Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Fela Kuti’s cousin carries on a lonely struggle in Nigeria

The Nigerian woman with a famous last name is now 64 and could be home with her grandchildren, but she is here instead, at a dilapidated police barracks urging officers’ wives to take a stand.

“This is time to say enough is enough,” said Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, a cousin of the late Fela Kuti, the iconic Nigerian musician, and a longtime activist for democracy and women’s rights.

“It’s time for change,” she said at a campaign appearance ahead of April’s elections. “We are all tired. We don’t want Nigeria to continue the way it has been. These people are enslaving us. We want to restore dignity.”

After years of furthering her family’s tradition of activism, Ransome-Kuti has now decided to take her struggle to the campaign trail by running for senate under an opposition party banner in the economic capital Lagos.

Even though one of her rivals in the race is the wife of a highly influential politician in Lagos, she believes she still has to fight.

She vows to continue the struggle for competent leadership in a country long held back by corruption and mismanagement — a battle already waged by three generations of the famed Ransome-Kuti family into which she was born.

“Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are staring us in the face. To avert a violent change, people like me … felt we didn’t have any choice but to stand for our people,” she said.

“We are told we might be a failed state if we don’t do something right now to correct some of the challenges we are facing.”

Unrealised dreams
An only child, she grew up with Fela and another of her cousins, Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka, who six months ago launched his own political party though he is not running for office.

“The fact that three generations of my family have lived, struggled and died for justice, freedom and development in Nigeria, and have not realised that dream” has forced her to stand for office, she said.

She insists she is financially comfortable and not seeking office for personal gain, vowing to fight against the huge perks that come with political positions in Africa’s leading oil producer.

“You can have free and fair elections from here till kingdom come,” she said. “If it’s the same old characters … that we keep recycling, that have not delivered, then we are wasting our time.”

Politics in Nigeria have been dominated by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party since a return to civilian government in 1999. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s main rival is former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the upcoming vote.

The head of a grouping of Nigerian non-governmental organisations and an international consultant on poverty reduction, Ransome-Kuti sees shame in the fact that the majority of Nigerians must scrape for a living in one of the world’s top oil-exporting nations.

‘Still struggling’
Her aunt and Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, became the doyenne of women’s rights in Nigeria after she led a fierce campaign against taxation of market women in 1949.

Yemisi also draws inspiration from Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president.

“There are times I say ‘Oh God! I am 64-years-old now, I have got four children, three grandchildren, and this is a hard country to work in. I should just go and enjoy my children’,” she said.

“But then I see Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia in her 70s still struggling for her people.”

With Nigeria’s elections approaching, Ransome-Kuti is pounding the campaign trail, running for the Social Democratic Mega Party.

‘Certainly not gender-friendly’
Parliamentary elections are to be held April 2, while the presidential vote is a week later.

“What does the Ransome-Kuti name stand for? It stands for justice,” said one supporter at the police barracks, Nonye Ajayi, adding she has been disappointed by vote-buying politicians.

Pat Utomi, a respected economist and long shot presidential candidate running under the same party banner as Ransome-Kuti, described her as “tenacious in mobilising for the oppressed, and she has done it consistently over the years”.

She does not mince her words. Speaking of women in politics, she says the politicians running Nigeria are “certainly not gender-friendly and their mindset is not democratic … They relate to us as overlords”.

At the police barracks, her words seemed to touch a nerve. The women gathered in small groups as if strategising on how to carry the message on to others. And Ransome-Kuti was off again to continue the struggle she seems to have been born to fight. — Sapa-AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Susan Njanji
Guest Author

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Pockets of instability in Kenya are underpinned by unequal development

Stability in Kenya hinges on a just, equitable distribution of resources, and a commitment to progress human development for the marginalised

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…