MEET MRS OYINKANSOLA KOFO ABAYOMI

OYINKANSOLA KOFO ABAYOMI

Oyinkansola Kofo Abayomi was the founder of the Nigerian Women’s Party and advocate of woman suffrage.

Chief Lady Oyinkan Abayomi was born on the night of .March 6, 1897 to Lady Lucretia Cornelia Olayinka Ajasa, who hailed from Abeokuta, a sister to late Honourable Eric Moore and Mr. Olaseni Moore, and to Pa Sir Kitoyi Ajasa (Knight Order of the British Empire) whose mother was from Port Novo in the Republic of.Benin and father from Abeokuta. Her father, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa, was a barrister, one of the first Nigerians to be qualified for the English Bar and a newspaper founder, knighted in 1929, while her mother was a housewife.

Oyinkan attended Anglican Girls Seminary, located behind Cathedral Church of Christ along Broad Street, Lagos. On completion of her elementary there, she went to Britain in 1911 during the years of World War I, at the age of 10 ‘with her mother and lived with her cousin Lady Agbebi Olayinka. While in Britain she attended Ryford College in located in Gloucestershire, England for her secondary education between 1911 to 1916 and later proceeded to Royal Academy London in 1917, where she studied music  and Art and was awarded Diploma of Associated London College of Music (ALCM) between 1917 to 1919 before she returned to Nigeria.

On her return to Nigeria, she became a music teacher at the Anglican Girls’ Seminary. While in England, Abayomi had joined the Girl Guides. When she returned to Nigeria, she connected with the local Lagos Nigerian Girl Guides Association, which was founded by an English woman. Abayomi joined the group and was the first Nigerian woman to serve as a supervisor. She founded the first Nigerian branch of the Girl Guides and was the force behind their admission into the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

In August of 1923, she married Moronfolu Abayomi, a lawyer. Following a brief honeymoon, they returned to Lagos and their respective jobs. Two months later, Moronfolu was shot and killed while in court by his friend named Alphonso who he had betrayed. It was believed that the friend had confided in him that he was going to burn down one of his Lagos properties and claim the insurance. He did so but to his surprise the claim was rejected and he was taken to court and charged with arson; Abayomi was a prosecution witness. His friend then shot him for the betrayal.

It was learnt that Alphonso also shot himself and was critically injured. His mother went to him in the hospital and told him to tidy things up as a man, and not be a bastard. He took his own life in the hospital and never went to trial as a murderer.

The sad part of the story was that on hearing the news of the shooting, Lady Oyinkan who was pregnant at the time fell from the first floor baloney, lost the pregnancy and was never able to have kids of her own.

She became active in the education of women and girls in Nigeria. She joined the Lagos Women’s Organization. By 1923, the Lagos Progressive Club began offering free literacy classes for market women and agitating for expanded educational facilities for girls. Shortly thereafter, they were able to recruit the wife of the governor, Lady CIifford, to their cause.

At this time, the two major institutions for girls’ education were missionary; the CMS Girls’ School and the Methodist Girls’ High School. Neither offered an academic education, concentrating more on subjects such as domestic science, embroidery and sewing. Both the availability and the quality of girls’ education lagged behind that of the boys. This new agitation for female education was not only interested in the expansion and improvement of girls’ education, but also in getting government to take direct responsibility, rather than merely allotting grants- in-aid to mission schools, which was the practice. By 1925, the government seemed to have been somewhat on the defensive and issued a statement on female education which said in part “The education of girls and women is an integral element in the whole educational system and presents many difficult problems”. She helped raise funds for the establishment of a new non-denominational girls’ secondary school facility in Lagos. Finally in 1927, the first government secondary school for girls was founded, shortly thereafter named Queens College and she became a founding teacher at the school. She was the only Nigerian to work there. Around this time she became one of the first women in Lagos to drive a car.

The Lagos Progressive Club had collected £715 by its own efforts and the money was held in an account listed as the Lagos Ladies Fund. Abayomi wrote a letter to the government requesting that the money be used to establish a scholarship fund for Anglican girls who wished to attend the school. Her proposal was accepted and she was appointed a member of the board which administered the fund. Though the college taught the traditional ‘home-making skills’ of embroidery and hygiene, it also developed a full academic curriculum including English, mathematics, history and geography. Music, drama and physical education were also taught. Later, science and foreign languages were added. If parents requested it, a student could be exempted from Bible Study. This was an important conciliation that only a non- denominational publicly-supported school would be likely to make. Abayomi had a high profile in the establishment of the college and she was invited as the only Nigerian to serve on the school’s inaugural staff. She taught music, drama, physical education and supervised sports teams. She and her parents were also members of the first advisory board of the college. Abayomi became very involved with the young pupils and served as headmistress of one of the school’s boarding houses, Queen Victoria House. In addition, she took on the responsibility of boarding a number of young pupils, boys and girls of all religions who wanted to attend various schools in Lagos, in her own home, as her mother had done. Many pupils passed through her home as boarders.

Oyinkan’ returned to the lover’s world in 1930, when she married Kofo John Abayomi (having the same surname as her first husband) in a data which she’ refused to disclose as she would like to keep it to herself.

Sir Kofo Abayomi who died in 1979 studied pharmacy at the Yaba Higher College. He later enrolled in the Medical School, University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1925. He did so well that the authorities retained him as a demonstrator for a while before returning to Nigeria to work under Dr. Sapara. He went back to England first in 1930 to study tropical medicine and hygiene, and again in 1939 for a postgraduate course in ophthalmic surgery and medicine. He returned to Nigeria finally in 1941 to continue his family practice which was very successful. He later became the first private practitioner to be elected president of the Nigerian Medical Association.

Sir Kofo played a very prominent role in the birth and development of both the University of Ibadan and the University College Hospital, Ibadan. He represented the Nigerian House of Legislature on the Governing Council of the University College, Ibadan, from its inception in 1948 to 1961. He and the other Nigerians (Sir Francis Ibiam and Mr Alvan Ikoku) served the college dutifully despite suffering bitter political attacks. Indeed, it was Sir Kofo who made the university presentation to Lord Tedder when the latter came to commission the university buildings in November 1952. It was therefore no surprise that Sir Kofo was appointed the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Management of the University College Hospital, Ibadan at its inauguration in 1951. He later emerged as the first Nigerian Chairman of the Board in 1958, a position he held until 1965. An astute businessman, he was on the board of several companies most of which he served as chairman at some point in time. He died peacefully at home on the 1st of January 1979, at the age of 82 years. It is a pity that’ Lady Oyinkan and Sir Kolo Abayomi Were not blessed with a child but’ she has step sons and step daughters.

In 1931 the Girl Guides was recognised and given support by the Nigerian government. Abayomi became the chief commissioner for the Girl Guides.

In the 1930s she joined Obafemi Awolowo Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), a striving for emancipation of Nigeria from the colonial power, where she led the women’s wing in Lagos. In 1944 she took over the leadership of the women’s organisation of  Lagos Women’s League, which had previously been run by her cousin, Charlotte Obasa.

Active in one of the early protonationalist parties of the colonial period, the Nigerian Youth Movement, she subsequently became head of its Ladies’ Section. In that capacity in 1935 she authored an article titled “Modern Womanhood,” published in The Service, the newspaper of the Nigerian Youth Movement, in which she exhorted women to participate in the political processes that shape their futures and cautioned them not to see matrimony as the sole “career” to which they aspired. She also cautioned against elitism and encouraged Nigerian women to develop their leadership potential for the benefit of their sex and race.

None of the early protonationalist parties had women in policy-making positions, nor were women included in the limited franchise extended to men of the colony. Hence, on 10 May 1944 Abayomi convened a meeting of 12 women in her home  that resulted in the founding of the Nigerian Women’s Party. Abayomi recalled in an interview of June 1976 that she called this meeting because women were being cheated by both the British-run colonial government and their own men. The party specified in its founding constitution that it was organized to demand women’s rights. Among these it included the right to vote and representation on the Lagos Town Council and on the Legislative Council for the colony. The motto of the Nigerian Women’s Party was “Aim High,” and membership was open to women natives of Nigeria and to women residents of Nigeria of African descent. Though composed primarily of middle- and upper-class women, the Nigerian Women’s Party explicitly expressed its desire to advocate for women of all classes and ethnic backgrounds within Nigeria. Thus it joined a handful of organizations that sought to organize across class and ethnicity. Active membership of the party was small (500–2,000 women at various times during its existence).

In 1950, when limited woman suffrage was enacted, the Nigerian Women’s Party fielded the first women political candidates of the colonial period in Nigeria. Abayomi and Tinuola Dedeke , secretary of the Nigerian Women’s Party, both ran for seats on the Lagos Town Council, but neither was elected. By the mid-1950s the Nigerian Women’s Party was on the wane.  Though the NWP was completely moribund by the mid 1950’s, Oyinkan Abayomi was still very much a public persona. In 1955, she was the second woman to be appointed to the Western House of Assembly by the Lieutenant Governor. She was appointed as a special member representing women’s interests and served for a year until the 1956 elections.

In 1959, the National Council of Women’s Societies was founded in Ibadan. The group was intended to act a-s an umbrella organisation of women’s associations which worked for equal opportunity for women. In 1960, Oyinkan Abayorni became head of the Lagos branch. Under her leadership, the Lagos branch was notable for its non-partisan membership which included women activists of the two rival political parties: the AG and the NCNC. The branch also made attempts to extend its membership to the marketwomen as well as the elite. One of the first public actions of the Lagos branch was to protest the dismissal of an expatriate pediatrician who had criticised health policies of the government. It also demanded better maternal and child health care and continued to work on behalf of one of the Abayomi’s cherished causes, women’s education.

Abayomi retired from the Girl Guides in 1982. She was named Life President of the Girl Guides for her work. After her husband was knighted in 1951, she became Lady Abayomi. In 1954, she received her first traditional title when the Alake of Abeokuta bestowed the title of Lika of Ijemo on her. Subsequently, she also became Yeye Sikalu of Ado-Ekiti, Moraye of Lagos, Iya Eko, Iya Abiye of Egbaland and on her 90th birthday, Yeye Niwura (Mother is Gold) of Ife. She was honored with the Order of United Kingdom Order of the British Empire (OBE), which is connected with the title of a lady. From the Nigerian state, she received the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).

On the 19th of March, 1’990, Lady Abayomi died at the ripe old. The funeral service took place in Christ Church Cathedral Lagos, with the attendance  of many Yoruba traditional rulers, top .governmental bodies and innumerable dignitaries. In tribute to her memory the Lagos State government renamed one of the prestigious streets in Lagos, Queen’s Drive, Ikoyi, after her and it thus became Oyinkan Abayomi Drive.

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