“Unknown Soldier”: Women’s Radicalism and Activism and State Violence In 20th Century Nigeria

“Unknown Soldier”: Women’s Radicalism and Activism and State Violence In 20th Century Nigeria

Paper presented at the Conference on Black Woman and the Radical Tradition, organized by the Graduate Center for Worker Education, Brooklyn College, CUNY
March 28, 2009.

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College, CUNY
3413 James Hall
Phone: (718) 951-5000, ext. 1742
fax: (718) 951-4833
email: mokome@brooklyn.cuny.edu
mojubaolu@gmail.com

Abstract
 
In “unknown soldier”, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in 1979 eulogized his mother, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti through his protest music. Most Fela fans first met his mother through this eulogy. Fela like his mother, remained unbowed by the crushing repression of the Nigerian military regime under General Olusegun Obasanjo, which deployed armed forces to Kalakuta Republic, Fela’s multi-story residence where he lived with his mother and entourage in Yaba, Lagos. In the melee, mayhem and arson that ensued, Fela’s mother was thrown out of a window. She died. She was a Marxist who opposed injustice, abuse of power and racism, colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. In her heyday, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti led Abeokuta (a town in South Western Nigeria) women to oust the Alake-(King/traditional ruler) from power for being a colonial stooge. She spearheaded the founding of a nationwide women’s organization and participated in negotiations preceding Nigeria’s independence from British colonialism. Instead of being treated as a national treasure, she was mostly ignored in her older years and was finally murdered by the state. The 1920s Ibo Women’s War in South Eastern Nigeria did not have one leader. It was a popular uprising that could have become a political movement. Nonetheless, it manifested the “unknown soldier” phenomenon, since state-deployed soldiers shot and killed numerous women demonstrating against colonial repression. Through their indigenous organizations, Ibo women spread the word from hamlets to villages and towns to organize an uprising against this injustice in a well organized resistance in which they attacked all symbols of British colonialism. Prior to this, Efunsetan Aniwura and Madam Tinubu fought against local and international state in the 19th Century in the interest of women and the nation (from the title of Odim-Johnson & Mba’s biography of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti). Contending that these women’s actions were radical in the sense that they fought against male dominant colonial, local and national state projects, this paper would argue that the lack of a radical women’s movement in Nigeria is due to the responses to state repression and its “unkown soldier.” Hence, since Nigerian women’s activism has historically occurred within a political system where the checks and balances against absolutism in the precolonial era were already being significantly eroded in the 19th Century—a period of flux marked by wars in Yorubaland, slave raids in both Yoruba and Iboland, and the transition from trade to colonial monopolies. In such turbulent times, the deployment of naked state violence was the norm, and fighting state repression could unleash the “unknown soldier” against non-conformists, demonstrators, and protesters, and is extremely dangerous. Thus, more conciliatory measures, including willingness to be coopted have been more popular than radicalism. It remains to be seen whether the embrace of liberal democracy in the latter years of the 20th Century would make a difference.

Introduction

“You may have been born but you were not bred! Would you speak to your mother like that?”
Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s response to the British District Officer who told Abeokuta women demonstrators, “Shut up, you women!” (Soyinka 1989)

“I could not hate Mrs. Ransome-Kuti then, and I cannot hate her now, although she continues to cause me a great deal of trouble-because, I suppose, I admire her guts. My only regret is that she is using her guts wrongly. With a bit of more levelheadedness, there is nothing the little woman couldn’t do for Abeokuta and for Nigeria.”
Alake of Abeokuta, Sir Ladapo Ademola in a 1959 interview with Drum Magazine (Ottah 1998).

“There is no satisfying Mrs. Ransome-Kuti. Right now, she is up to another devilry. She is opposed to women of Abeokuta paying water-rate. I am sure that if she would devote as much time to agitating for progressive measures as she does to everything that is conducive to disorder, she would become the greatest woman in Abeokuta, nay, in Nigeria.”
Alake of Abeokuta, Sir Ladapo Ademola in a 1959 interview with Drum Magazine (Ottah 1998).

“So we gave a hell of a time to the chiefs, the government, to all those who were responsible for the systematic pauperisation of the mass of the people”
Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in a March 1959 interview with Drum Magazine (Ottah 1998).

“This assembly shall be known as the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies [FNWS], where the voice of all Nigerian women will be heard and known”
 Resolution by 400 “parliamentarians” representing Nigerian women’s organizations in 15 provinces at a 2-day conference organized by the Nigerian Women’s Union in Abeokuta (August 5-7, 1953).

In “unknown soldier”, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in 1979 eulogized his mother, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti through his protest music in 31 minutes of his classical Afrobeat. To state his displeasure with the dictatorial military regime of the day that had set in motion the events leading to his mother’s death, Fela also led a protest that laid a coffin at the doorstep of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Most Fela fans first met his mother through this eulogy.

“Unknown Soldier” http://home.comcast.net/~amaah/lyrics/unknown-soldier.html** Lyrics: “Unknown Soldier” from Coffin For Head of State album— Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy8VPWZfbCs
Lyrics:

Fela followed his mother’s lead in many regards. Like his mother, he remained unbowed by the crushing repression of the Nigerian military regime under General Olusegun Obasanjo, which deployed armed forces to Kalakuta Republic, Fela’s multi-story residence where he lived with his mother and entourage in Yaba, Lagos. In the melee, mayhem and arson that ensued, Fela’s mother was thrown out of a window. In the pre-colonial era, Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan led the way by standing against another military state, this time, an indigenous one led by Are Latosa. She was assassinated in circumstances that could be incorporated under the heading of “unknown soldier.” Leading the charge of radical women in the colonial era, Madam Tinubu, Iyalode of all the Egba also fought against male dominated indigenous and colonial states in Abeokuta and Lagos. Aba market women who were relatively autonomous from the men were also able to wage the Women’s War of 1929, against colonial monopoly trading companies and their practice of imposing prices on agricultural commodities manufactured goods under the protection of an undemocratic regime, which planned to levy taxes on women’s income from trade. About twenty years later, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti led Abeokuta women in a powerful challenge of Alake Ademola, widely perceived to be a colonial stooge who spearheaded the imposition of undemocratic laws and administrative policies and refused to curtail his officials abuse of power including “stripping young girls naked on the pretext of assessing them for taxation” (Agozino & Anyanike 2007).

Bolanle Awe does not deal explicitly with the unknown soldier phenomenon, but alludes to the underlying circumstances that make for the operation of the unknown soldier in Nigeria’s political history. For her, the latent divergence and variance between the formal structure of the Nigerian state and people are primary causal factors for the crisis it faced from the colonial to postcolonial periods. She contends that although the exercise of political power in the precolonial period mostly guaranteed the involvement and the inclusion of the general interest and welfare, and women and the youth were not left out, from the colonial to the post-colonial era, the state became hostile and draconian in its relations with the people and the interest of the majority was sacrificed to serve those of the ruling elite. The extended military era amplified this estrangement, as did ethnic and religious conflict, the oil boom and the corruption it generated. The challenge to state excesses from civil society dates from the colonial era, and while it waned in the years immediately following independence, it was harassed and barraged almost to non-existence during the military era, (Awe 1999).


Fela’s music is only one of the indications that while government suppression and violence was alive and well, civil society was not dead. The murder of Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti was indicative of the military regime’s fear that left unchecked, pockets of opposition could grow into waves of resistance. Using the vehicle of the unknown soldier, General Olusegun Obasanjo inflicted extra-judicial force on citizens, spreading chaos, mayhem, wanton destruction of property and death in its wake. Fela, as one of the survivors of this war against its people by the government of Nigeria, made sure that he gave us a lasting memorial to his illustrious mother and documented as best he could, some of her contributions to Nigerian political development. He also made sure that we will never forget who was responsible – the unknown soldier.

Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti died following the unknown soldier attack and so did several Aba women participants in the Ibo women’s war. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was a Marxist. She shared with the Aba women, Efunsetan Aniwura and Madam Tinubu, opposition to injustice, abuse of power and racism, colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism. In her heyday, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti led Abeokuta (a town in South Western Nigeria) women to oust the Alake-(King/traditional ruler) from power. She also spearheaded the founding of a nationwide women’s organization and participated in negotiations preceding Nigeria’s independence from British colonialism. Instead of being treated as a national treasure, she was mostly ignored in her older years and was finally murdered by the state.

As told in the British colonial report, the 1920s Ibo Women’s War in South Eastern Nigeria did not have one leader, although Nina Emma Mba’s groundbreaking work excavated the names of a few of the heroic women that participated in the struggle. The Ibo women’s war was a popular uprising that could have become a political movement. Nonetheless, it manifested the “unknown soldier” phenomenon, since state-deployed soldiers shot and killed numerous women demonstrating against colonial repression. Through their indigenous organizations, Ibo women spread the word from hamlets to villages and towns to organize an uprising against this injustice in a well organized resistance in which they attacked all symbols of British colonialism.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, the Aba and Abeokuta women engaged in group action against colonial government both to defend community interests and the interests of women as a corporate group. At both sites in Southern Nigeria, women's traditional associations were organized, mobilized and deployed using modes of resistance that "express their disapproval and secure their demands by collective public demonstrations, including ridicule, satirical singing and dancing, and group strikes." (Forde and Jones 1959:21). The women also exercised collective associational power that gave women political influence in precolonial, colonial and postcolonial society, as explicated in the Nigerian experience of the popular Aba Women's War of 1929 Mba (1982) noted that it was (see Van Allen, 1976); the mass movement of Abeokuta Women's Union (AWU) and demonstrations against flat rate tax of the Egba women, leading to Alake of Abeokuta's abdication on 3 January 1949 (Mba, 1982); and the political activities of the Federations of Nigerian Women's societies documented by Mba (1982:73).

Nigerian women’s explicit involvement in politics has an illustrious history that embraces the contributions of Queen Amina of Zauzzau, Efunsetan Aniwura, Iyalode of Ibadan, Madam Tinubu, Iyalode of all the Egba, Queen Emotan of Benin, Mrs. Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Lady Oyinkan Abayomi of Lagos, the participants in the Ibo Women’s War, and in the Abeokuta Great Weep of 1943, as well as Madam Magaret Ekpo. This contribution is documented from precolonial era to the present, in struggles and campaigns for socio-political and economic changes as well as changes in gender relations. According to Mrs. Ransome-Kuti, Nigerian women suffered from diminished economic and political power due to colonialism, and ordinary women could and should use indigenous methods, mechanisms and strategies of organizing social, political and economic action (Mba (1987), Funmilayo Ransome Kuti took her own advice and mobilized Abeokuta and Nigerian women to resist corrupt, abusive and draconian state policies.

The lack of a radical women’s movement in Nigeria is due to the responses to state repression and its “unkown soldier.” Hence, since Nigerian women’s activism has historically occurred within a political system where naked state violence is the norm, fighting state repression could unleash the “unknown soldier” against demonstrators and protesters, and is extremely dangerous. Thus, more conciliatory measures, including willingness to be co-opted have been more popular than radicalism. It remains to be seen whether the embrace of liberal democracy in the latter years of the 20th Century would make a difference.

Unknown Soldier

As a protest against the blatantly brutal Nigerian state by Fela, this song not only makes it impossible to ignore the senseless, vicious and atrocious oppression that had permeated the country’s politics under the military, it also has a great beat, and could have made a great anthem for mobilizing resistance against Obasanjo’s government. The rhyme is superb, the political commentary, right on! Cool, happening, /insurgent, pointed and poignant all at once. It was yet another Fela piece that refused to be bowed and cowed by the crushing repression of the Nigerian military regime under Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, which dispatched armed forces to Kalakuta republic-the multi-story residence of Fela and his entourage, where his mother also lived in Yaba, Lagos, then the capital city. In the melee, mayhem, assassination and arson that ensued, Fela’s mother was thrown out of a third story window and she died. There are varying accounts of this event, including that by the military regime.

Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti was the name of this remarkable woman being eulogized by her son. She was all that Fela proclaimed and more, political, ideological, a fierce opponent of colonialism and imperialism as well as neocolonialism. It is quite clear to me that she took up residence in her son’s house to state her unequivocal support for him. In her heyday, FRK led the women of Abeokuta to oust an Alake of Abeokuta (Alake is the title of the monarchs of Abeokuta), the traditional ruler who was widely considered a colonial stooge. She also spearheaded the founding of a nationwide women’s organization. She participated in the deliberations preceding Nigerian independence. She was a Marxist at a time when majority of her male and female peers were liberal. She was outspoken, fiery, uncompromising and unrelenting in her opposition to injustice, racism and the abuse of power.

Among other symbols of British colonialism, Ibo women attacked the red cap chiefs who had been created by the colonialists to make their indirect rule system possible, even among the Ibos who did not have the type of centralized political system that produced such chiefs and kings among the Yoruba, Hausa, and other peoples that were forced together into the newly created Nigeria. The participants in the Ibo women’s war burned down coloinial courts and prisons and were determined to stamp out every visible symbol of colonialism. Of course, the colonialists had control over their newly created state, and thus the monopoly of the threat and use of force, therefore, military forces were deployed to put an immediate stop to the demonstrations. Even under a draconian colonial regime, the deaths of so many women could not be pushed under the rug. Investigations and inquiries were believed to be necessary, if for no other reason, to signal that the government was aware that something out of the ordinary had occurred and would do something based on the findings from the inquiry. The unknown soldier discourse also signaled that the government only intended to make the motions and not any meaningful changes. It is a mark of the Ibo women’s success in prevailing in spite of the unknown soldier that they were able to force the British colonialists to suspend the plans to tax women in South Eastern Nigeria until the end of the colonial era.

Nigeria manifests the paradox of plenitude of women’s social, economic, and political participation combined with profound loss of visibility and prominence particularly in the public political sphere, where there are gross deficits in women’s political power, both quantitatively and qualitatively, i.e. in terms of numbers and effectiveness, inequitable distribution of power and persistence of male dominance, systematic and systemic disenfranchisement of women, danger of cynical acceptance of male dominance as the norm, strong perception that women who succeed in politics are mere tokens, and the general subversion of democracy. Women have had to engage in radical politics to bring attention to their cause. Given the dangers faced by such radical women, their action has been necessarily sporadic and strategic, with women fighting and running away, so that they could live to fight another day.

Some scholars contend that women’s political leadership is relatively new in Africa. Aili Mari Tripp is a good example. For her, there was only a trickle and active participation was a late 20th Century phenomenon that occurred only in the 1990s, which was the first time in the post– colonial era for more women to strive for national and local public elected office. Refusing to be deterred by the low impact and visibility of their initiatives, there was even more insistence on women’s political representation and participation. New women’s parties were formed to address challenges like non-sensitivity and lack of responsiveness to women’s issues; and to encompass women’s political aspirations, which were either absent or excluded from the male dominated parties. The female political parties were also better able than the male dominated ones, to attract multidimensional coalitions that transcend religious and ethnic lines.

Tripp paints an encouraging picture that gives much cause for optimism for anyone interested in women’s empowerment, but does not capture the experiences of African women either accurately or completely. It is well-documented for instance, that women were equal participants in the nationalist and liberation struggles in most African countries, and that while colonialism eroded a significant amount of women’s formal political power, drawing upon their precolonial bases of power, women in most African countries asserted their rights, sometimes even succeeding in extending such rights, even in the weakened indigenous political structures and institutions. Multi-religious constituencies then were possible with existing parties. Nigerian women formed western-style political pressure groups early in the 1900s. However, Indigenous women’s groups such as the Lagos Women’s Market Association, led by Madam Alimotu Pelewura, and other indigenous originated women’s corporate organizations preceded these western-style institutions.

The Lagos Women’s League, which was founded in 1901, and led by Mrs. Charlotte Obasa, was an example of the modern pressure groups. Trailblazing efforts were developed in the 1940s when under the leadership of Mrs. Kofoworola Abayomi; the Nigerian Women’s Party was formed (on May 11, 1944) as a reaction to women’s marginalization in the male dominated political parties, which for Mrs. Oyinkan Abayomi and others, had demonstrated that they were not interested in women’s issues and allowed for no women in their leadership. Similarly, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in 1949, and the organization became the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) later that year. Both the AWU and NWU involved a combination of Western educated women with women traders. The AWU used this coalition to challenge the combined powers of Alake Ademola and the British colonial government for compelling women to pay taxes. The AWU mobilized, supported, and joined the women in public disobedience campaigns that culminated in the temporary abdication of the Alake.

Between 1948 and 1949, branches of the Union were formed in Ijebu Ode, Ijebu Remo, Ilaro, Egbado area, Benin, Ibadan, Calabar, and Aba. Mrs. Margaret Ekpo had founded the Aba Women’s Association earlier, and was inspired to join the NWU after Funmilayo Ransome Kuti’s visit in 1949. Similarly, Janet Okala, G.I. Okoye, and Madam Peter Okoye had founded the Enugu Women’s Association in 1945. The organization’s name was changed to the Nigerian Women’s Union, Enugu branch in honor of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti’s visit on December 18, 1949, in the aftermath of a fatal violent attack by colonial police against striking miners in Enugu. By 1950, there were branches of the Union in Enugu, Aba, Ijebu Ode, Ikare, and Onitsha. Between 1950 and 1953, there were branches in Zaria, Kaduna, Jos, Kano, Jebba, Kafanchan, Funtua, Ilorin, Ekiti, Ilesha, Ado Ekiti, Asaba, and Abakaliki. The organization was conceived as a federation with autonomous branches. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was the national President as well as the President of the Abeokuta branch. Mrs. Ekpo was National Secretary and she presided over the Aba branch. The political objectives of the Union were:

(1) Achievement of the franchise for women.
(2) The abolition of electoral colleges.
(3) The allocation of a definite proportion of representation to women with women being allowed to nominate their own representatives on the local council, which should not be headed by traditional rulers.

In 1952, Elizabeth Adekogbe founded the Women’s Movement in Ibadan. Nigerian women also participated in most of the indigenous pressure groups and political parties formed in the nationalist era: the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Action Group, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). All these instances of Nigerian women’s political participation and activism preceded the illustrious actions of the women detailed by Aili Mari Tripp.
Nkoyo Toyo, President of Gender and Development Action, (GADA) makes a somewhat different point:
 “Nigerian men have always dominated the political space with women playing inconsequential political roles at all levels of decision-making. Even the women who were actively involved in the independence struggles soon found out that when it came to sharing the spoils they were dispensable.” However, she goes on to distinguish between conditions now and the pre-colonial situation when there were women founders and rulers of kingdoms such as Ebele Ejaumu, founder of the Igala kingdom. A woman is reputed to have founded Ondo, and Ilesa had five women Owas (monarchs). In addition, there were a variety of women’s associations. Orompoto, who succeeded her brother, Egungunoju was one of Òyó’s pre-colonial Aláàfins (monarchs) who were women. Queen Amina of Zauzzau is renowned for her leadership in war and peacetime, and several institutions existed that gave formal political power to women.

Women’s Radicalism and Activism

“What have we women done to warrant our being taxed? We women are like trees which bear fruit. You should tell us the reason why women who bear seeds should be counted."
Enyidia of Oloko (one of the protagonists of the Aba Women’s War)

Women’s activism in the anticolonial struggle in Southern Nigeria reveals how the form of rule shapes the form of revolt against it, and how indirect rule both “reinforced ethnically bound institutions of control, and led to explosions from within". By considering the struggle of women in Southern Nigeria, it is possible to evaluate the limits of citizenship for women under a system that in postcolonial Nigeria still maintains the essential characteristics that originally marginalized and excluded them. Three different types of administration were imposed on Southern Nigeria as part of the indirect rule system - The Sole Native Authority system in the South-Western Provinces, the Warrant Chief System in the South-Eastern Provinces, and the Local Township government system in the Colony of Lagos. In each case, women were consciously excluded. (While the traditional power of chiefs, priests, king makers and other titleholders to provide checks and balances against abuse of power and arbitrary rule was eradicated, women did not reap the benefits. Male titleholders could be appointed to the native authority councils, and men were appointed as warrant chiefs. In Lagos, however, women could participate in the traditional political system that was allowed to coexist with colonial administration but the Lagos Town Council (LTC) was created as a counter-force to traditional authority). This allowed for women’s participation, albeit in a limited way, given the constraints of a colonially imposed political order. In the South-Eastern and South-Western provinces women’s prior access to political power was eliminated and avenues for them to exercise authority prevented. Women chiefs like the Iyalode were stripped of their power and the avenues for their exercise of autonomy cut off.

In spite of being entirely circumscribed by the oppressive colonial state, women activists in Southern Nigeria engaged in vigorous struggles against the infringement on their interests and those of their communities. State imposition of unfair and unjust taxation galvanized women into political action in both the South-Western and South-Eastern provinces. Education for girls, equal pay for equal work, increased employment opportunities and political representation for women were issues that were identified as crucial. Women’s organizations were formed which built on the pre-colonial pressure groups and associations organized and controlled by women in rejection of their status as oppressed subjects under colonial rule. With the development of anticolonial nationalism, political organizations that were led by men welcomed and encouraged the involvement of women only to the extent that they would be foot-soldiers in the struggle to deracialize power. To the extent that women’s organizations were agreeable to joining nationalist organizations as members of their adjunct women’s wings, there were grounds for the cooperative struggle against colonialism and for nation building. When women refused to be subsumed under male-controlled party rule, they were marginalized in a manner akin to the treatment meted out to women by the colonial state.

The struggles of women in the South-Western and South-Eastern provinces and the colony of Lagos from 1914 to 1966 are indicative of the imposition of the citizen-subject dichotomy on Nigerians under British colonization. It also indicates a rejection of subjection by women activists, the demand for citizenship not just for women, but for poor men as well. This potentially democratizing move toward the decentralization of the power of the native authorities and warrant chief system, and for the extension of civil and political rights to Nigerians in the colony was nipped in the bud. As self-government and independence approached, the emphasis shifted from a combination of deracialization and democratization to an admixture of deracialization and despotism. Traditional checks and balances against despotic rule had been eliminated under colonial rule. It is a hallmark of postcolonial Nigerian politics that the struggle for federal resources has taken on a “no holds barred" nature that pits community against community and generate the riotous politics for which Nigeria is renowned.

There were several indicators of women’s rejection of the status of subject under colonial rule. By resisting government encroachment against their sphere of influence, women in the protectorate of South-Eastern Nigeria used their tradition of collective sex solidarity to push for influence in society. This, in spite of colonial constraints against the visibility, representation, and participation of women in the public sphere. While some of the early women’s movements and associations called for a return to traditional society and social mores, later groups sought active participation in politics during the nationalist era.

Although traditional symbols (mass dancing while singing derisive songs to send distinct messages on women’s displeasure) were used to express women’s displeasure during the Nwaobiala movement in the mid 1920s, colonial standards of justice were questioned. The legitimacy of a system that was externally imposed was also rejected. The Ogu Umunwanye, the Women’s War, which started in 1929, went even further to challenge colonial policies that were abhorrent economically, morally, psychologically, and politically. Taxation without consultation and representation was rejected. The women’s puzzlement was expressed eloquently during the collective punishment inquiry for Oloko native court area that was conducted by the colonial government. Enyidia of Oloko for instance, said in an interview, “What have we women done to warrant our being taxed? We women are like trees which bear fruit. You should tell us the reason why women who bear seeds should be counted." This according to Afigbo, is a challenge to the ethical and philosophical basis of taxation. It is also a critique of governance through imposition, without explanation of the rationale for the government’s action. Ogu Umunwanye was also indicative of a rejection of the warrant chief system, which victimized women, and excluded the legitimate traditional rulers.

In the event that the colonial government was loathe to eliminate the warrant chief system, some women proposed the election of chiefs in a process where men and women participated by suggesting that “If a new man is appointed, then all the women should be present and all the men should be present and both should approve his appointment." Some women, believing that white women got superior treatment, asked for the same treatment that white men gave to their womenfolk. A case in point was Mary Onumaere, a leader in Nguru, who said: “We have not been treated well. We wish to be treated just as Europeans treat their women in their own country. We don’t want to be oppressed by our menfolk." The tenacity and breadth of organization involved in the women’s war is indicated in the continuation of the agitation in other areas of the protectorate, such as the Owerri province. Protests did not stop until it was certain that women were not to be taxed and courts were reorganized to allow for limited terms, people’s participation, and the inclusion of some traditional rulers (the ezeala) and “younger, enlightened men" The women’s war was significant as a catalyst for women’s organized mass protest against the injustices of colonial administration.

Protest against taxation continued into the 1950s. With self-government came an imposition of taxation on women in the Eastern Region. Women in Aba and Onitsha resisted through mass demonstration, Aba women formed a new organization- The Aba Women’s Association, which passed a vote of no confidence against Mrs. J.N. Egbutchay, president of the Aba branch of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), and the sole woman Councillor in the Aba District Council for supporting the government’s finance law. Onitsha women’s market association issued a press release which threatened to support an independent candidate against the NCNC in the next elections. In response, the Eastern House of Assembly raised the minimum taxable income for women. In debates of the finance bill in the Eastern House of Assembly, at least one member, Eyo Ita, argued that if women were to be taxed, they should also have representation in the local councils and House of Assembly.

From Ladies to Women: Mass Mobilization in defense of Women’s Rights in the Western Region

The more women sought active participation in politics during the nationalist era, the more the emergent bourgeoisie sought their incorporation as subaltern support groups. The political activism of the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) was an example of Egba women’s struggle against the despotism and exclusionary politics of the Sole Native Authority (SNA) system. The SNAs had sweeping, far-reaching powers. All previous checks and balances on the power of the traditional ruler, the Oba, were cast away under the indirect rule system. King makers, chiefs, and priests who previously could act to limit the abuse of power and arbitrary rule of Obas were now dependent on the SNA for their appointment to advisory councils. In essence, they were rendered ineffectual. For women chiefs such as the Iyalode and Erelu, the limited entree that allowed the male chiefs to participate in the Native Authority system was non-existent. A few women’s titles such as Iyalode and Erelu remained but they were devoid of power. Under the leadership of Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, a mass movement was organized, which built on the existing organizations of Egba women. Through it, they resisted the status of subject under the SNA. The objectives pursued included resistance against the poll tax, against the harsh enforcement of sanitation regulations, and the payment of the water rate, as well as the removal of the Alake of Abeokuta, Oba Ademola from office. Resistance against colonial taxes and against the imposition of the SNA in Ijemo in 1914, and Adubi in 1918 were met with violence from the colonial state. By 1946, Egba women were not only protesting against the imposition of direct taxation, they opposed price controls and the negative ramifications of its policies on their group interests. The well-organized Egba Women Dyers and Adire Trading Union were able to oppose the Alake’s prohibition of the use of imported dyed and caustic soda as damaging to their trade, and were able to mount a sophisticated campaign of petitions and memorializing to the Alake, the ENA council, District Officer, Resident, and the members of the Legislative Council representing Abeokuta and Lagos. The organizations hired a Lagos-based lawyer, WNA Greary, to defend them. They engaged in press campaigns and mobilized so much pressure against the Alake that he was forced to establish a Commission of Inquiry in 1936 which found the SNA’s contention that the women’s use of caustic soda and imported dyes was damaging adire cloth (tie-dye and batik) baseless. Based on the commission’s recommendations, the Alake-concocted restrictions were lifted.

Other women traders were not as well organized to combat the SNA’s incursion on their autonomy by imposing price controls on food. However, the cooperative mobilization of Western educated and non-Western educated women traders under the leadership of Olufunmilayo Ransome- Kuti moved women’s activism to a higher level of radicalism. Initially, Mrs. Ransome-Kuti’s focus was on social welfare. Together with other educated women, she was the founder of the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC) - a group of Christian-educated women teachers and traders who engaged in good works, sewing, and catering, who were actively supported by the wives of British officials in Abeokuta. The organization aimed among other things, “To help in encouraging learning among adults, and thereby, wipe out illiteracy...and to help in raising the standard of womanhood in Abeokuta." Involvement in the literacy campaign combined with teaching sewing to market women directly involved the ALC in market women’s struggles against colonial government seizure of their goods without compensation (on behalf of the rice sellers association). Complaints to the Assistant District Officer, the District Officer, and the Resident yielded no relief. Attempts to lobby the members of the ENA council were stymied by the Alake who refused to allow the council to discuss the matter. The ALC publicized their campaign in the press thus: “We the members of the ALC, on behalf of all Egba women, appeal to the press of Nigeria to help bring the seriousness of the position to the attention of the authorities before it is too late." Six days later, rice control was eliminated in Abeokuta.

The ALC followed up its success by drawing up resolutions demanding improvements in sanitation, water supply, provision of clinics and playgrounds in schools, and financial support for adult Education. These resolutions were circulated widely to the holders of power - the Alake, ENA council, Resident, and 20 prominent chiefs. Part of the resolution was:

That there should be no increase on the taxation paid by women, as the majority of women in Abeokuta are very poor and can hardly afford what they are now paying. That there should be free trade between Egba people and all other provinces, and that there should be no restrictions as to what should be taken from one place to another except such restrictions as dictated by national necessities which must be determined by the judgement of the majority. The ALC was absorbed into the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) in 1946, with its leadership assuming leadership in the new organization. While continuing its interest in social welfare, it became radicalized in its goal of “eliminating the causes of hardship".

Guided by Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s vision of non-violent struggle, socialist orientation, and anticolonial ideology, the AWU was motivated to consider Nigerian women as oppressed under colonial rule, as having lost more than men (due to the loss of their traditional economic and political power) as a result of the decentralized despotism of the SNA system. In addition, women were denied suffrage, forced to pay taxes, and denied basic social services. To combat the gross exploitation of women, radical mobilization was necessary. Women had to organize to gain political power, demand suffrage and participation in government, and if necessary, changes in the system. Accordingly, the Aims and Objects of the AWU Constitution were directed toward defending, protecting, preserving and promoting the social, economic, cultural and political rights of women in Egbaland. (and) cooperating with all organisations seeking and fighting genuinely and selflessly for economic and political freedom and independence of the people.

The achievement of women’s rights, interests, and freedom from the SNA was considered impossible without the abdication of Alake Ademola and the eradication of the SNA system. The Alake was vigorously criticized, since he was considered the personification and symbol of the SNA to the detriment of his people’s well-being. Although ultimately the colonial government was the source of real power, the AWU attacked its agents, the SNA and Alake. For Nina Mba, this was an indication of the lack of understanding of the real source of power. Mamdani however presents an alternative way of considering the revolt against native authority. For him, Native authority was a site of struggle for those chafing under colonial oppression, particularly because the subject population had been incorporated into the arena of colonial power through the despotic organization of power under the native authority. The AWU’s struggle against the native authority can then be seen as a struggle for bottom-up democratization, which, if it succeeded, strikes at the heart of the decentralized despotism of colonially imposed domination. The rationale for resisting despotism at the local level arose from considering the despotism of foreigners as unacceptable, but still as paling in significance to one’s own kinfolk’s collaboration with the oppressor. If collaborators can be curtailed and disabused from selling out, the basis on which despotic rule is based is challenged, political participation can be broadened and principles of consultation and representation respected.

The AWU challenged the Alake’s abuses of food and price controls, his interference in trade, particularly the attempt to establish monopolies by obtaining special privileges from European firms, interference in court matters, particularly the abuses of dowry payments, and of the dipomu system, (that enabled women who sought refuge from their abusive spouses to take refuge in the Alake’s palace. Once they grabbed hold of a support column on the premises, they were traditionally guaranteed refuge). It was alleged that the Alake was profiteering from the system by charging women for accommodation, and that he also demanded sex from some of them. In addition, the Alake was charged with exploitative and corrupt practices in the leasing of land and the enforcement of building regulations. For the AWU, the documentation and publicization of its grievances were a crucial element in the struggle against the inequities and injustices of the despotic SNA administration. In a memo to the Resident’s Commission of Inquiry on May 31 1948, the AWU said:

The system of SNA system had been a great source of the oppression and suppression to the Egba people. Even most of the members of the council were not free to express their minds. The Alake always posed as “Mr. Know All."... The Egba women would very much like this power of SNA removed because we are not happy under it. It is foreign to the customs of Egba. The complaints of the union also included grievances about the abuse of power by the native authority police and the SNA’s disinterest in checking them, the demand of taxation from women without any commensurate benefits, and the failure to provide social services for women and children. In essence, the AWU demanded guaranteed rights of citizenship. To redress some of the inequities and injustices under the SNA system, the AWU hired an accountant to audit the SNA treasury in order to document unnecessary expenditures. The AWU argued that women did not have to pay taxes if the SNA husbanded its resources properly and took alternative measures instead of direct taxation to raise revenue. Ultimately, the AWU challenged the poll tax by arguing that there should be “no taxation without representation", thus, it called for the representation of women on all bodies that administered Egba affairs by members of the union. The AWU’s rationale was that since men had not protected women’s rights, women’s representatives are needed to do so.

Using mechanisms including mass demonstrations, which involved the singing of derisive songs and abuse directed against the Alake; pressure group tactics, including petitions and propaganda; legal processes; press campaigns, including letters to the editor, articles, and press conferences, the AWU achieved one of its primary objectives when Alake Ademola abdicated on January 3, 1949. Other objectives were achieved to a limited extent. These included the abolition of women’s taxation and increase in the flat rate for men in 1948 and the appointment of four women to the Egba Central Council, that replaced the SNA. Egba women gained political participation on an unequal footing vis-a-vis men (as construed by the ideals of liberal democracy), but they were only able to generate a limited degree of change in the colonial policy of excluding women.

The limited gains made by women did not translate into participation in decision making. Men dominated in the first political parties while actively depending on material and mobilizational support from women. The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), and Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) garnered varying levels of support from women’s groups. However, women did not feature prominently in the leadership of these and other parties during the nationalist era and after independence. The few parties formed by women either died quick deaths or were absorbed into the male-dominated parties.

The Post-Colonial Period

Increasingly, women were incorporated into the political system as subordinate, ineffectual adjuncts to men. Thus, the nature of their incorporation reveals the persistence of male dominance and gender bias over time. Some women were elected into local government councils in the South. In 1961, three women were elected into the Eastern House of Assembly. From 1960 to 1966, two women were appointed to the federal senate. There were no female ministers at either federal or regional levels.

Women did not feature prominently during the preparations made by the Obasanjo/Yar’Adua regime for returning power to civilians. No woman was appointed to the fifty member Constitutional Drafting Committee, very few women were elected into the local government councils during the 1976 elections, and only Mrs Janet Akinrinade was elected to the Constituent Assembly. Four other women were appointed to the 250 member assembly. This limited the potential influence and participation of women in bringing issues that favored them to the forefront. The design of mechanisms for enforcing existing constitutional protections for women was also unaddressed. The administration appointed Mrs. Womiloju Idowu as head of the Ogun State government during the final stage of the transition to civilian rule. She was the only woman so appointed. 51.3 percent of the registered electorate were women, five of the 52 associations formed were led by women, but none was registered by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO).

The National Council of Women’s Societies, formed in 1959 as an umbrella group for all women’s associations in Nigeria, formed the League of Women Voters for the purposes of educating women voters on the exercise of their civil rights, identifying candidates and parties that would promote the interests of women, and working toward involving more women in policymaking. The League later disbanded. Many of its prominent members had entered politics, and the FEDECO required that it register as a political association. Northern Nigerian women were enfranchised in 1978, but many states required that proof of income tax payment be shown before registration, thus illegally requiring property qualifications, and discriminating against those who did not pay income taxes by virtue of impoverishment. Most of those affected were women.

The nature of women’s involvement in the political process has remained constant over time. During the transition to the second republic, there was a resurgence of women’s wings in all the registered political parties. The women’s wings had representation in the parties’ national executive, but did not participate in the policymaking caucuses. The positions that women held in the parties did not go beyond that of one out of many vice-chairpersons. As happened during the prelude to independence, and during the first republic, parties nominated women as candidates for elections in constituencies where they had little chance of being elected. No woman was nominated as presidential or gubernatorial candidate. Some women were drafted as gubernatorial running mates, and the People’s Redemption Party nominated Bola Ogunbo as Aminu Kano’s running mate. Four women contested for the 95-seat Senate, all lost. Seventeen of the 2,000 candidates for the 450-seat Federal House of Representatives were women. Three won. Forty-two out of the 5,000 candidates for State Houses of Assembly were women. Five won. Only two of the five registered political parties had any provisions that related to women. The National Party of Nigeria promised to involve women fully in public life, and the Great Nigeria People’s Party that day care centers would be provided.

Women gained more prominence during the second republic, but their political presence in decision making remained highly circumscribed. The Shagari regime appointed three women as federal ministers, more women than ever before won elections into the National and state assemblies, and the policy of having one female member in each state cabinet, instituted by the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime, continued. Although these gains were made, there were no concomitant improvements in the quality of life of the majority of Nigerians. Infringements on the rights and liberties of citizens increased, with the government using the police and military forces to terrorize its opponents. Women’s groups demanded and got a National Committee on Women and Development, but it was made a unit of the child and family welfare section of the Directorate of Social Development in the Ministry of Social Development, Youth and Sports. Its functions were advisory, and the government resisted all demands to upgrade it to departmental level and to grant it executive status, as required by the OAU and UN.

After the coup d’etat that catapulted it to power, the Buhari regime continued with the Obasanjo/Yar’Adua policy of token representation for women in federal and state cabinets. The Babangida palace coup in 1985 ushered in a regime that had no women in the Federal cabinet, but proclaimed a policy of equal opportunity, and the emancipation of women. Thus, one out of every four nominated local government councillors was a woman, there was a woman on every government board and parastatal, two women were appointed Vice Chancellors, and the Better Life Program was inaugurated ostensibly to “fully integrate women into the production process".

As part of the process of designing Nigeria’s future political system, a Political Bureau was created. Although the bureau was charged with making recommendations on the role of women, only two women were appointed to the Political Bureau in 1986. Several women’s associations were commissioned by the Bureau to present Nigerian women’s ideas. It is instructive to consider the recommendations made by Women In Nigeria (WIN), one of these associations. WIN consulted with ninety-seven women’s associations in seven zones. It did not only consider the role of women in politics, but the gendered nature of the structure of government and forms of representation, family relations, the socio-economic, and legal systems. Legal and constitutional rights were not only sought in the public sphere, but in the family, work place and society. WIN’s recommendations broadened the concept of democratization to include all spheres of life. As with the women’s war, there were instances where women’s rights as mothers and qualities attributed to women were used to push, argue for, and promote the superiority of women as leaders.

In general, women’s associations demanded thirty to fifty percent representation in legislatures and cabinets. The NCWS demanded the revival of the League of Women’s voters, and that all administrative and legal impediments to women’s equality be removed. The Political Bureau recommended that five percent of legislative seats at all levels be reserved for women. However, the government rejected this recommendation, maintaining that reverse discrimination would constitute an infringement on equal opportunity for all. This is in spite of the existence of a quota system in Nigeria and the use of the principle of “federal character" to ensure balanced geographical spread in employment, admissions, the location of projects, and recruitment into the armed forces. The regime was later to appoint six women to serve in the Constitution Review Committee (CRC), a forty-six member body. Nine women were appointed, and five elected to the 567 member Constituent Assembly.

The opportunity to consider the crucial issue of inheritance in the CRC presented itself when the provision that “No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth" was discussed. The protection given to out of wedlock children was questioned by a female member of the CRC as supporting “promiscuity and moral decadence" This matter affects not only out of wedlock children, but their mothers, particularly because the co-wife married under statutory law is privileged in matters of inheritance. Questioning the rights of inheritance of out of wedlock children reveals that women cannot be treated as an integral whole. Nothing in the history of women’s collaboration and cooperation indicates that this was ever the case. Statutorily married women tend to maintain that they and their children ought to have prior, privileged, and sole access to matrimonial resources. Statutory courts traditionally ruled in their favor. Women married under customary law challenge these provisions, as is revealed by many lawsuits that challenge the laws of inheritance.

The design of a constitutional provision that resolves this matter in the interest of the children of the customarily married co-wife is not a popular move from the perspective of the statutory wife. Even though a union of the laws is purported to be a corrective against such problems, the challenges faced are indicative of the continued disjuncture between not only legal, religious, social, and moral mores that emerge from indigenous principles and philosophies of life, and Western desiderata, but also of the reality that women are not a homogeneous group, and as such would have to surmount numerous obstacles before meaningful coalitions can emerge.

Within the Constituent Assembly (CA), the identification of some issues as “no go areas" by the Babangida regime ensured that the jurisdiction of Sharia courts and the structure of Nigerian federalism would not be discussed. Sharia courts operate only in the Northern states, and they make decisions on all aspects of a muslim’s life, particularly in the area of personal law. Laws of inheritance, divorce, property rights, and custody of children are some areas where women have traditionally been discriminated against. Some women’s groups that made representations to the Political Bureau demanded legal reforms in these areas. The government however foreclosed any opportunities of discussions and possible reforms. The operation of the federal structure in Nigeria has also had discriminatory ramifications for women who marry and live outside their state of origin. Such women may be discriminated against in employment, promotion, admission to schools, and other entitlements. When women asked for a redefinition of the federal structure, they wanted these issues to be discussed and resolved. Again, this was not done.

Although not formally allowed yet, most of the parties that were formed in preparation for the third republic were formed in the CA. Since women were in the minority, it stands to reason that there would be few formed by them. In addition, only the very affluent could afford to meet the conditions established for party formation - an office, paid officials, at least 200 members in all 499 local government areas. It was also required that twenty copies of the names, photographs, and other information on the members be submitted to the NEC within three months of lifting the ban on partisan politics. The Nigeria Labour Party was formed in large part, due to the efforts of the Nigeria Labor Congress Women’s Wing. Unfortunately, the party was one of the thirty that applied for registration and was rejected by the NEC. Most of its members later joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP). When the National Republican Congress (NRC) and SDP were created by government fiat and registered, the National Electoral Commission ruled against women’s wings, thus ending the institutionalized formalization of Nigerian women’s subordination to male politicians. While this could well be interpreted as ending the treatment of women as second class citizens, it did not provide institutionalized amelioration of their subordinate position in the political arena. In response, the National Commission for Women (NCW) and NCWS demanded that both parties outline their platforms for women but the political parties only made a cursory reference to women’s issues, barely stating a commitment to their full emancipation, participation, and involvement in all areas of life.

Paradoxically, the very measures that were introduced to ensure that women had more prominence and visibility only reinforced the predominant tendency toward the tokenism and co-optation of prominent women. As part of the Babangida regime’s commitment to a dual transition, while the political transition was underway, the Structural Adjustment Program was also adopted against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. The pains of the program were much deeper than the meager gains yielded. On the one hand, the Babangida regime engaged in convincing Nigerians that there were some gains to SAP, and upon failing to convince them, provided some vestigial measures that were woefully inadequate to assuage labor and other anti-SAP critics. On the other hand, the first lady, Maryam Babangida consulted with an ad hoc committee composed of professional women to develop the Better Life for Rural Women Program (BLP). According to its architects, the program was to have empowered women politically and economically, but it institutionalized a system where the first lady became the national chairperson. Governors’ wives became the state chairpersons, and wives of local government chairmen, the local government chairpersons. Women were thus coopted into the state as was done previously -- as a subordinate but ineffectual part of the power structure.

There is no doubt that Mrs. Babangida wielded a great deal of power when compared with previous first ladies. There also is no doubt that the highest levels of decision making were devoid of women. Much money was spent on the BLP. Several programs were established, and mobilizational campaigns undertaken to register women voters. More women than men voted in the elections. Pressure from women’s organizations led to a decree establishing NCW in 1989. The commission had an advisory board composed of one chairperson and ten members, all appointed by the President. Its secretariat was headed by an executive secretary. It was charged with implementing the board’s recommendations. The Commission was part of the executive branch, and since it was located in the presidency, it was hoped that it would bring women’s issues into the forefront, and institutionalize women’s participation in decision making.

The BLP was incorporated into the NCW as one of its three departments, and eventually, Mrs. Babangida replaced Professor Bolanle Awe as the Chairperson of the Advisory Board. This shifted the focus of the Commission in favor of BLP programs. The BLP succeeded in having a presence in every local government area, but its tangible achievements were very limited. In general, women’s participation in decision making was highly circumscribed, but within the bureaucracy, as is customary in post-independent Nigeria, some women who rose to prominence successfully pushed for better conditions of service, including an end to discrimination in salaries, wages and taxation, as well as tax relief for women with children. In spite of these gains, the Babangida regime remained essentially authoritarian. Government opponents, and critics were harassed and detained. The spouses, and female relatives of coup suspects were detained and held hostage until the suspects surrendered. Some state assemblies passed laws that targeted and penalized women.

Within the NRC, there were two state chairpersons, Bosede Oshinowo in Lagos, and Helen Gomwalk in Plateau State. Within the SDP, more women had positions of authority at the local government and ward levels. Compared with 1091 men who were chairpersons, deputy chairpersons and secretary in both parties, there were only twenty-nine women in similar positions. A total of 209 women were party executives, but thirty-one percent of them were ex-officio members. 159 women members of Local Government councils included 6.9 percent as Chairpersons, 31.5 percent as Deputy Chairpersons, and 61.6 as councillors. A total of twenty-seven women out of 1172 members of state houses of assembly were women (2.3%), one woman out of ninety Senators, and ten women out of 593 members of the Federal House of Representatives. There were seven women out of 293 gubernatorial candidates, none was elected, although there were two deputy governors. Only one woman ran during the 1992 presidential elections, which was later canceled. One woman participated in the presidential primaries in 1993. Although there are no de jure barriers against women’s participation in decision making, there are in fact, few opportunities to participate on an equal footing with men. The process is dominated by the wealthy and most of these are men.

As the Babangida regime became more dictatorial and authoritarian, and as the ramifications of the combined effect of Nigeria’s economic crisis and the Structural Adjustment Program led to deepened poverty among majority of Nigerians, it also became clear that the regime was unwilling to leave power. Critiques and protests increased exponentially. These included demands for economic as well as human and civil rights. Such demands were mobilized by workers’, pro-democracy, and women’s associations. When the regime scuttled the transition, there were women among its critics and also women among those calling for its perpetuation in power. The same was true for conditions under the Abacha regime, which unceremoniously threw out the Transitional Government put in place by the Babangida after he was forced out of office. The regime created the Ministry for Women, and the Family Support Program to replace the National Commission for Women and the Better Life Program. The Family Support Program further subsumed women’s issues under those directed at protecting family integrity.

During the transition to civilian rule, women were again, relegated into the background. Many news media reports attest to the marginalization of women in contemporary Nigeria’s political economy. Do reports like these indicate that women are perpetually marginalized, and that this is a condition that derives from traditional mores? To properly answer this question, it is clear that gender analyses have to be more rigorous. If as Nigerian women, we claim that our marginalization is an integral part of our tradition, we have to indicate in what manner such marginalization has occurred, we have to be specific about what forms of marginalization were manifested, and moreover, we have to indicate what women we refer to in our analyses.

Is every female a woman in each and every case of social, economic and political interaction? Is each woman equal to the other? Do all women suffer in the same manner from the heavy weight of patriarchy, and thus, become automatic lifetime card-carrying members of a global sisterhood of the oppressed? Is the observed marginalization of women in contemporary Nigerian politics a legacy of our pre-colonial past, our unchanging culture, and our primitivity? Luckily, there are now new and different voices that approach these questions from a more informed, balanced perspective. Funmi Iyanda’s article in Tempo, titled “An Opinionated Female" is just one example of a more accurate rendition of history, a clearer vision in representing women’s history and the role of women among the Yoruba in Nigerian society.

The contention that I make is that despite the gross diminution of women’s power and presence in the public sphere that attended the colonial project, that despite post-colonial governments’ relegation of women into the background, there is still evidence of women’s power. Such evidence largely go unrecorded because most of our work replicates those that study us precisely to dominate us. It is clear that there is a hegemony in the production of knowledge that favors the West and Westerners, whether they are men or women, friends or critics of Africans. This hegemonic system produces or signs off on most of the knowledge on Africans, including Nigerian women. Thus, scholarship on all things African reveals a great deal of homogeneity. The concluding section will address these questions in the context of Nigerian federalism.
State Violence in 20th Century Nigeria

Scholars and analysts differ over whether or not Nigerian women have always participated actively in the country’s politics. For some, despite the difficulties encountered during the colonial era, women’s political activism was directed at recovering some of the administrative and political powers that were denied them (Mba, 1982). Historically, Nigerian women have been shown to participate in governance since the pre-colonial period. Some were rulers; others were public officials with institutionalized offices and powers in their communities and realms. The position of women in society was clear. Ibibio women for example, had the Iban Isong organization, which protected and extended women’s political, economic and social privileges. Many women’s organizations continued to thrive under colonialism. However, political rights were denied both men and women, and as incremental rights were granted to men, women became increasingly excluded and marginalized.

The imposition of colonialism and its structural consolidation generated some powerful resistance, some memorable ones spearheaded by women, who resented the erosion of their powers and the imposition of unacceptable draconian measures such as taxation without representation and illegitimate rulers who refused to be responsive to their people’s needs. Notable among these was Ogu Umuwanyi, waged by Ibo and Ibibio women which culminated in the 1929 Aba women’s war. Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and the Abeokuta Women’s Union also confronted an insensitive Alake who was widely believed to be a colonial stooge. In a categorical denial of women’s rights, the British left them out as they undertook gradual political reforms such as elections and constitutions. Women could neither vote nor contest elections. Thus, Ityavyar was right in saying: “one would not be far from right to suggest that colonialism is the midwife of the political marginalization of women in Africa”.

Nationalist struggles continued during the relaxation of some of the draconian conditions that marked the end of colonialism and the inception of western forms of democratic governance, but did not yield much gain for women in the higher echelons of public office and political power structure. This tradition continues today and has become the watershed characteristic that is used in most analysis to define Nigerian women’s political participation and power. For most others, the marginalization and oppression of Nigerian women in indigenous society continued unabated until the present.

Apologists could well make a claim that there were no women in military or the top echelons of the civil service, but there was neither sensitivity to the need for policies that ensured that women could aspire to rise to these positions through training, mentorship and sponsorship for requisite higher education. None of the military Governors appointed by General Gowon was a woman. The Federal Executive Cabinet was composed of 11 civilians and 14 members of the Armed Forces and Police. Not one was a woman. This blatant disregard for women was most unwarranted because there were numerous Nigerian women professionals in Law, Medicine, and higher education, who had advanced degrees and requisite experience and could have been recruited for the positions seemingly reserved for men. There was a similar absence of women in the cabinets of state military governments, but a few had one token woman.

In his first iteration as the primary decision maker in Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo maintained the male dominant strategies of colonial and previous postcolonial governments in Nigeria. Women were also prevented from participating in determining the rules under which the country would operate in the proposed post-military era. This decision was met with complaints and agitation. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), a body of 50 “wise men” were selected for their qualifications, experience, and on the basis of ensuring equitable representation from the 19 States, in existence at the time. Unfortunately, although it was well past the middle of the 20th century, (1978), not one Nigerian woman was included.

While women in Southern Nigeria got the franchise in the 1954, along with all Nigerian men, women in Northern Nigeria were still not allowed to vote or be voted for until Obasanjo’s military regime, through a decree approved the Universal franchise for women in 1976. The women in the south had been enfranchised for over 29 years before their sisters in the North. The deliberate denial of the franchise to Northern Nigerian women was not uncontested. One very significant example is the case of Hajia Gambo Sawaba, who was a tireless, tenacious and relentless champion for the rights of the poor, marginalized and excluded. She fought valiantly for women’s rights, including the franchise. Just because of her participation in politics, government officials labeled Sawaba a prostitute. She was beaten, jailed more that 17 times and was once expelled from the city of Kano by the emir of Kano. This onerous experience means that she holds the record as the most frequently jailed Nigerian woman, jailed purely because of her involvement in politics.

Idika Ogunye collected and analyzed diachronic (historical) statistics for Nigerian women’s participation in politics. She demonstrates that in the democratic transition process of the early 1990s, only 27 (2.3%) of 1172 legislators in the various states’ House of Assembly were women, and none of them won. Only one woman was elected Senator in the second and third Republics. The political executive committees did not fare better; 3.99% of the executive committee members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and 4.32% of those of the National Republican Convention (NRC) were women. Only two to three women were appointed as cabinet members during the period. The trend continued in the 1997 local government elections when less than 1% of the elected chairpersons were women. Less than 1% of the members of the House of Representatives (in 1998) were women. In the first term of the Obasanjo civilian administration (1999-2003), women represented only 3 out of 108 senators, 12 out of 360 members of the House of Representatives, one out of 774 Local Government Chairpersons, and one deputy governor out of 36. This very marginal presence of women in positions of authority is better appreciated if considered against the fact that women constitute about half of Nigeria’s population, and more than half of its voters (27 out of 47 million in 1999).

Apart from malicious and pernicious myths about women’s inferiority, there are also inaccuracies about the impact of high levels of social and economic indicators. For example, it is generally believed that better and higher levels of education and socio-economic status signal increased levels of women’s political participation. This assumption is questionable, since Nigeria’s South West zone has women who are well educated and affluent, but who have not done significantly better than women in the Northern political zones in producing women who are elected into political office. Even parties that claim to be devoted to women’s advancement such as the AD and PDP do not engender policies that support Affirmative Action and promote women’s issues. All the political parties are also beset by factionalization, dissension, clashes among opposing forces, carpet-crossing to bandwagon with the winning coalition, and a benign neglect of any agenda that would propel women into the forefront of Nigerian politics.

During the Abacha years (1994-98) Nigeria experienced the most brutal dictatorship in its history, and the dictator had plans to succeed himself as an elected civilian head of state. In the same period, the State and Federal Commissions for Women were converted into Federal and State Ministries of Women Affairs. Theoretically, the new policy was designed to enhance the participation of women in decision-making. Many women participated in the Abacha transition. After the 1998 elections, which were held before Abacha died, twenty (20) women became members of the 360-strong Federal House of Representatives, while nine (9) women became Senators out of a total of 109. Upon Abacha’s death, the elections were revoked. Women were not as successful in the succeeding elections organized by General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1999.

The elections leading to the Fourth Republic produced disquieting results. Only 631 women out of 11,881 candidates for elected positions were women. Of these, twelve (12) women made it into the House of Representatives, a minuscule number out of 360 members, and there were only three (3) women out of 109 Senators. 27 million or about 57% of the 47 million registered voters in the 1999 general elections were women; however, only 1.6% of them won elections. Women’s membership in political parties was 5% in 1999, only 7% of them were party executive members and a mere 8% were party delegates.

Today, despite the weight of Nigeria’s post-colonial history, one of the encouraging signs in the Nigerian political terrain is the emergence and efflorescence of civil society organizations among which women’s organizations, women’s activist organizations, and women’s studies scholars are in the vanguard. Another encouraging sign is the large number of women candidates relative to past elections.
The impediments to women’s participation in politics include the lack of consideration for women’s issues, violation of party rules and plans for affirmative action, weak political institutions, the use of zoning and other gerrymandering strategies to prevent women from attaining political office, the pervasiveness of an “old boys’ club”, supported by rich and powerful men dubbed “godfathers”, collusion to engage in corrupt practices, the construction of religious and cultural prohibitions against women’s public role in governance, lack of financial capacity, power politics, the use of strong arm strategies, intimidation and violence, machinations within political parties, the construction of gender to forbid women’s active participation in politics, and women’s acceptance of the status quo, structural collusion and smear campaigns that ruin the reputation of women who dare to participate.

Professor Jadesola Akande identifies ten benefits of Affirmative Action for women:

1. Ensure greater participation of women in politics and governance in terms of numbers.
2. Enhance women’s effective participation in politics and governance in terms of quality.
3. Cultivate the political culture of women voting for women.
4. Cultivate the political culture of men voting for women.
5. Cultivate the political culture of men getting used to and accepting woman leaders.
6. Promote greater accommodation and consideration of women’s views in decision making.
7. Promote personal and collective development of women.
8. Build the political, social and economic capacities of women over times.
9. Inspire and motivate girl-children and youths in general to aspire to greater heights
10. Entrench true and enduring democracy; promote public accountability and good governance, which will ultimately lead to sustainable human development.

Aili Mari Tripp identifies reasons for women’s increased political participation as follows:
1. The move toward multipartyism in most African countries diminished the need for mass organizations linked and directed by the single ruling party. Thus, the demise of these mass women’s organizations coincided with the rise of independent women’s organizations that took advantage of the opening up of political space in the 1990s.

2. With the increase in educational opportunities for girls and women there emerged a larger pool of capable women who were in a position to vie for political power

3. Women in many countries frequently had longer experiences than men in creating and sustaining associations, having been involved in church related activities, savings clubs, income-generating groups, self – help associations, community improvement groups and many other informal and local organizations network.

4. The new availability of donor funds, channeled through international and local NGOs, religious bodies, embassies, and international foundations has been another factor in spurring the growth of national level organizations that support women’s political activities, generally on a non-partisan basis”.

5. A commitment to women’s increased representation on the part of the leadership of the country is another critical factor in advancing women’s political representation.

6. The international women’s movement has played a significant role in encouraging women to seek political office and influence policy making.

7. Much of formal politics in Africa is underwritten and controlled by informal patronage politics. Most women tend to operate on the margins of clientelistic networks. This means that women have often found opportunities to advance themselves where clientelistic networks were weakened by economic crisis, as has been the case in the recent years in Senegal. Economic crisis has forced many women into formal and informal economic associations and into heightened entrepreneur’s activity.


As seen above, there is an enduring culture of the marginalization of women in Nigeria’s political system. In spite of the clear desire of more women to participate in the political system, the rhetorical pronouncements by Nigerian rulers on the importance of including women in governance on an equal footing with men, the encouragement given by many women’s Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and Multilateral Organizations, and the impetus drawn from the Beijing Conference, concrete achievements that demonstrate the realization of Affirmative Action goals are lacking. This informs Nigerian women’s activist organizations’ response in their demand for participation that is not restricted to voting in elections, but extended also to the process of ensuring the deepening and broadening of democracy in Nigeria. Thus, women’s rights organizations demand the entrenchment of respect for constitutionalism in Nigeria by contesting actively, the state’s wanton neglect and abuse of citizens’ and especially, women’s rights.

Clearly, it is more enlightened and accurate to recognize that there was significant reduction in women’s political power during colonialism, and this trend continued in the postcolonial era. This is part of Nigerian history and political culture, but should by no means be considered the beginning point. Men gained distinct political and economic advantages during the colonial era that have in the postcolonial period, been parlayed into strengthening the male-dominant and patriarchal elements of formerly fluidly determined social structures. Women’s activism however, only responds to the contemporary power of men as a given, rather than a reconstructed system of advantages that can be challenged through the use of tried and true old and new mechanisms. Thus, the project that is faced by Nigerian women today is less an unqualified embrace of western feminist ideology and praxis than a welding together of rehabilitated and recovered best practices from indigenous traditions with strategies, mechanisms and institutions derived from best practices in the global women’s and feminist movements.

Simply stated, gender is socially constructed and concerns the manner in which a society conceptualizes the roles that men and women play, and the power capabilities that are attached to these roles. It is impossible to engage in gender analysis without considering the social context in Nigeria, where seniority sometimes trumps gender, and gender roles are not necessarily biologically determined. This fundamental difference between Nigerian and indeed, many African societies and western social relations imply that being female does not confer perpetual second class citizenship on an individual, since the same person who may be discriminated against and assigned to a weaker social role in some respects, for example, as a wife, may also exercise significant power as a “husband” in her natal family. In the precolonial era and during the early days of colonialism, some institutions like woman-to-woman marriage also enabled women to acquire other women’s labor and children in order to enhance their ability to generate wealth. Applied to social relations in general, gender could empower or marginalize, depending on the existing temporal and material conditions as well as social circumstances.

What is the best way to conceptualize political participation? Most scholars tend to use elections as a gold standard for measuring levels and depth of citizen participation. However, most scholars of democracy are also highly skeptical that elections can generate the deepening of democracy, while activists and the development industry in general, vouch for the efficacy of elections as a tool for instantiating and consolidating democracy. A minority, including Staffan I. Lindberg, and Samuel Huntington, present a strong defense of elections as a valuable resource for the deepening of democracy. The scholars distinguish between political competition (as candidates for elections) and political participation (as voters who elect the candidates, and as pressure groups and interest groups in civil society). Pearl T. Robinson in considering transitions from authoritarianism highlights the strong impact of the culture of politics on regime change and democratic transitions. For Robinson, the “culture of politics,” is: socially legitimated and validated political practices that are derived from a community’s historical and contemporary knowledge base. Its mores can be easily apprehended by all, be they elites or ordinary people. They are also not immutable, but are subject to constant change, consequent upon political learning. They permeate the social codes, practices, traditions that regulate relations of “power, authority, participation and representation.”

There is no consensus on how to conceptualize or understand women’s political participation and the consequent effects on politics and political systems. Some scholars complain that there is much confusion and misunderstanding of what women’s political participation entails, and why it is essential. Thus, there is widespread belief that women’s participation in politics is only about mainstreaming gender through equitable representation of women in the political system, and thus, that this is an exclusively women’s question. Instead, women’s participation ought to be seen as crucial to the success and endurance of democracy. It is then imperative that those interested in women’s political participation also attend to all matters related to fostering women’s power throughout the political system. According to Lovenduski, women’s political participation can be conceptualized as crucial to the deepening of democracy, and it involves both descriptive and substantive representation. Descriptive representation concerns the election and appointment of women into office, while substantive representation can flow from descriptive representation, and it relates to the insertion and incorporation of women’s issues into policymaking.

Commitment to gender balance in governance and the creation of an agenda and structure that makes this possible are fundamental aspects of required strategies. The persistence of gender inequalities retards both economic development and social well being for all citizens. Research-derived evidence exists that more impoverishment, less economic growth, lower quality of life and standard of living accompany gender inequality, and tilt the balance in all respects toward countries that work assiduously toward gender equality. In countries desirous of equal participation in the global agenda setting, gender equality is a matter of national security. There is a belief on the part of Nigerian women’s organizations that there is rampant discrimination and gross marginalization of women in Nigerian politics. The need for increased and more effective women’s participation is widely acknowledged. Consequently, these organizations decry the incremental nature of changes but acknowledge there are some noteworthy gains. The most significant to date is that a woman is now speaker of the House of Representatives. However, the percentage of women in the national and state legislatures, as well as in the executive branch, and in local government councils remains woefully inadequate. For these organizations therefore, the struggle continues, at least until the 30 percent Beijing and Millennium Development Goals recommended threshold be reached.

There is still a great deal of misperception of women’s political participation. Since most attempts to enhance women’s participation in politics focus on achieving gender equality, this issue still tends to be perceived as limited to pushing women’s interest and not as a human right that is also vital to the survival of democracy. What ought to be done is to concentrate on the initiatives that would give women more powerful roles and make their participation worthwhile. For this to be accomplished in Nigeria, it is crucial that the political system be structurally re-designed to accomplish gender balance in governance issues.
Awé, Johnson-Odim and Mba give us examples of women who have taken leadership roles in their societies. From these studies, it is clear that when we speak of women, we ought to specify that there are class differences among them which imply that some women are granted social, political, and economic privileges that are not open to others. These privileges are also not open to majority of men in society. Examples abound all through Africa (Awé, 1992; Johnson-Odim & Mba, 1997). As a result of colonization, African culture was interpreted as a disability, the terrain of reprehensible traditions that hold women back rather than liberate them. Subsequently, to be modern was taken to mean the abandonment of the African for the culture of the Western colonizer. The worldwide spread of capitalism that has been intensified as a result of globalization also pressures Africans to further abandon whatever vestiges of their culture remain in order to better fit with the world. To the extent that this is the agenda of the hybrid, the goals are more in line with the agenda of the emergent global culture that is purveyed by capitalist businesses whose primary desire is to make profits.

If we take the feminist contention that gender is socially constructed seriously, it is inevitable that constructions of gender differ from one geographical location to another.Since almost the entire continent of Africa was colonized, today, one observes the combination of pre-colonial culture with elements absorbed as a result of the experience of colonization. Colonization continues today, facilitated by the neo-liberal economic ideology of integration, by the technological innovation that have eased communication, thus increasing the ability of owners of technology to have tremendous cultural influences on those who lack it, or who lack the most powerful or the most recent technology.

To return to the question of women’s power in African society, and the circumstances under which they may have power, and the influence of women’s power or weakness, I make the following initial claims: Women may have power in society in the following institutions: the family, kinship group, community, ethnic group, state. In the context of African indigenous culture, instances of power would include women’s power as mothers vis a vis children, regardless of age. As wives in a polygynous family, the first wife has more power than other co-wives. As political officials, there are examples of women who are queen mothers e.g. the Edo of Nigeria, the Buganda of Uganda, the Akan of Ghana. Women can also have economic power based on their ability to own the means of production, or the ability to control the gains that they make from exchange. There are also examples of women’s ritual power. Some are priestesses, deities.

A second set of issues arise. To what extent does globalization affect the extent to which women possess, and exercise power? Given that globalization empowers the richer, more technologically and militarily strong countries at the expense of their poorer, less technologically and militarily strong counterparts, the imperialism of globalization endangers the culture of the latter while it strengthens the former. African traditions that invest women’s with the right to hold and exercise power must be recovered from the detritus of past and contemporary history. Such recovery can be construed as facilitating the improvement in our understanding of not just what the mores and ethos of African cultural traditions are, but of the restoration of the philosophies and deep meanings that underlie social practices. Scholarly responsibility entails saving from obscurity those valuable practices that define the essence of the human experience in African traditions. If such effort bears fruit, the wounds inflicted by past skewed and biased interpretations can be healed, and the values that undergird the recognition of the importance of women in society preserved. In consequence, ideals will be reestablished and values revived, and renewed.

In the effort to undertake the excavation and recovery of progressive African traditions, consider the feminist contention that women are commonly oppressed by male patriarchy. It is relevant to ask the following questions: What are the defining characteristics of femaleness and maleness, strength, and weakness? Have these characteristics remained the same over time? When did they change? The comprehensive answer to these questions can only be answered through deep, focused research in all of Africa’s regions. My analysis will focus specifically on the Yorùbá of Southern Nigeria. Among the Òyó Yorùbá, historically, seniority, and not gender was the definitive category (Oyewumi, 1997). Contemporary Yorùbá adoption of Western gender categories is a direct consequence of the incorporation of the Yorùbá into the world economy, first through trade relations, rapidly followed by the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the “legitimate trade,” European exploration, the scramble for territories in Africa by the various European powers of the late 19th century, colonization, and decolonization. The postcolonial history of the Yorùbá is necessarily deeply impacted by this historical progression from trade to decolonization. This progression also should be seen as part of the process of globalization. The most current phase of globalization continues to have a deep impact on the Yorùbá and other African ethnic groups. Despite such impact, scholarship that excavates people’s history for deep philosophical meaning will reveal a world-sense that differs from the Western.

The application of Western gender categories to Òyó Yorùbá society constitutes an erasure of the real lived experiences of people. This is because one and the same woman may be a daughter, wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and mother in law, political official. Each status can be advantageous or disadvantageous. Such advantages and disadvantages are relational because they are held vis a vis other individuals in society, who may be male or female. Women are not precluded from exercising power, even women who are materially poor.

Within the context of the Yorùbá culture, as a daughter, a woman has rights in her natal family vis a vis the wives in the family. As a matter of fact, other women who marry into this kinship group refer to her and all the “children of the house” as “oko” {husband). Women who are oko have privileges and entitlements that arise from this status. They also have rights to their family’s land; inherit from their father through the unit that is headed by a mother (in a polygynous family). As ìyàwó, this same woman has little power vis a vis her sisters in law and mother in law in her husband’s family. She gives the women in her husband’s family the respect that is due to these statuses without in any way abridging her rights and entitlements in her natal family. As first wife, a woman has more power than subsequent wives. She is no longer responsible for the drudgery of everyday chores when junior wives are married. She must be consulted in all matters including the marrying of the co-wives. As mother, a woman has remarkable power over her children, regardless of their age. She is entitled to this power by virtue of ìkúnlè abiyamo [the pains of the labor process]. As a sister, a woman has power vis a vis younger siblings. She has less power vis a vis older ones. As a mother in law, she has enormous power vis a vis her daughter in law. She can decide to use this power in a just manner, or choose to be oppressive vis a vis her daughters in law. As a grandmother, a woman is respected by all that are junior to her as having attained the heights of old age, and thus as having become wise. The Yorùbá say that such women, ti g’òkè àgbà.

While there are conditions under which women are legitimately able to exercise power, t each and everyone cannot perform identically. Personal capacity matters. Also, social and political institutions can intervene to empower or disempower individuals and groups in society. When we also consider the question of what constitutes the defining characteristics of maleness and femaleness, these characteristics may not be attached to males or females as a function of institutions assigning roles in an immutable, unchanging manner, but as part of a fluid, hegemonic process where the hegemons of the day define for everyone else what the common sense understandings of the world should be. As a result of the operation of a hegemonic process, powerful groups in society can then generate a definition of strength and weakness and the assignment of gender roles to fit the common sense understandings of the world. What those roles are for African in the pre-colonial era differ from what they came to be in the colonial era, which also differ from what we observe today. In this most recent phase of globalization, the hegemonic attempts are observable in the campaign for a worldwide women’s movement that is less interested in developing a rich, varied, and complex mosaic based on the contributions of women from all parts of the world, than in producing homogenized and hybridized women that are replicas of the Western model.

There is a tendency to use tradition and modernity interchangeably with Africa (the former) and the West (the latter). Most scholars in treating Africa as the sphere of tradition and the West as that of modernity fall into the fallacy of claiming that African societies will continuously wallow in "traditionalism." Thus, they lose the everyday sense of 'modern' as 'new' as 'contemporary' as something that each and every society undergoes without implying that any/all new evolutionary change is Western. The modern and modernity must be de-linked from the W. tern so that we can meaningfully tract changes that are homegrown, neighbors influenced, and/or Asia inspired from those that are western influenced. If we do not do this then we run the additional risk of conceding autonomy to the West.

To all intents and purposes, what we see in African countries today is that people, including scholars draw a dichotomizing line between modernity and tradition which affects not only practices, values, principles and behaviors that humans manifest, but also the geographical spaces that they occupy. The city under this dichotomizing scheme is modern, the village, traditional. Wearing a Yorùbá ìró and bùbá [wrap and loose top] is traditional, wearing a skirt and blouse is modern. Cooking with a gas stove, using aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans is modern; using wood in an àdògán, [wood-burning stove] clay pots, some kinds of cast iron and wooden spoons is traditional. If a woman cooks, that is tradition. If a man does, it’s modern. If a person lives in a mud hut, that’s traditional, in a concrete house with corrugated iron with galvanized steel roofing, it’s modern. A traditional woman is weakened by traditional structures. She has to cook, clean, take care of children and the old, the sick and visitors. She cannot have any perception of herself as an individual. The community defines her. She is the property of her husband, a jural minor, is likely to have had some genital surgery imposed on her, to have experienced high levels of infant mortality, to be illiterate, poor, overworked, unappreciated, and totally marginalized. A modern woman is not. (Okome, Jenda 1:1, 2001)

The question we need to ask and answer is: If the traditional woman is traditional, what makes her so? That she resides in the traditional milieu? When did tradition stop and modernity begin? Did tradition weaken people due to some intrinsic quality in tradition, while the logic of modernity is intrinsically to empower, to free the individual from parochial ties that ultimately marginalize? Most people tend to date modernity from the 15th Century contact between Africa and the West, a contact that ultimately denuded all Africans, male and female, of any meaningful power. If we think of tradition and modernity as constructs that define a moment of domination, we begin to see that what we take as “tradition” today has a strong overlay of the “modern”.

What one observes in Africa then is not necessarily tradition versus modernity, but the dragging of Africans into the European-dominated world system to perform the menial tasks. The dragging in was not only the exercise of physical power but of hegemonic power where the new conquerors influenced society in a profound way to define the conquered as “savages” and themselves as the “civilized liberators”. Tradition and modernity, properly construed would include an understanding that each and every human society has the old and the new. This is true for Africa as it is for the West. In point of fact, the Yorùbá conceptualize change and the motive forces that drive it in human society as combining with continuity to constitute the norm. They speak of òlàjú (enlightenment), ìdàgbàsókè (growth), ìlosíwájú (progress/moving forward) at the same time as they use the adage: “kò s’óun titun kan l’ábé oòrùn (there’s nothing new under the sun), e jé ká seé bí wón ti nseé, k’ó le rí b’ó ti nrí” (let’s do it as they do it [as it ought to be done] so that it turns out as it is ought to). The Yorùbá also distinguish between ayé òde òní (today’s world) and ayé àtijó (the world of the past). Similar claims can be made of other African ethnic groups. Change is inevitable, and social practices are constructed and re-constructed in response to the challenges that confront a people. African peoples are not isolated from the currents of change and their societies, and culture. They ought not to be studied as such. (Okome, Jenda 1:1, 2001)

Being the conquerors in the wars of pacification that preceded the colonial occupation meant that the Europeans could define the conquered Africans as “savages”, as people who had no hope of salvation but for the benevolence of their magnanimous conquerors. Many think that this perception died out with the end of colonialism, but it is alive and well when contemporary scholars refuse to acknowledge that many pre-colonial African societies had traits that are now attributed to modernity. Those traits were not only discouraged by the Europeans who considered themselves the epitome of modernity, they were subjected to wanton destruction. The surviving societies tried to stave off the assault of by maintaining some practices, fashioning new ones to ward off the calamities that beset them. All these societies are now presented as traditional, and as manifesting the pathological traits of backwardness.

The question of whether a society can forever be frozen into a “traditional” milieu that repels change arises. Contrary to the assumption that tradition is lodged permanently in the African continent, it is more productive to consider the admixture of continuity and change, the coexistence of modernizing and traditional processes in society. It is also immensely worthwhile to consider the assumption that only from the repertoire of the Western bag of tricks can Africans learn. To the contrary, there is much that each of Africa’s ethnic groups can learn from the others. Much of this may also be modern. Through this framework, the role of African women in society can be examined.

Accompanying the gross exploitation of Africa’s human and material resources, were attempts to establish the conquerors’ hegemony such that their world view and philosophy become the new norms. Conquered people are expected to embrace the notion that their world view and philosophy are illicit, illegal, and ignorant. Whereas in African women had important roles in society, prior to colonization, these are defined out of existence. Although in their religion, the colonized had indispensable roles for women to play both as deities and priestesses, with the imposition of Christianity, such roles were defined out of existence, and sometimes even criminalized. Whereas motherhood formerly implied power, it now came to be seen as an impediment. Whereas motherhood and gainful employment were not mutually exclusive, they were soon construed as such with the unrelenting imposition of Westernization upon Africa. Although being a woman was not coterminous with being the weaker sex, this became the norm. Indeed, one of the most important institutions upon which a woman’s claim of power could be made - motherhood- became irrelevant because of the separation between the public and private spheres that was an integral part of the colonial enterprise. As actors that were restricted to the private realm, women were domesticated and subject to the discipline of those recognized as the heads of households - men.

We look now at women all over Africa and maintain that “tradition” is the problem. If we are among the more progressive, we argue that women are oppressed by patriarchy that besets them from two sources - the tradition of patriarchy and that set in motion by colonization. To make this claim depends on the extent to which we can maintain that the societies of Africa at the inception of colonization were “traditional”. To claim that they remained pristine, immutable and unchanging, conservative and reactionary in the face of centuries of countervailing influences from within and without. This is wrong because between the prehistoric age and the15th Century, history reveals evidences of continuity and change in the African continent. Thus the wholesale assumption that there is a dichotomous relationship between tradition and modernity must be nullified. Change is as much a part of the pre-colonial as it is of post-colonial Africa. However, the pace of change, and the extent to which phenomena such as urbanization and the establishment of large-scale mines and plantations generated deep shifts that were extremely dislocating can be examined as creating new dynamics. Necessarily, what these dynamics are will differ from country to country, and from community to community.

To take the various roles of African women that were heretofore identified as indicators of instances where they may be able to exercise power, as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, mothers in law, political official, owners of capital, monarchs, nobility/aristocracy, deities, religious leaders. It is necessary to focus first on the ideal, and on what is possible under the best possible scenario.

Motherhood and Power

Òrìsà bí ìyá ò sí, ìyá l’à bá sìn. [There is no deity like the mother; mothers are the ones that we ought to worship].

It is widely posited that motherhood is important in all of Africa’s societies or communities. Of course, the requirement that all women ought to be mothers may also operate in an oppressive manner to discipline those who are not able to bear children. I want to start with the ideal. Ideally, what are the powers, privileges, and entitlements that motherhood gives a woman? The Yorùbá say, Ìyá ni wúrà, baba ni jígí [Mother is gold, father is a mirror]. Mother is gold, strong, valuable, true, central to a child’s existence, wise, also self-denying. As a mother, ìkúnlè abiyamo - the kneeling position that is assumed at the moment of birth - confers privileges on a mother. Ideally, mothers ought to be respected, ought to be heeded, ought to be able to ask their offspring to transcend the limits of doing just enough. Mothers also ought to be respected by society at large. The very act of childbirth is to say the very least, one of the most difficult things that a human being undertakes in life. Prior to this, a mother carries the child in uteri for nine months, and subsequently, nurtures the child, guaranteeing not only physical survival, but moral development and the development of a social conscience.

Among the Yorùbá, motherhood confers privileges, privileges that hark back to the very foundations of society and women’s presumed roles in it. Women symbolize fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness. Women also are feared. They are believed to be capable of deploying, even of having the capacity to unleash powerful forces of darkness. Those who have studied the rituals associated with Gèlèdé ritual performances among the Ègbádò and Ìgbómìnà demonstrate the underpinning of female power and the visible demonstration of the power of women for both good and evil, the power to create and destroy, to critique social behavior and to use the power of satire to check transgressors. Gèlèdé is a display of the power of women to create new life and to undermine the very essence of society if not properly worshiped (Lawal 1996). A similar portrayal of women’s power in the spiritual realm is observable in Ifá, in the worship of Yemoja, Oya, Òsun, all very powerful female deities. They are referred to as Ìyá by all their worshipers and devotees who are both men and women. These deities are also ministered to by both men and women. Priests and priestesses who are fully initiated into the service of these òrìsà are referred to as the ìyàwó, prior to gaining the full stature of priest, When male Yorùbá priests are in this final preparatory stage, they dress in “women’s” clothing, a factor that has generated the observation among some scholars that this entails cross-dressing. Moreover, the donning of women’s clothing by such priests is regarded as a mark of transvestitism. (Matory 1994: 6 7, 183 215; Wescott and Morton-Williams, 1962, 25; Drewal, 1992, 121, 137, 177, 185, 190).

Women as Ìyàwó
As aya or ìyàwó [wives] who marry into an ìdílé [patrilineage] and have patrilocal residence in an agbo’lé [family compound], Yorùbá women are essentially the outsiders within the ebí [family]. One side of the equation that most analysts and scholars fail to consider is also that a male that marries into an ìdílé does not have superior rights within that ìdílé to the women in the ìdílé. As outsiders, they only participate in decision making through the agency of their wives who are part of the ìdílé. There are also social obligations that men who are outsiders to the ìdílé by virtue of being married into it must perform. To concentrate our attention on women, being an ìyàwó is the site where women’s biological reality of being sexually and anatomically female conjoins with the social reality of being women, and thus less powerful than males. As ìyàwó, a woman who marries into the ìdílé has a lower status than the oko [male and female members of the ìdílé within the ebí, a status that pays no attention to anatomical maleness, or femaleness but one that privileges membership in the ìdílé. This is why all the descendants of the ìdílé have superior rights to those who marry into it. All ìyàwó labor can be demanded by their husbands (including all members of the patriliny) and is expected to be graciously given. ìyàwó also occupy a lower status, a fact that is demonstrated by the deference shown to oko (all members of the patrilineage into which they marry). Due to the erasure of the philosophical underpinnings of Yorùbá social practices that has occurred over time, it is necessary to explain to many educated Yorùbá that the reason why mothers call their male and female children oko is an indicator of the mother’s outsider status and an affirmation of the children’s insider position vis-a-vis their own mother.

Despite the intrusion of new principles and institutions over time, such relationships can be observed in contemporary Yorùbá families. When women act as oko within the ìdílé, they are often presented by scholarly observers as examples of woman’s inhumanity to woman (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1996).
Among ìyàwó, the first wife is more powerful than others by virtue of being the first- comer into the family, and thus having seniority vis a vis other ìyàwó within the family. Of course, since no family is immune to the effects of politics, there are cases in which the favorite wife threatens the supremacy of the first wife. Wives have also been known to cooperatively challenge an unjust oko, whether spouse or the members of the ìdílé. What is clear in the relations among women is that one cannot make an ad hoc assumption about the commonality of the female experience.


Women as Oko

As members of an ìdílé into which other women marry, the women are regarded as the oko [husbands], and thus have a great deal of power. They are entitled by the norms of Yorùbá society, to demand and expect the labor of the wives of the family. In return, they are expected to comport themselves with dignity, and to lawó [be open-handed or generous] toward their ìyàwó. The categorization of women members of an ìdílé as oko is not to be taken as indicating any sexual relations with the ìyàwó. Instead, it indicates that Yorùbá societies do not have the same gendering imperatives that one finds in the West. Unfortunately, since most scholars of Africa have the tendency to adopt Western categories as given, and since they apply the categories without inquiring into whether they fit, Western-style gender categorizations have become de rigueur in African scholarship.


Women’s religious and ritual powers

As deities and ritual leaders, there are no gendered differences in the social experiences of men and women. Many Yorùbá deities combine male and female properties and qualities. There are even examples of one and the same deity being designated male in certain locales within Yorùbáland and as females in others (Ìdòwú, 1962). Oya, one of the principal deities of the Yorùbá, for whom the river Niger is named Odò Oya by the Yorùbá, is reputed to have been one of the wives of Sango, the fourth monarch of the Yorùbá. Her symbols are two naked swords and buffalo horns. For Johnson, “As thunder and lightning are attributed to Sango, so tornado and violent thunderstorms, rending trees and leveling high towers and houses are attributed to Oya. They signify her displeasure.” (Johnson, 36). These are not female characteristics in a gendered world that sees women as kind and gentle, nurturing and docile. Within the Yorùbá philosophy of life, there is nothing intrinsically male and female. An anatomical male can be both gentle and ruthless and so can an anatomical female. What matters more is for such qualities to be deployed appropriately.

Women as political officials

Political power is not limited to men within Yorùbá society. Yorùbá princesses can marry commoners who may then be conferred with titles (including obaship, as Johnson claims is the case of the Olowu, son of the first born of Oduduwa (a princess) and her father’s aláwo [priest] (Johnson, 8). There are still contemporary examples of female ìjòyè [chiefs] abound. Ìyálôde, Erelú, Yèyé Oba are just a few of such female positions. Today, as with the Obaships, these positions are denuded of power, being only ceremonial vestiges of their pre-colonial manifestations. That they remain, and that the holders attract the respect and admiration of the public is an indicator of the persistence of norms and values that do not conform to a Western-delimited understanding of gender. The Òyó empire and other Yorùbá states show us evidence of the institutionalization of women’s political power into centralized political realms in a manner that demonstrate that anatomical and biological femaleness was not considered coterminous with a disadvantaged gender.

Social status and power was multiply determined and whether an individual exercised power depended on scope and domain. As Ìyálôde, we have the examples of Efúnsetán Aníwúrà of Ibadan, Madam Tinubú of Abéòkúta (Awé, 1977) as powerful women of their times who exercised the power with which their office was endowed, and in the case of Efúnsetán Aníwúrà, were not averse to engaging in power struggle and participating actively in war, albeit through surrogates, as did many of their male counterparts.

In the Òyó Empire, the Ìlàrí, who were variously regarded as the keepers of the king’s head, or his body guard were both male and female. According to Johnson, “Every male Ìlàrí has a female counterpart who is called his companion. The Ìlàrí themselves by courtesy call them their “mother.” They are both created at one and the same time and they are supposed to seek each other’s interest, although there must be no intimacy between them; the female Ìlàrí being the denizens of the King’s harem; the only attention they are allowed to pay each other is to make exchange of presents at the yearly festivals.” (62). In addition, Johnson also identified “Ladies of the Palace” who included eight titled ladies, eight Priestesses, other ladies of rank, Ayaba (king’s wives). As residents in the palace, all the women were termed Ayaba, which is no indication of their being married to him. As indicated by Johnson, the highest ranked women are listed in order of importance as follows:

1. Ìyá Oba
2. Ìyá kéré
3. Ìyá-Naso
4. Ìyá-monari
5. Ìyá-fin-Ikú
6. Ìyálagbon
7. Orun-kumefun
8. Are-orite

As the king’s official mother, the Ìyá Oba acted the part of a mother and was empowered to jointly worship Òrun with the Oba and Bashòrun every September. According to Johnson, “She is the feudal head of the Bashòrun. Great deference is the due of the Ìyá Oba, but the Ìyá kéré wields more power within the palace, being in charge of the royal treasury as well as the royal insignia and all paraphernalia used on state occasions”. Being in control meant that she could prevent any state ceremony when the Oba incurred her wrath. She was also the official mother of all Ìlàrí, be they male or female. In recognition of her motherhood, they were created in her quarters (63). Ìyá kéré was also the feudal head of Ìséyìn, Ìwó and Ògbómòsó.

Among the Ìjèbú, women are members of the Òsùgbó, the same institution as the Ègbá Ògbóni, of which women are also members. In the pre-colonial era, this institution served the functions of schooling members in oratory and jurisprudence. It also functioned as the national court of appeals. It had jurisdiction over criminal cases and was mandated to execute those convicted where warranted. The Ògbóni house was also used as a state prison when necessary. Most importantly, the institution was mandated to prevent monarchical absolutism as well as mass lawlessness (Ayandele, 1966, particularly p. 170). In the new Òyó Empire, a female official of the Ògbóni represented the Aláàfin and reported back to him on the council’s deliberations. The institutional function of the Ògbóni included serving as a check against the abuse of power Òyó Mèsì.

The institution of Ìyálóde has replaced the important institutionalized women’s political positions of the pre-colonial era. Among the Ìjèbú, the Erelú serves in the same capacity. Although today’s Ìyálóde still have a great deal of power, particularly in the sphere of exchange and commerce, where market administration and adjudication are their purview, and even though we know of the famous Ìyálóde of yore like Efúnsetán Aníwúrà of Ìbàdàn, Madam Tinúbú of Abéòkúta, this position too is denuded of much of the formal powers that it had in the past. Today, the Ìyálóde is the title that denotes seniority among the female political officials in some Yoruba indigenous governance systems. In Lagos, the Ìyálóde remains an important official, being subordinate in standing only to the Oba of Lagos. The Ìyálóde also participates actively in the appointment and installation of the Oba. Among the Òndó, women have a hierarchical line of chiefs that parallels men’s chiefships. Oyewumi’s research also draws on evidence of women monarchs among the Òyó Yorùbá (Oyewumi, 1998).

Women as owners of capital and controllers of economic power

Yorùbá women have gained more recognition as holders, controllers and wielders of economic power than for any other kind of power that they exercise. Many studies point to the active participation and contribution of Yorùbá women in the economy, but also accurately decry the lack of recognition by post-colonial Nigerian governments for this contribution (Awé 1992). Curiously, active participation in the economy has also not been successfully parlayed into post-colonial political power (Awé, 1992). The same assessment can be made of women’s experiences throughout Africa, which ought to be translated into a realization of the depth of the success of the colonial project. A homogenized existence that does not reflect the pre-colonial realities now runs rampant because there is no observable difference between one African country and others (this is in spite of South Africa’s appointment of many women into political positions and the election of many female legislators. What is needed is not necessarily just more women in power, but having many women in power who have a deep understanding of the needs, goals and objectives of women (as multiple as these may be given differences in their class and regional interests). This is a difficult, but not impossible agenda that will continue to challenge us in the future.

Conclusion

The majority of Nigerian citizens remain subjects in the colonial tradition. The rights of citizenship are extended to the few. The only meaningful difference between colonial and postcolonial governments in Nigeria is the deracialization of state power without the concomitant decentralization of power. Thus, in de facto terms, most Nigerians stand in relation to the state, as subjects, not citizens. During the colonial era, citizenship, defined as the ability to explicitly and actively participate in government as a vigilant member of civil society, was extended to the few Nigerians that “qualified". The postcolonial state maintained that situation. Until the rights of citizenship are extended to all Nigerians, particularly women, through decentralization that allows full participation in the political process, the state will remain remote from the people. It will also not reach its full potential. By continuing to exclude women, the state and the Nigerian federation remain incomplete.

From its inception, the state in Africa has excluded categories of people— all the “natives", and particularly, their women. When very few Africans were redeemed from “nativeness", to citizenship, women were deliberately, and consciously excluded and so were the poor. Nigerian governments continue to do this, whether military or civilian. The problem with Nigerian federalism is the fusion of power at local, state, and federal levels. This is clearest under, but is not limited to military regimes. Military regimes have only narrowed the political arena by abrogating the rights of participation through voting. This paper addressed questions of the meanig of political power, the capacity to exercise that power, and the extent to which women can participate in the political system as full citizens. It considered issues related to the meaning and the implications of the unequal access that is built into the state structure.

Nigeria was created in 1914 by the administrative fiat of its British colonizers. There was no participation whatsoever from the peoples of the area. For the overwhelming majority, there was even no awareness that a conference had been held in Berlin, and that as long as Britain could prove “effective occupation", Nigeria belonged to it, lock, stock and barrel, a fact stated most succinctly by late Obafemi Awolowo, one of the country’s foremost nationalists and federalists who told us that “Nigeria is nothing but a geographical expression." A predominantly male bourgeoisie actively cooperated and collaborated with women activists and supporters during the nationalist struggle for independence to wrest power from the colonial state. This bourgeoisie inherited the colonial state but immediately relegated women to subordinate and ineffectual positions in politics.

The state maintains the colonial legacy of bifurcation where a few citizens enjoyed civil rights and the overwhelming majority were subjects. There was a gender, racial, as well as a rural-urban divide in colonial times. Under colonialism, the only people that were allowed to become citizens and exercise the rights thereof were urban colons from the metropole. Colonized peoples in the urban areas neither enjoyed the rights of citizenship, nor were they governed by customary law. The colonial state was a Janus-faced structure which inclined its civil face to the minority from the metropole. To these were extended a regime governed by the rule of law and the rights of citizenship. To the colonized majority, the subjects who either lived in the juridical limbo of the urban areas, or under the decentralized despotism of native administration whether in colonies or protectorates, was inclined the brutal, despotic face of the state. While the postcolonial Nigerian state accorded absolute de jure equality to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, place of origin, and religious belief, it was not until 1979 that sex was included among the prohibited grounds for discrimination. Its inclusion was due to an amendment by a female member of the constituent assembly, lending some credence to the argument that the involvement of more women in politics would yield positive gains for women as a group.

For subjects chafing under the despotic and arbitrary rule of customary native authorities and the denial of the rights of citizenship, both the local and central state were the enemy. The nationalist struggle against colonialism was a struggle of the burgeoning middle and working classes against the state in the urban areas for incorporation into civil society. In consequence, an indigenous civil society emerged, which pushed for the creation of a deracialized state. With independence, the deracialization of the state was accomplished, but civil society remained defined by the accumulation of racial privilege. It was imperative for the inheritors of the colonial state to deracialize civil society. This generated the impetus toward Nigerianization. The politics of Nigerianization both unified and fragmented Nigerians. As a project that dismantled racial privilege, it held out the promise of unification for those who were previously victimized by racism under colonialism. As a project of redistribution, it raised the spectre of regional, religious, ethnic and gender divisions that were subsumed under the rhetoric of bringing the government closer to the people: a decentralization of the Nigerian federation through the creation of more states, but the entrenchment of the rural-urban, and gender divides, plus the supplanting of the racial with the ethnic divide. The result created a dichotomy between few citizens and numerous subjects since the deracialization of the state failed to culminate in its democratization. Because the local state remained unchanged, it exhibited a remarkable fusion of power. It was despotic. Legislative, judicial, executive, and administrative power were vested in the chief.

For democratization to be achieved, deracialization of civil power must be combined with the detribalization of customary power, enabling the transcending of the legacy of bifurcation. The focus of the struggle against customary power was directed toward the imposition of “tribal" native authorities which enforced the colonial order as customary. The colonized peoples’ demands were often for a return to genuine untainted custom, which was antithetical to the state-enforced perversion that was imposed through indirect rule. The demand was not necessarily for spatial decentralization, which was already in place, but for an end to despotic, unrepresentative rule.

To focus specifically on the responses of women to the despotism of colonization, there were many strands. It is clear that women lost more political power than men in the transition from pre-colonial to colonial rule. From being valued participants with official representatives in the political systems of their communities, they lost their voice. They also lost the opportunity of participating in the economy, and thus, opportunities for upward mobility. Some sought inclusion in the administration of the political system, while protesting their exclusion and vigorously opposing injustices that caused their marginalization. Some used colonial law when it favored them, for example, in divorce cases, and ignored it when it did not. Other women spearheaded the campaign for girls’ education and employment. Colonialism victimized and de-possessed women by denying them the opportunity to participate in politics or wield authority. Their protest was mobilized through the traditional modes of power that they vigorously maintained and protected against colonial elimination. However, the role of women in political activism, as well as their political participation was and is not unproblematic. Nigerian women cannot be studied as a corporate whole with undifferentiated needs. As with the rest of society, they are divided by class, ethnic and other cleavages.


APPENDIX

Lyrics: “Unknown Soldier” from Coffin For Head of State album— Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Fela: Make you no go when you hear.
Just wait there, make I tell you something
Chorus: Fela you go come again
Fela: I never come again. I stay for far away.
Make you wait till I reach where I dey go
Chorus: where you dey go? (3 times)
Fela: Make I reach.
Chorus: where you dey go? (2 times)
Fela: don't ask me
Chorus: where you dey go? (2 times)
Fela: Wait and see.
Fela: I say... This thing wey happened, happened for my country.
Nah big-big thing, first time in the whole world.
If you hear the name, you go know.
Goverment magic.
Tell me the name now:
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: dem go da baru everything;
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: dem go turn green into white
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: dem dey turn red into blue
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: Water dey go water dey come ( 2 times)
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: dem dey turn electric to candle (2 times)
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: Goverment magic
Chorus: Government magic.
Fela: I say I dey come... small, small
Fela: Look oh! Look oh!
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: one thousand soldiers, dem dey come,
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: People dey wonder, they wonder, they wonder
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: where these one thousand soldiers dey go ?
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: Look oh! Look oh!
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: Na, Fela's house: Kalakuta,
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: Dem reach the place, dey wait
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: Dem dey wait for
Chorus: order
Fela: Yessir
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: then sudden this place kwan-kwan, dem they wait
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: With dem helmet and them guns and them petrol, and them matches
Chorus: Left, right, left, right…
Fela: Then again.
Chorus: Suddenly
Fela: Fela dey for house, Beko dey there too, dem mama dey too, beautiful people dey there too, frenchman dey there too, press man dey there too, 150 of us dey there too. Then suddenly, suddenly, suddenly..
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku, nyema-nyema-nyema, chiggi-chiggi-chiggi
Fela: yes, dem they rape,
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku, nyema-nyema-nyema, chiggi-chiggi-chiggi
Fela: yes, dem they steal
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku
Fela: yes, dem they loot
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku,
Fela: yes, dem they fight
Chorus: nyema-nyema-nyema
Fela: yes, some of the women dey rape, yes they fight, yes by force, yes dem they burn, yes dem they burn, yes dem comeout one student's eye, yes dem break some-some head, dem break some-some head
Fela: dem throw my mama, 78 year old mama, political mama,
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku, nyema-nyema-nyema,
Fela: political mama, ideological mama, inflationary mama, ideological mama, political mama, influential mama
Chorus: chuku-chuku-chuku, nyema-nyema-nyema, chiggi-chiggi-chiggi
Fela: dem throw my mama out of for window
Fela: dem kill my mama. dem kill my mama, dem kill my mama, dem kill my mama, dem kill my mama !
Fela: dem carry everybody. dem carry everybody go inside jail.
Fela: Everybody dey inside jail. We dey wait. 27 days. Them lock us.
Press dey shout.
Radio dey ring.
People dey talk:
"Them go burn Fela house.
Wetin dis Fela do?
Dis goverment, he bad-oh.
Wetin dis Fela do?
Fela talk about soldiers flooding civilians for streets.
Fela talk about government wasting money for festival.
Wetin dis Fela do?
Dis goverment he bad-oh."
People start to talk-o
government start to shake-o
Then suddenly. Suddenly. Suddenly...
Government bring instruments of magic.
Dem bring enquiry
Dem bring two man: one soldier, one justice
The name of justice: Mr What justice.
The other justice: Major Injustice.
Dem start magic: Dem seize my house. wey they there born. Dem seize my land, dem drive all the people wey live in area: two thousand citizens, dem make them all homeless now .
Dem start magic, Dem start magic.
dem bring flame, dem bring hat, dem bring rabbit, dem conjure, dem bring smoke, dem they fall, dem conjure, spirit catch them. Dem they say:
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: 921
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: Government Magic
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: I get some information for you (2 times)
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: That my mother wey you kill,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: She fought for universal suffrage
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: That my mother wey you kill,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: She fought for universal adult suffrage
Fela: That my mother wey you kill,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: She's the only mother for this country
Fela: That my mother wey you kill,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: She's the only mother for Nigeria
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: Which kind of injustice is this?
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: wetin kind government inside? If na Unknown Soldier
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: I said, wetin concerned government inside?
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: If na Unknown Soldier
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: we get unknown police,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: we get unknown soldier
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: we get unknown civilian
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: or is it part of unknown government?
Fela: we get unknown police, dem kill nice student
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: we get unknown civilian, dem go kill 2 soldiers
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: we get unknown soldier
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: I say unknown police and then unknown soldier and then unknown civilian or is it part of unknown government?
Fela: them turn green into red,
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
Fela: them turn blue into white
Chorus: Unknown Soldier
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