Africa has a history of strong black independent women defying the odds and making impactful changes in society. They have managed to give some context into what it means to be a Nigerian woman in our world today. On this special day let us take a moment to recognise these women and learn how they did it
GENERAL ADERONKE KALE
An amazing woman and Nigerian. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother a teacher she went to primary school in Lagos and Zaria and attended her secondary school at St Anne’s school Ibadan and Abeotuka grammar school. She studied medicine at the university college now known as the University of Ibadan then she specialised in psychiatry at the University of London she worked in Britain for some time and returned to Nigeria in 1971. Aderonke was widely respected for her military discipline, and this was evident in the discharge of her duties as she rose quickly up the ranks. One of her amazing feats was the fact that she was the first woman in that time to head two military hospitals; the first was Enugu between 1985 to 1987 and then Benin between 1989 to 1990. she became a lieutenant Colonel in 1978, a colonel in 1983 and the first-ever female brigadier general in 1990. She became the first-ever Major General in 1994. It was said that she contributed to the development of medicine in Nigeria and once stated “…be conscious that you have a responsibility to your career, to your husband, to your children and must strive to discharge them to the best of your ability.”
Aderonke’s story is that of hard work and diligence in the discharge of her duties, no matter what gender one is if one is excellent at what one does there is always enough room at the top for that person.
FUNMILAYO RANSOME KUTI A.K.A “Lioness of Lasabi”
Well if you did not already know, yes you guessed right. She is the mother of the famous Fela Kuti. However, what she was able to achieve as a person transcends that of her son. There is so much to say about Funmi Kuti as her life demonstrates a determination to break boundaries regardless of the societal obstacles in her way at the time. One could say from her primary school years. She was primed to change the narrative as she was part of the first set of female students admitted into the previously male-only Abeokuta grammar school in 1914. After this, it is said she studied in the U.K. briefly, and it was then she decided to use her Yoruba name due to some forms of racism she experienced there. In 1925 she was married to Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Funmi seemed like a person that did not allow societal constraints to stop her from achieving her dreams, as records suggest that she was the first woman to drive a car in Abeokuta, she established one of the first pre-schools in Abeokuta 1928. She also organised literacy classes for women with less education. It is said that once one of her friend’s who was a market woman asked her to teach her how to read and from then on Funmi was inspired to extend her literacy workshops to market women in Abeokuta. She formed the Abeokuta Women’s Union with Grace Eniola Soyinka. One of her most notable victories was her successful campaign to stop local authorities from seizing rice from the market women and imposing a special taxes on market women including the income and water usage taxes they had to pay. She was able to achieve this by her fierce determination and proactivity. It was said that the authorities ban the women from organising demonstrations against them, so the women organised “picnics” and “festivals” to continue their plans for their protests. Clearly, from her experience in the oast from fighting for women’s rights, she was able to train the women on how to deal with the gas canisters, which was sometimes thrown at them. In the end, they successfully removed the Alake (Ademola’s Government). Despite her tragic death in 1977 at the family’s property, her impactful life has left a footprint on the sands of history, which can never be wiped away.
DOCTOR AMEYO STELLA ADEDEVOH
This is one of my personal heroes. She comes from a history of iconic figures her great grandfather was Herbert Samuel Macaulay, said to be a grand-niece of Nnamdi Azikiwe and the great great great granddaughter of Ajayi Crowther. She attended the primary preparatory school Yaba Lagos 1961 to 1962 then she went to live in Boston for two years. When she returned to Lagos, she attended corona primary school Yaba Lagos from 1964 to 1968. She attended her secondary school at Queen’s school Ibadan and graduated from the University of Lagos college of medicine with Bachelor of Medicine and surgery. She served one-year housemanship in Lagos at the teaching hospital 1981 and obtained her West African college of physicians and surgeons credential 1983. She completed her fellowship in endocrinology at Hammersmith hospital and served 21 years at first consultants medical centre Lagos Nigeria. Her story is that of what Nigerians should aspire to be; diligent at work and ready to do what it takes to save the lives of others around them. She was the first to alert the Nigerian ministry of health about the H1N1 which spread to Nigeria in 2012. And then to her true heroics the expeditious containment of the Ebola outbreak. It is believed that she was the doctor that diagnosed Patrick Sawyer the Liberian in July 2014 and kept him in the hospital despite the insistent pressure by the Liberian ambassador and the patient himself to release him. It is said that the patient believed that is just a bad case of malaria, but Dr Adedevoh feared something more her gut told her there was something more to this and considering the possibility of the deadly virus despite the limited funds she created an isolation area using wooden barricade outside Mr Sawyer’s door. This is one of the bravest stories of a Nigerian ever told as Dr Adedevoh together with her medical staff looked death in the eye and for the good of humanity for the good of her fellow Nigerians carried out thorough research on the patient, confirmed the case of ebola and gave relevant information about the virus to her staff and procured protective gear. She prepared a report and relayed it to the Nigerian government, and this then led to the declaration of a national public health emergency operations. Due to her heroic efforts, the World Health Organisation declared Nigeria Ebola-free on the 20th of October 2014. She did not live to see her mission come to completion as she passed on the 19th of August 2014 just after speaking to her son the last time.
Another iconic woman she completed her primary and secondary school at St Paul’s African Church Primary School Lagos and the Methodist Girls’ High School Yaba. She then attended the University of Ife now the Obafemi Awolowo University where she studied chemistry. However, she felt she always wanted to be an accountant and so for her NYSC year she serviced at Akintola Williams & Co, an accounting firm. After her youth service year, she wanted a job as quickly as possible but wanted to work in a bank. The first opportunity she got was a job at a furniture company (Alibert Nigeria Ltd) as a showroom manager which she did for only three and a half months. After a while, she took a chance and dared to start her company after realising the gaps she felt she had the solutions to. Ibukun used money from her savings from NYSC and three and a half months of work. At the inception of her business, she used her experience at her previous job to create her own. She realised that carpenters she hired came with their tools and she did not have to pay salaries till the end of the first month. She also researched and discovered that all the big machinery used to manufacture furniture she could go to companies to pay for the service and the smaller machinery she could rent for a day all this reduced the total capital outlay she needed to get started. She also felt that one of the first steps was to secure that first job. She also realised that customers pay 70% upfront before the job is done. Ibukun felt if she did, she could combine the different factors of free labour for one month before she needed to pay for it she made sure she finished the job in one month, so she would be able to pay her workers. Ibukun used her long-standing relationship with a finance house took a 1-million-naira loan from the bank with the determination that her business was going to succeed. She employed a few staff and kept pushing for clients until an exhibition at the national theatre came up, which she recognised all the biggest buyers of furniture would be there to attend. She organised her staff to build many products closed the workshop for the day and then went in to try and score a big client. Texaco Nigeria was building a new office in Ikoyi picked her company as one of the five companies. It was said that they presented their company so well although they were one year old they looked like a proper furniture company. In her words “she worked like her life depended on it”. The most significant part of the contract was given to them. The rest is history, they got a client, and from there popularity began to grow. Mrs Awosika’s story expresses that of diligence and prudence in managing business resources. In a show on CNBC Africa she stated that “…to build for the long term you need to build with the right structure and the right value system” and you need to “…identify what is right in the industry”.
NIKE DAVIS OKUNDAYE
Another inspirational gem, she was born in Ogidi Kogi state in a traditional weaving and dyeing society. Her parents and grandmother were musicians and craftspeople who specialised in cloth weaving. Nike attended primary school, but she had no money to go to secondary school, and so she focused on what she felt she was good at which was textiles. She says she started her career in textiles with one-shilling soup and a drum full of water as she didn’t have enough resources, so she worked with what she had. She displayed some of her works for sale at the museum of national history where her works were getting sold. She displayed evident mastery of the craft as she says one day she was approached by a white man as she was working that she was recommended by a contact in the U.S.A. to teach Nigerian textiles as they usually took teachers from the museum abroad to teach. She agreed, and as she got there she realised that all the other textile designers were men, but she was determined to stand out and in her words, she “worked hard day and night”. But what stands out for me in her story is the size of her heart which helped her contribute massively to the growth of arts and crafts in Nigeria. Nike was one of 15 wives and saw these other women as sisters. She trained them in the craft to enable them to earn a living for themselves, but she did not stop there she began to train other young ladies in the crafts from all parts of the country for free, Nike has trained up to 3000 women, and she says she did this to help other women to try to generate personal income for themselves. She is the owner of the Lagos art gallery, which is thought to be one of the most prominent art galleries in West Africa. This is the brief story of a woman who uses her talent to try and improve the lives of fellow Nigerians through art.
It’s often said that the journey of a 1000 miles starts with the first step but what about the second, third, fourth? What is the process to the 1000th step? It is a start to have a passion and a vision; however, the most crucial bit is the process of actualising that vision. And that’s what this piece is all about, it is to inspire us mostly women today that you to can have your story told. However, to do this, you must ask yourself, how am I going to get there? One can see from the lives of the women above, once one has the right work ethic to develop their talent, once one has the determination to succeed, once one can focus on their goals, once one has the discipline to ward off all distractions, the world is truly yours for the taking. Stay confident, stay believing, stay ambitious, and you can achieve anything, HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!