Nigeria might not have been 62 years old today as an independent nation if the likes of Adunni Oluwole had their way.
Oluwole was a unitarist, human rights advocate and reputed anti-corruption activist. But she died in 1957, three years before the British colonialists allowed Nigeria to rule itself. She was 52.
Petite and fragile, Oluwole was one of Nigeria’s most colorful female leaders in the decade prior to independence in 1960.
She did not think Nigeria was ready to attain independence in 1956, which was initially proposed as independence year. And she worked to prolong the British stay.
Born in Ibadan to a family of an Ibadan warrior, whom her fearlessness is usually credited, her mother moved with her and her siblings to Aroloya, Lagos because of family squabbles.
The family lived close to St. John’s Church. The Vicar, Adolphus Howells contributed to the family’s development while they remained in the locality.
She lived with Howells, who enrolled her at St. John’s School, Aroloya. She however returned to her mother in Mushin after her primary education. She was regarded as a difficult child.
From 1925 to 1932, Oluwole took part in leadership and dramatic roles at St. John’s Church. She wrote a successful play for the Girl’s Guild of St. John’s Church, which was directed by the Nigerian nationalist, Herbert Macaulay.
She later became the only female founder of a professional theatre company in the Western Nigeria.
Oluwole grew up to become an itinerant preacher whose talent in public speaking contributed to her fame.
She vehemently opposed bringing dead bodies into the church for funerals, claiming to have seen a vision in which God said He was God of the living, not the dead. Her public speaking prowess gained her a vast audience and increased her popularity.
Oluwole’s foray into politics began with the general workers’ strike of 1945 when the colonial government stopped their salaries.
She was moved by the plight of the poor workers and supported them by mobilising women supporters and donating monetary gifts, though she was not a rich woman. It was her own coping strategy for the protesting workers.
In 1954, she founded a party – the Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party – which had male membership in great majority.
Barely five months after it was established, the party won a seat in Ikirun, Osun North, defeating bigger parties such as the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens and the Action Group of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo respectively.
The Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party opposed the transfer of power to Nigerians at the price of ‘dictatorship’ of some over the others.
With this shocking view, she gained instant fame, as her message resonated among the rural people who were already complaining about heavy taxation.
Her party came to be known among Yoruba-speaking groups as Egbe K’oyinbo Mailo, which translates to “the white man must not go”.
The party was however short-lived as it had to be shut down due to low funding.
On 25th August 1955, Oluwole carried her campaign to the palace of the Olubadan, who invited chiefs and other eminent men to witness her submission.
She was accosted by renowned Ibadan politician, Chief Adegoke Adelabu, who called her a harlot and threatened to hit her with broom sticks.
After her banishment from Ibadan, Oluwole took her message to Akure where ropes were tied round her waist by two strong men who she hired to pull her through the streets.
She would then make speeches denouncing the Nigerian political class who she claimed would become cheaters of common people that she symbolised.
She was also an advocate for women’s rights, and continuously demanded women’s participation in politics in constitutional conferences.
Oluwole died of whitlow in 1957.
Credits: Shina Loremikan