IWD #BREAKTHEBIAS: Remembering 7 women who gave female gender a voice in Nigeria

The International Women’s Day Celebration 2022 with the theme ‘Break The Bias’ is another time to sensitize the society on the importance of giving equal opportunities to both women and men , especially in male dominated communities.

In recent times, the rally cry has seen positive lights as women are now getting opportunities to showcase their abilities and talents, as well as grow their careers.

Before now, when women didn’t have any voice in the society or in some fields of endeavors, some women stood their ground, fought this bias, changed the stereotypes & oppositions and made sure they left legacies that will give women a foundation to build on.

These are the real heroes of celebrating International Women’s Day in Nigeria. Today we remember these heroines and celebrate all they did.

QUEEN AMINA

Amina was a warrior queen who ruled Zazzau Kingdom (present-day Zaria in Kaduna state) in the 16th century. She was born in 1533 and was the first woman to rule the kingdom, staying on the throne for 34 years.

According to Wikipedia, Amina was born in the middle of the sixteenth century CE to King Nikatau, the 22nd ruler of Zazzau, and Queen Bakwa Turunku (r. 1536–c. 1566). She had a younger sister named Zaria for whom the modern city of Zaria (Kaduna State) was renamed by the British in the early twentieth century. According to oral legends collected by anthropologist David E. Jones, Amina grew up in her grandfather’s court and was favoured by him. He carried her around the court and instructed her carefully in political and military matters.

Three months after becoming the queen, Amina set off on her first military expedition. She waged military campaigns to expand Zazzau territory and ensure safe passage for Hausa traders throughout the Sahara region. Her army, consisting of 20,000-foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalry troops, was well trained and fearsome. In fact, one of her first announcements to her people was a call for them to “resharpen their weapons.” She conquered large tracts of land as far as Kwararafa and Nupe.

Amina died in 1610 and is still remembered as a brave, smart, and talented leader. In honour of her accomplishments, her statue was built and placed at the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos state.

Internationally, the Popular TV Series, Xena: Warrior Princess was inspired by Queen Amina’s legacy.

FUNMILAYO ANIKULAPO-KUTI

Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was the first Nigerian woman to drive a car at a time, the girl child had little to no priviledge of being seen in a man dominated society. Born on October 25, 1900, she was a Nigerian educator, political campaigner, suffragist, and women’s rights activist.

– she was a leading voice of Gender Equality in the country.

In the 1940s, Ransome-Kuti established Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and fought for women’s rights, demanding better representation of women in local governing bodies and an end to unfair taxes imposed on market women. She was described as the ‘Lioness of Lisabi’ for mobilising women to demand their rights. She established the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) to fight the disenfranchisement of women across the country. On the African continent, she developed strong ties with Algerian, Egyptian, and Ghanaian women’s organisations, and her visits further abroad included trips to England, China, the Soviet Union, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

In her later years, she supported her sons’ criticism of Nigeria’s military governments. Funmilayo died of injuries sustained when she was brutalised by Nigerian soldiers during a raid of the home of her son, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in 1978. Ransome-Kuti received the Lenin Peace Prize and was awarded membership in the Order of the Niger for her work. Her legacy has forged many women to fight the odds against the girl child.

MAGARET EKPO

Ekpo, born on July 27, 1914, was a renowned activist who fought for the rights of women and against their subjugation. She was a pioneering female politician in the country’s First Republic and a leading member of a class of traditional Nigerian women activists, many of whom rallied women beyond notions of ethnic solidarity. She played major roles as a grassroots and nationalist politician in the Eastern Nigerian city of Aba, in the era of a hierarchical and male-dominated movement towards independence

Margaret Ekpo’s awareness of growing movements for civil rights for women around the world motivated her into demanding the same for the women in Nigeria and to fight the discriminatory and oppressive political and civil role colonialism played in the subjugation of women.

She later joined the decolonization-leading National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), as a platform to represent a marginalised group.

In the 1950s, she teamed up with Ransome-Kuti to protest killings at an Enugu coal mine. They both travelled to different regions to mobilise women to join the NWU and be a part of Nigeria’s decolonisation journey.

In 1954, Ekpo established the Aba Township Women’s Association, which later became a political pressure group.

After a military coup ended the First Republic, she took a less prominent approach to politics. In 2001, Calabar Airport was renamed Margaret Ekpo International Airport. She died 5 years later in 2006 at the age of

GAMBO SAWABA

Born on February 15, 1933, Hajaratu Gambo Sawaba was a women’s rights activist, politician, and philanthropist. She delved into politics at age 17 and served as the deputy chairman of the Great Nigeria People’s Party and was elected leader of the national women’s wing of Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), a party that supported women’s education.

She was married off at age 13 to a World War II veteran Abubakar Garba Bello who left and never returned after her first pregnancy. She suffered Gender Based Violence in her second marriage and others didn’t work.

Sawaba was a campaigner against child marriage, unfair taxes, forced and unpaid labour. She also canvassed for jobs for women, education for girls, and full voting rights. In July 1958, during NEPU’s second congress, the women’s wing decided to team up with the Nigerian Women’s Union, which was under the leadership of Ransome-Kuti.

She was imprisoned 16 times for openly advocating against child marriage, forced and unpaid labour and unfair taxes, and canvassed for jobs for women, education for girls and full voting rights.

She died aged 71 in October 2001 at 68 years. She is regarded as a pacesetter in the fight for the liberation of northern women. In honor of her activism, a general hospital was named after her in Kaduna, and a hostel at Bayero University, Kano, is also named after her. She is widely regarded as the most jailed Nigerian female politician.

AYO OBE

Ayo Obe is a British-Nigerian lawyer, columnist, TV presenter and human rights activist. The story of Nigeria’s return to democracy cannot be told without including her. was born on May 24, 1955 in the United Kingdom and attended the University of Wales.

For the past few decades, she has been an important figure in the country’s social, legal, and human rights movements. As the president of the Civil Liberties Organisation, she was at the forefront of the crusade to actualise the 1993 presidential election victory of the late MKO Abiola. In March 1996, Obe’s passport was seized while she was leaving Nigeria to attend a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee in New York.

From 1999 to 2001, Obe chaired the Transition Monitoring Group, an election-monitoring and democracy-building coalition of Nigerian non-governmental organisations. She also represented human rights NGOs while at the Police Service Commission (PSC) from November 2001 to 2006. She championed the campaign ‘Bring Back our Girls’ in 2014, when 276 female students aged from 16 to 18 were kidnapped by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram from the Government Girls Secondary School at the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria.

At 66, She serves as a managing partner in a Lagos based law firm named Ogunsola-Shonibare and sits on the board of multiple civil society organisations such as Goree Institute and Vice Chair of the board of the International Crisis Group.

SARAH JUBRIL

Sarah Nnadzwa was born in Kwara State in March 1945, before Nigeria was an independent nation. She is of the Nupe tribe in Pategi local government area.

Sarah Nnadzwa Jibril is Nigeria’s first female presidential candidate, a position she vied for on four occasions. She is known for serving as the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Ethics and Moral Values and for her advocacy of the emancipation and empowerment of Nigerian women and children. She urged President Goodluck Jonathan to include more women in his cabinet

In 1992, she contested to be president under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but placed fourth in the primary election. She contested in 1998, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but lost to Olusegun Obasanjo.

In 2003, she defected from PDP to Progressive Action Congress (PAC) to become the first woman to be a presidential candidate but lost to Obasanjo again.

After losing out in the 2011 presidential elections primaries to Goodluck Jonathan, she was appointed as a special adviser on ethics and values to the president in 2012.

Jibril has won various awards, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Award for Leadership Excellence.

DORA AKUNYILI

Dora Akunyili, born in July 1954, was popular when she was the director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) from 2001 to 2008.

During her reign at NAFDAC, she led by example, serving as the general at the forefront of the fight against fake drugs and counterfeiters. She escaped attempted murder from people whose businesses Dora’s impeccable and disciplined work in NAFDAC affected.

In 2008, Akunyili was appointed Minister of Information and Communications.

She resigned her appointment as Minister of Information and Communications on December 16, 2010, after two years of service to run for office as senator representing Anambra Central in the National Assembly.

As a result of her celebrated commitment to transparency and selfless service, she won several awards for her work in pharmacology, public health, and human rights. Akunyili received over 900 awards throughout her career, the highest number of awards ever received by any Nigerian. With over 900 awards, Historyville reports that over 100 awards were later discovered in her boxes.

Akunyili died in an Indian hospital on June 7, 2014, after a battle with uterine cancer.

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