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Three Female Nigerian Feminists Who Made History

March, being International Women’s Month, is a time when the world celebrates women for their incredible work and laudable achievements. Women have always been the pillar of every society. Fueling the flame that keeps the world going with their wisdom, pain, tears and struggle, they have kept the world active in its true essence.

The dawn of the 21st century saw a rise in the quest for active feminism and the need to have women take the centre of world activities. Like every movement for equality, the battle for feminism met huge objections in some quarters.

Looking into the Nigerian history, we’ve always had feminists, only they weren’t called that. Amazing women such as Princess Amina of Zazzau (now modern-day Zaria), Iyoba Idia of Benin and Madam Efunroye Tinubu took charge of their day. They challenged every status quo relating to politics, economics, art, culture, tradition and even the definitions of their sexuality.

Iyoba Idia

Iyoba Idia Mask. PHOTO: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Iyoba Idia took active centre field of Benin history when her husband, Oba Ozolua, died. She fought for the right of the Obaship of the great kingdom by allowing Esigie, her son, to be king. She fought for life by rebuking the tradition where every king’s mother is put to death. She redefined the political structure of the Benin Kingdom, empowered its trade with the Portuguese and also invented the art of the day.

Idia’s social and cultural accomplishments such as her invention of the Ekassa dance for royal funerals and the ukpe-okhue, a distinctive curved, conical hairstyle covered with a network of coral beads and resembling a parrot’s beak, have been recorded in numerous writings. Economically, culturally and spiritually, she fortified the kingdom under Esigie’s rule. She later became a symbol for arts when her figurine was chosen for the FESTAC ’77 celebration.


Princess Amina

Princess Amina of Zaria. PHOTO: ASIRI Magazine

Princess Amina of Zazzau (now Zaria), a fierce warrior, was trained and schooled by her grandmother, Marka, the favourite wife of her grandfather, Sarkin Nohir. Amina never got married and she took men for herself in every state, but none of them ever lived to tell the tale of their sexual exploits. She killed them after having her way with them. At the peak of her power, Amina went to war for Zaria and forced emirates like Kastina and Kano to pay tributes to her state.

Madam Tinubu

Statue of Madame Efunroye Tinubu at Tinubu Square. Photo: The Nation

Madam Efunroye Tinubu came to Lagos from Abeokuta. She was a successful businesswoman, slave trader and a renowned “Kingmaker” of her time. She held the government of Lagos in her grip and was acclaimed to have organised the first major palace coup: the power tussle between Oba Akitoye and Prince Kosoko (1849-1851).

Madam Tinubu, just before she was deported to Abeokuta by the British Government, gave the then Governor of the Colony, Sir John Hawley Glover (24 February 1829-30 September 1885), the parcel of land on which the iconic “Glover Memorial Hall” was built. The Hall later became a citadel of arts that birthed the growth of art and culture in Lagos State and also saw the birth of stage play productions from great thespians like Duro Ladipo, Herbert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka, Steve Rhodes and many others.

These women in power broke all odds to give us what we have today.

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