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Lady Oyinkansola Abayomi: An Amazon, trailblazer

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Lady Oyinkansola Abayomi, generally known as Oyinkan Abayomi, was a nationalist, teacher, women rights activist, politician and social crusader. She was the founding teacher of Queens College, Lagos, and the first woman from Lagos to drive a car.

Born on March 6, 1897 in Lagos, Oyinkan attended Anglican Girls’ Seminary, Lagos, from 1903 to 1909 before travelling to England to study at the Young Ladies Academy, Gloucestershire and later the Royal Academy, London, where she earned a diploma in music.

In 1920, she returned to Lagos and taught music in her former school that had been renamed Anglican Girls’ School.While in England, she joined the Girls’ Guide movement and upon returning to Nigeria, she identified with the Lagos chapter, from where she rose to become the first Nigerian commissioner in 1931.

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She was married to Barrister Moronfolu Abayomi on May 10, 1923, but two months later, she became a widow, as Abayomi was assassinated while in a court. Seven years after, Oyinkan was remarried to Dr. Kofoworola Abayomi, a man who bore the same surname with her former husband.

Oyinkan was an advocate of women rights, equal access and participation, and the girl child education. She founded the British West African Educated Girls’ Club, which later became the Ladies’ Progressive Club. She used the organisation to reach out to women in different social status and to raise fund for the establishment of Queen’s College, a girls’ only secondary school in Yaba, Lagos in 1927. Aside being the first Nigerian to teach in the school, she also ran a boarding house at home for boys and girls.

Oyinkan engaged in the development of the Girls’ Guide movement, organising market women unions and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
Following her husband’s footsteps in the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM) and later the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), Oyinkan urged Nigerians to participate in the running of their local affairs and to agitate for independence. She became a member of NYM in 1935.

To further encourage women, especially in Lagos and its environs to rise up for their rights, on May 10, 1944, she founded the first and only all-women’s political party called the Nigerian Women’s Party (NWP), alongside 12 other women. The party helped to bring together all the different women’s organisations under one umbrella. It also helped in the nationalist struggle and in the women’s fight for equal opportunities with men.

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In 1944, she called on wealthy Nigerian women to help women of low means and to be willing to work with women of middle and lower classes to get their rights.Oyinkan began to use the title ‘Lady’ in 1954, when the Queen of England knighted her husband. She served for seven years as a Councilor representing women’s interest in the Lagos City Council. In 1954, she was appointed to represent women interest in the regional legislature of the then Western Region.

In 1959, when the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) was founded, she became the Pro tem President and later, head of the Lagos branch of the association.Lady Oyinkan retired from Girls’ Guide in 1982 and that same year, was made the honorary Life President of the Guide.She died on March 19, 1990, at the age of 93.

Recognising her contributions, different communities honoured her with traditional chieftaincies, including Moroye of Lagos and Iya Abiye of Egbaland, among others. The Federal government honoured her with the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR), while the British government conferred on her the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The Rosicrucian Order also recognised her with the Humanitarian Award. Lagos State government renamed Queen’s Drive on Ikoyi Waterfront to Oyinkan Abayomi Drive to honour her.

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