Black history month was a few weeks ago. As it was celebrated, discussed and observed, I had found myself diving head first into creating digital illustrations of successful and historically impactful women that have been revered specifically in Nigeria. The reason behind this is because the whole theme is kind of a trigger for me.
Growing up in Nigeria, any advice given to you as a woman usually started with “…when you marry”. Now, I am not against good advice in any way, but the society made women feel like their greatest accomplishment was to get married and to stay married. Yet, history is full of women’s names in tiny bubbles that quickly filtered through and disappeared tas one reads through books and publications. If their names were ever mentioned, it felt like it was grudgingly put in, usually with the most unepic achievement behind their names. So, I went on a researching spree online and found these amazons that wake me up I when I feel myself not working towards my potential.
All I was taught about her was that she was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. Not that that doesn’t have a sparkly quality to it, she was a woman that did so much more. Dubbed the lioness of Lisabi by the West African Pilot in 1947, she represented women of all classes in the fight over taxation, women’s interests and more. Honoured with the Order of the Niger and the Lenin Peace Prize, Founder of the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies, she was a Co-founder of the Abeokuta Women’s Union which became the Nigerian Women’s Union then the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Society. Without her, there would be no legendary Fela and she was the aunt to the famous Wole Soyinka himself. I confess that I felted cheated when I read up more on her and how many more girls would have borrowed some of her gutsy strength while growing up. (Photo ref: Google)
Women’s Market Rebellion of 1929
When I think of a movie plot that would be epic, have stinger one-liners, fast paced, colorful with a touch of Tarantino in it, these ladies would be a great story to tell. In a protest against the restrictions being placed on their role in the society, the women from the eastern part of Nigeria rose up in protest.
As fiery as your moms are (African mothers usually are), imagine 10 thousand of them pouring out their energy to a collective cause. The range of “What Would Jesus Do” was covered quickly. From peaceful protests to all out flipping tables and even the destruction of court houses. This went on until they got what they wanted, however, not without casualties on both sides. It was a time of change as this opened up political avenues to women that didn’t have access to it based on societal norms as well as women warrant chiefs, a position men were appointed to in Colonial Nigeria. Yep, an epic movie this would be. (Photo ref: Google)
Evi Edna Ogholi
In the 1980s, Ogholi gave us birthday crashers “Happy Birthday“, the only birthday song that Nigerians should ever play (just my opinion). , It was a sudden phenomenon as to how she dropped off the face of…everything. We literally didn’t hear anything from her again.
Though now living in Paris and still making music with the release of her Peace and Love album in 2016, her music was most likely a gateway for many to Reggae.
Her smile captured hearts, From Jealousy to No place like home, her reggae vocals wafted through open car windows as you were stuck in traffic, her lyrics were easy to remember, even her music videos were fun. (Photo ref: Google)
After being the only woman to attend a political rally, she believed that women should also be part of the growing movement of civil right activities. After teaming up with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti over the Enugu coal mine protests and establishing the Aba Township Women’s Association, she had rallied up enough women voters to outnumber the men voters in 1955. She was a Civil right activist, Social mobilizer and Member of the Regional House of Assembly in 1961. This illustration was made with ink then a little flair was added digitally. (Photo ref: Google)
Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye
A product of the Oshogbo Art School, Okundaye has taught all around the world the art and techniques of the traditional textile and fabric design. Some of her works hang in the Smithsonian. She has had over 102 solo exhibitions and 36 group art exhibitions. CEO of Nike Center for Art and Culture, Oshogbo, Owner/Curator of the Nike Art Galleries. Yeye Oba of Ogidi-Ijumu, Yeye Tasase of Oshogbo. It hurts to know that I have never had the chance to go to any of her galleries though a friend did study at her art school so I am claiming the connection (wishful thinking) Though let me take it one step further, I hope to have some of my work at her gallery one day. (Photo ref: Google)
Balaraba Ramat Yakubu
Once a child-bride herself at the age of 13 and sent back “in disgrace” after a year, her father agreed to let her attend sewing classes. Unknowningly to him, she was taught how to read and write Hausa. This opened her world to us as she went on to become one of the most popular Hausa writers of the “Littattafan Soyayya” (Books of Love) Genre.
The most captivating thing about her books is that the love story was used as a vehicle to actually hit major issues such as child-marriage and the restrictions placed on womenfolk in the northern region of Nigeria. Her first novel, “Alkahi Kuykuyo“, published in 1988, has been translated and published in English. Others such as “Juyin Sarauta” have graced the screens and won Film awards. She wears many hats as a Film Producer, director and screen-writer in Kannywood (a Nigerian film industry that produces solely Northern Nigerian films) and also a Trauma Counselor. (Photo ref: Google)
Aisha Bakari Gombi
She would make another epic movie. Born into a hunting family, she has used the skills as a hunter to track and rescue Boko Haram victims as well as capture many of the insurgents. Her and her team, in spite of limited resources, have played a vital part in the fight against Boko Haram, recovering and protecting villages in the Sambisa Forest. She also acts as a traditional healer for her band as she prepares balms and amulets from the flora of the land. She has become a myth of legend as her story is a tale of hope and courage to many in the North Eastern region of Nigeria. Having her in the front lines encouraged more women to join the hunter’s guild and actively take part in rescue missions. She is the Queen Hunter and the Commander of her team. (Photo ref: Rosie Collyer/Al Jazeera)
Tara Fela Durotoye
The average Nigerian loves to look good and make-up is in almost every Nigerian woman’s starter kit. By creating the first bridal directory and offering her bridal Make-up services, she, more or less, is the creator of slay queens. From opening her make-up studio to the launch of the first make up school in Nigeria, she is a catalyst that pushed the Nigerian cosmetics industry into what it is today.
The evolution from Tony Montana white powder, gazal and those green-to-red lipsticks to face-beats of several layers of foundation has paved the way for job creation and self-employment for many through training and franchise opportunities. She is a Lawyer, an Entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of House of Tara International (perfume, studio and make-up line). (Photo ref: TY Bello)
Ameyo Stella Adadevoh
A knight in every way. She correctly diagnosed a foreigner infected with Ebola and put her life on the line to ensure that the suspect could not leave the isolation area she insisted on. Her professionalism ensured that the right information was dispersed through the right channels and succeeded in preventing the spread of the virus. Although she saved the nation from a devastating epidemic, she succumbed to the Ebola virus on the 19th of August, 2014. She was the Lead Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist of the First Consultant Medical Center, Lagos and should never be forgotten. She was a wife and a mother and now a hero to Nigeria. (Photo ref: Google)
February 19th would mark a year of which Leah has been held captive by Boko Haram insurgents. Kidnapped alongside over 100 female students from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State, Nigeria, 15 year old Leah was held back after the release of the students a month after. The insurgents’ reason: she refused to deny her Christian faith. The Federal Government denied a rumour of her death a few days ago claiming it as a campaign smear even though it took months before the President himself spoke directly with her parents after her capture.
Seen as a modern day apostle for those that share her faith, she is one face out of thousands that have had their lives disrupted due to terrorism. She should not have to bear this cross and the voice of many are calling out for her release. She should be at home, studying, growing and evolving into the woman she is meant to be: student, teenager, daughter. (Photo ref: Google)
Chioma Ajunwa Opara
Although she started as a member of Nigeria’s women’s football team, The Falcons, she transitioned to track and field sports, specializing in the 100m, 200m and long jump. Though started off great with many wins especially in Long Jump, she was placed on a 4 year ban after a failed drug test despite maintaining her innocence in 1992. She went on to win Gold for Long Jump at Atlanta 96, making her the first and only individual Olympic gold medalist from Nigeria. An ardent campaigner against drug use in sports based on her experience, she is a police officer and Member of the Order of Niger. (Photo ref: Google)
After studying Business Administration at the Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, Canada, she started blogging as a hobby focusing on the fashion, photography, wedding and celebrity industry in Nigeria. This grew to become BellaNaija.com (@Bellanaijaonline), a lifestyle and entertainment website that pulls an average of 15 million viewers per month. Let’s just say that your wedding being featured on BellaNaija gives you bragging rights for life. She is a Fellow of TEDGlobal, an associate of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative. She received the Young Media Entrepreneur of the Year of Future Awards Africa in 2013 and was named one of the 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa by Forbes Magazine, 2014. Best African Blogger for Kids Choice Awards, 2016. (Photo ref: Google)
From freelance writing for newspapers such as “This Day” and “Vanguard” and being a columnist for “Black & Beauty” Magazine, Irabor launched Genevieve Magazine in 2003. I, personally, was really excited about @genevievemagazine cos it was within my price range(student 😁) and It’s content were written specifically for someone like me. But I digress. Back to Aunty Betty. Apart from making a difference in the print industry, she used her platform to build an awareness around breast cancer prevention, early detection and treatment through the Genevieve PinkBall Foundation. In 2018, she also brought a lot of attention to mental health through “Dust to Dew”, a book about the journey of her struggles and fight over depression. Her book opened avenues for the discussion around Mental Health conditions and awareness. Another goal of mine is to illustrate for the magazine one day…soon…(Photo ref: Google)
And here they are. 13 women that should be given chapters in every Nigerian history books. I started this as fluke really, but I was able to gain a lot more than just better drawing skills. I have always said that my art was inspired by women yet, it somehow feels shallow now when I think about it as women are more than just muses that we try to capture just a part of their presence in our work. Each one is a universe of nuclear power just searching for the right place to blow up. And I love it.
I hope to make illustrations in a different style or medium with other epic women I have come to admire. That would be fun.