Nigeria, like many other countries in the world, has a rich history of notable Nigerian figures who have contributed to the development and growth of the nation.
However, in the retelling of these stories, the contributions of women are often overlooked or minimized.
In this article, we have spotlighted a few examples of the remarkable women who have made significant contributions to Nigeria’s history. Their accomplishments serve as a reminder of the important role that women have played in shaping the nation. Their legacies also inspire future generations of Nigerian women to fight for their rights and advocate for social change.
1) Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978)
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a prominent Nigerian feminist and political leader in the 20th century. She was one of the first Nigerian women to earn a degree, and she used her education to advocate for women’s rights and independence from British colonial rule. She was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria, and she founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, which became one of the most influential women’s organizations in Nigeria. She fought tirelessly against colonialism and oppression and was even thrown from a window by Nigerian soldiers during a protest in 1949. Despite sustaining serious injuries from the fall, Ransome-Kuti continued to be an outspoken voice for women’s rights until her death in 1978. She was the mother of Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician and activist.
2) Queen Amina of Zazzau (1533-1610) Although her real biography is unclear, Queen Amina was a warrior queen of the city-state of Zazzau (now known as Zaria) in what is now northern Nigeria. She lived in the 16th century and was known for her military prowess and strategic skills with which she led her armies into battle. She expanded the territory of Zazzau, making it one of the most powerful states in the region. Despite facing opposition from male leaders who were wary of a woman in power, Queen Amina proved herself to be a formidable ruler and defender of her people.
3) Margaret Ekpo (1914-2006)Margaret Ekpo was a Nigerian women’s rights activist who was active in the mid-20th century. She was a founding member of the Aba Women’s Union where she played a major role as a grassroots and nationalist politician. She also worked to promote women’s political participation and education. Margaret was one of the first women to run for political office in Nigeria. She was one of the first women to earn a college degree in Nigeria and was a prominent member of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, which fought for the country’s independence from British colonial rule.
4) Funmilayo Olayinka (1960-2013)Funmilayo Olayinka was politician and activist who served as the Deputy Governor of Ekiti State from 2007 until her death in 2013. She was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Governor in Nigeria.
5) Grace Alele-Williams (1932-2022)
Grace Alele-Williams was a mathematician and educator. She was the first Nigerian woman to receive a doctorate and the first female vice chancellor of a Nigerian university. She served as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin from 1985 to 1992.
6) Alimotu Pelewura (1865-1951)Alimotu Pelewura was a market leader and women’s rights activist who organized a protest against British colonial rule in Lagos in 1925. She was known for her efforts to empower women and improve their working conditions. The Lagos Market Women’s Association was founded in the 1920s by Pelewura and other women.
7) Flora Nwapa (1931-1993)Known as the mother of modern African Literature, Flora Nwapa was the forerunner to a generation of African women writers, and the first African woman novelist to be published in the English language in Britain. She was a great support system for orphans and refugees who were displaced during the Biafran War. Her first novel, “Efuru,” was published in 1966 and is considered a landmark work in African literature. Nwapa went on to publish several more novels and short stories, and she also founded Tana Press, the first publishing company owned by a black African woman.
8) Ladi Kwali (1925-1984) Ladi Kwali was a pioneer potter, ceramist, and educator from the Gwari region of Northern Nigeria. Her crafts and wares received both local and global recognition, thereby establishing Nigeria’s name on the global map. Her picture appears at the back of the Nigerian N20 note pegging her as the first and only woman to appear on a Nigerian currency.
9) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (1954-)Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and international development expert who served as the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy in Nigeria. She is the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization as Director-General.
10) Virginia Etiaba (1942-)Virginia Etiaba is a Nigerian politician who served as Governor of Anambra State from November 2006 to February 2007. She was the first woman to serve as governor of a Nigerian state.
11) Mosunmola Abudu (1964-)Popularly known as Mo Abudu. Mosunmola Abudu is a media mogul, and philanthropist. She is the first woman to own a pan-African TV channel in Nigeria (Ebony life TV) and Africa as a whole. She has been described by Forbes as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman”.
12) Kafayat Sanni (1997-)At age 22, Kafayat Sanni was winged as the first Nigerian female fighter jet pilot in the Nigerian Air Force. Kafayat who was trained at the US Aviation Leadership Programme hopes to use her training to fight terrorism and other forms of insurgencies, especially the Boko Haram sect bedeviling her home country, Nigeria.
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