the family of Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu. Her father was the son of a returned slave from Sierra Leone (nee Nova Scotian settlers), who traced his ancestral history back to Abeokuta in today’s Ogun State, Nigeria.
Funmilayo attended the Abeokuta Grammar school for secondary education, and later went to England for further studies. She soon returned to Nigeria and became a teacher. On January 20, 1925, she married the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti. She received the national honor of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 1965. The University of Ibadan bestowed upon her the honorary doctorate of law in 1968. She also held a seat in the Western House of Chiefs of Nigeria as an Oloye of the Yoruba people.
Arrival on the national scene
Throughout her career, Mrs. Kuti was known as an educator and activist. She and Elizabeth Adekogbe provided dynamic leadership for women’s rights in the 1950s. She founded an organization for women in Abeokuta, with a membership tally of more than 20,000 individuals, spanning both literate and illiterate women.
Funmlayo Ransome Kuti’s activism and women’s rights
Mrs. Kuti launched the organization into public consciousness when she rallied women against price controls that were hurting the market women. Trading was one of the major occupations of women in Western Nigeria at the time. The British colonisers teamed up with their local lackeys to subdue the women. At one protest, the “Oro” stick was brought out – a symbolic artifact of the secretive male cult of the Ogboni – supposedly imbibed with great powers, and the women were instructed to go home before evil spirits overcame them. When the women shrank back in fear, Ransome Kuti grabbed the stick, waved it around, declaring that the women now had the power, before taking it with her displaying it prominently in her home. This action gave her a reputation of fearlessness and courage that led 50,000 women to follow her to the home of Alake of Egbaland (Alake Ademola), the “pseudo-king” of Western Nigeria and a colonial stooge. As the women protested outside the king’s house, 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 husband.”
With this unified action and song they chased him out of the house, condemning him to exile on threat of castration This actions resulted in the king’s abdication. She also oversaw the successful abolishing of separate tax rates for women. In 1953, she founded the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies, which subsequently formed an alliance with the Women’s International Democratic Federation.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti campaigned for women’s votes. She was for many years a member of the ruling NCNC party, but was later expelled when she was not elected to a federal parliamentary seat. She was the treasurer and subsequent president of the Western NCNC women’s association. After her suspension, her political voice was diminished due to the direction of national politics, as more powerful members of the opposition, Awolowo and Adegbenro, had support close by. However, she continued her activism. In the 1950s, she was one of the few women elected to the house of chiefs. At the time, this was one of her homeland’s most influential bodies.
She founded the Egba or Abeokuta Women’s Union along with Eniola Soyinka (her sister-in-law and the mother of the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka). This organisation is said to have once had a membership of 20,000 women. Among other things, Funmilayo Ransom Kuti organised workshops for illiterate market women. She continued to campaign against taxes and price controls.
Traditionally, Yoruba society was divided into male and female administrative sections. Although men in Nigeria held the position of clan chiefs, women had traditionally held political authority, which was shared with men, particularly concentrated in areas of trade. With the coming of formal colonial rule through the Berlin Conference of 1884, the British authorities occupying Nigeria restructured the governance of the society: establishing the position of “Warrant Chiefs” as middle men to act between the traditional authorities and those of the colonisers, elevating the traditional and largely symbolic position of clan chief to a political power broker and created the Sole Native Authority, to which only the men holding local political power were admitted.
In 1918, a colonial tax on palm oil to be paid by all men in Nigeria had caused major uprisings; in 1929 the British extended taxation to women and also goats, which were usually the personal possessions of women. As soon as the rumours of such taxation were confirmed, the women of Nigeria rose up.
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So, for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.” (Jim Yong Kim).