Letter to Funmilayo Kuti

Omoh Giwa

By Omoh Giwa

Dearest Chief Funmilayo Kuti,
Would you think me impudent if I offered libations from one feminist to another? Some would accuse me of blasphemy because I called you a feminist but can you blame them? That many self-acclaimed feminists have drifted from the nucleus of the ideology should not affect the objectives; at least one does not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Secondly, the variances in feminism might be a reason for their reluctance to call you a feminist; as a house divided cannot stand.
Mummy Fela, digressively, do you know your most stated legacy is ‘the first Nigerian woman to drive a car’ while they do not even bother to tell us if you bought the car with your “hard-earned” money or if it was your husband that taught you how to drive? Nothing just you drove a car, which is still an admirable feat considering that this was a time when women were mere incubators to be seen and not heard. Despite your laudable achievements, you are one of the least celebrated women in our collective history. There are monuments erected for Amina, Madame Tinubu, Moremi, Idia of Bini but I could find none in your honour.

The late Funmilayo Kuti

I, however, feel duty-bound to toot your horn because you are an exceptional woman. You who bore in your loins the one that had death in his pocket –Anikulapo, led a protest (Egba women’s Tax Riot) of over 10,000 women which led to the displacement of a ruling Alake or that you were a pioneering member of the defunct NCNC political party that presented the first president of Nigeria –Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe? I wonder how you must have felt to be the first female graduate of the prestigious Abeokuta Grammar School? You took a majestic status for me when I read about your suffragette ideologies and your lonely struggle to ensure that women can vote and be voted for, I couldn’t but wonder how your achievements have been sidelined. How your praises are not sung continuously in the hallowed halls of history is what baffles me.

Your striking magnificence has sidetracked me from my real reason for writing. You’re probably wondering why I have troubled your eternal rest and caused you to reminisce on your fatal fall in ’77. This predicament has nothing to do with Nigeria as a failing state or that a particular dictator might be considering extending his stay. No, this conundrum is so serious that it might cause Hell to freeze over as it threatens our communal freedom.

Have you been keeping up with the descendants of Eve since your ascension to loftier clouds? Can you see what we have done with a well-trod path you and your contemporaries began? Trust me; you will be shocked off your throne. Your progenies have desecrated your temples and discarded your laurels for more dignified contemporary issues like nudity and my personal favourite who wears the pants or does the cooking in the home? (all this hostility over should perform household chores?)

They can go on for hours on Obasanjo’s internet about who should take the front seat in a man’s car; his mother or his wife/girlfriend. When it seems like there would be no resolution, they would trade insults which honestly can be tiring after several episodes.

You know how “Abami Eda” used semi-clad women for his performances? Well, we have taken that a notch higher… you see they are often just plain naked, assaulting our ocular senses but
for the righteous sake of emancipation. Do not mind the busybodies that claim many women use their bodies as marketing and sales incentives. Their bodies are their choice you see. Though this slogan was initially associated with pro-abortion rights or underage marriage, is now the appropriate response for those who complain about nudity on national TV. Who cares about those grumbling about immorality and whatnot? In the wise lyrics on the precipice of the melodious tune advocating for female emancipation:…if I follow politician… them go call am prostitution… who no like enjoyment? If money dey your pocket, shebi na national budget?

Well, I am writing because I want to juxtapose your ideals with more contemporary ones. Some could say this brand of emancipation is ridiculing ‘the labours of our heroes past’ (should I have said heroine? I would prefer to be politically correct and adapt more gender-neutral language if you’re interested in that sort of thing). They even claim that the gospel according to feminism is destabilizing and undermining previous efforts in liberating the female but I refuse to comment on that. What I often consider is why some are more concerned about trivialities and are focused on rainbows, tattoos, nudity and general hostility and brashness (someone recently pointed out that many women are always on the defensive even when no one is opposing them). Isn’t it possible that women are usually defensive because they have been on the receiving end of domination and oppression for too long?

To think that in your days, when women had no voice, that people would have tried to intimidate and cajole you into silence was much worse than we have these days. Despite the hurdles you must have faced, you had a goal to better the lot of the average woman and it was obvious in your notable activities. Your imprints in the representation of women in politics and taxation set a milestone that has erected the structures present today. There’s room for improvement on women in politics, maternal mortality (according to WHO, our rate was the second-highest as of 2015), inequality in public service (do you know the Section 127 of the Nigerian Police Act disapproves women getting married/pregnant a few months after graduation from Police college and shall be discharged from the Force except with the approval of the IGP, though this does not apply to their male counterparts), domestic violence, date rapes and other injustices against females.

If you could provide a feminist manual, maybe it would help convince sceptics and unify our movement. Bye for now, Mama Kuti!
P.S. It has been said one can never get lost if they ask for directions so bear with me. Sun re o!

*Giwa is of the Department of English, University of Lagos