OMG means Olufunmilayo, Margaret and Gambo. These names represent three magnificent women who were known for one common goal- women’s rights.
Although many may have forgotten who they were and how they helped Nigeria overcome many patriarchal obstacles, we are taking a quick walk down memory lane to celebrate these incredible women.
Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti: Born on October 25, 1900, Olufunmilayo is the most popular and revered amongst all three women because of her legendary son, Anikulapo Fela Ransome-Kuti. But she was more than just a mother, she is remembered by some as the ‘Mother of Africa’. She was the first Nigerian woman to drive a car and the first to attend Abeokuta Grammar School. In the 1940s, she set up a market women association that fought against the heavy taxation of market women by the Alake and the colonial masters and won. She called the taxes – ‘sexist tax’.
She also organised classes for the market women to help make them more literate and led a campaign for the rights of women to vote. In 1946, the market women Association was renamed the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU). It was open to all women in Abeokuta and later became the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) headed by Olufunmilayo. After many years of activism, she finally took a less direct approach to address the government while her son, Fela continued the legacy she had begun. She died on April 13, 1978, from complications after being pushed by Nigerian soldiers from the second-floor window at the Kalakuta Republic.
Margaret Ekpo: She was a women’s rights activist born on July 27, 1914, in Cross-river state. She moved to Aba with her doctor husband after they got married in 1938, where she started her political activism. After travelling to study Domestic Science in Dublin in 1946, she returned home to take a more active part in the politics of the Eastern region.
She started her activism in 1945 when she represented her husband’s interest at meetings to fight cultural and racial imbalance in administrative promotions. She organized a Market Women Association in Aba to unionize market women in the city. Through the association, she fought for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansionary political rights of women. In the 1950s, she teamed up with Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest the killings of protesters at an Enugu coal mine. Her political career ended when she was detained by Biafran authorities for three years in prison during the Biafran war.
Hajia Gambo Sawaba: Gambo Sawaba was born in the North and grew up there. After she was married off at the age of 13 to a World War II veteran who left and never returned after her first pregnancy, she committed herself to fight against underage marriages. She was said to have been very headstrong and refused to leave a weaker person in a fight. It is for that reason she is referred to as a warrior.
She actively got into politics at the age of 17 as a member of Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU). She campaigned against under-aged marriages, forced labour and advocated for western education in the north. She supported women’s right to vote and was eventually elected leader of the national women’s wing of NEPU. She is said to have been arrested 16 times on false charges and treated harshly every time she was arrested. She was mentored by Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti and teamed up with her when the women’s wing of NEPU joined the Nigerian Women’s Union in 1958.
These great women of the OMG helped to create the foundation for a movement in Nigeria but the work is not yet done. “OMG: The Musical” ultimately reminds everyone that every member of society (regardless of gender) needs to be involved in the fight against the marginalization of women. At the end of it all, the great efforts, struggles and pains of these women must not be wasted and Nigerian women must be empowered to escape the clutches of the patriarchal society.
MTN in support of arts and culture in Nigeria sponsored OMG: The Musical to raise awareness on the works of these three great women. The play was held from December 2019 to January 2020 at Muson Centre, Lagos.
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