Activists are regarded as heroes in Nigeria. These are ordinary men and women who were beaten, imprisoned, and even killed for taking a stand against the higher-ups in the country. Some of these activists fought tirelessly and endlessly for the nation’s independence, while others wrote and sang about the corruption and unemployment in the nation.
An activist can be defined as a person who believes in political and social change and participates in public protest activities.
Top Nigerian activist of all time
There are a lot of Nigerian activists who have made a huge difference in the nation. Some of them sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the country. Some of these activists are:
Kenule Ken Saro-Wiwa has always believed in one Nigeria and stood against the ethnic undertones of his time, even if he became an activist near the end of his life. Saro-Wiwa was pleased to be a Nigerian and wanted to contribute to the creation of a country in which all Nigerians had equal access to government assistance.
His poems, books, and other works, including the satirical television series Basi & Co, simply portrayed the tale of Nigerians being Nigerians. For example, it’s impossible to discern what nationality any of the characters on Basi & Co were.
Years after working as the civilian administrator for Bonny Camp during the civil war, Saro-Wiwa began to devote himself to resolving the problems of the Niger Delta’s oil-producing regions in 1990. He focused on his homeland of Ogoni, a minority ethnic group, and founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice.
Saro-Wiwa spoke out against the Nigerian military administration and the Anglo-Dutch oil corporation Shell for causing environmental devastation to the Ogoni people’s land in Rivers State, where he was born. Despite the military government’s many attempts, Saro-Wiwa remained steadfast in his purpose. As a result of rising public outrage, Shell decided to suspend its activities in Ogoni land in 1993.
Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP members were murdered on Nov. 15, 1995, after the military government declared them guilty (through secret trial) of murdering four Ogoni elders during a political protest. The alleged Ogoni leaders, later known as the Ogoni Nine, disputed the claims and said they were being framed.
ALSO READ: Top 10 traditional rulers in Nigeria
Ganiyu Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi aspired to be a successful lawyer until he started practicing law. When he began practicing law in Lagos in 1965, he quickly realised that he also wanted to make a difference in the lives of ordinary Nigerians and leave a lasting legacy. That is exactly what he did.
For 40 years, Fawehinmi was a human rights crusader, continually confronting overbearing military regimes and defending their victims. His run-ins with the law resulted in numerous detentions and beatings. His passport was seized numerous times, his books were seized, and his library was burnt on one occasion.
He was a strong supporter of press freedom, regularly wrote to newspapers, and frequently took on the cases of journalists. The case of Dele Giwa, a magazine editor who was assassinated with a parcel bomb in 1986, is still unsolved. From his hospital bed, Fawehinmi attempted to reopen the Dele Giwa case and asked for the Attorney-General to be dismissed for his apathy toward corruption.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti is one of the most powerful and accomplished women in Nigerian history. Her contributions to Nigerian society as a feminist and women’s rights activist are immense and present to this day. She was a founding mother of Nigerian independence as she was part of delegations to discuss the proposed national constitution.
She co-founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union in the 1940s, which led to a women’s protest against colonial taxes in 1946, resulting in the Alake of Egbaland’s abdication. The AWU eventually grew to include 20,000 local women and became the Nigerian Women’s Union. But that was only the start.
Ransome-Kuti also co-founded the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) with her husband, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, in July 1931 — and as a laureate of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1970, she joined the ranks of Nelson Mandela and Pablo Picasso.
She founded some schools in Southern Nigeria and was a tireless advocate for women’s rights throughout her life.
Ransome-Kuti also raised successful children (her husband died in 1955), the most notable of whom is Afrobeat pioneer and iconic activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Beko and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, her other children, would all play significant roles in education, health care, and political activity. She died from coma complications after she was thrown down from her house by soldiers.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Nigeria’s most famous singer, used words as a method of protest and resistance and a means of reflecting on and commenting on political events. He changed the relationship between music as an art form and Nigerian socio-political discourse as he rose to fame in the 1970s.
He was repeatedly detained and abused due to his opposing ideas, with soldiers raiding his Lagos commune, which Fela had christened the Kalakuta Republic. Soldiers stormed the Kalakuta Republic in 1977 under the guise of an anti-drug operation, burning many houses and abusing residents.
Kuti was an outspoken defender of human rights, and many of his songs are direct criticisms of dictatorships, particularly the Nigerian military rulers of the 1970s and 1980s.
Wole Soyinka is the son of Grace Eniola Soyinka, who assisted Funmilayo-Ransome Kuti in founding the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU), which led the women’s riots against colonial taxes in 1946.
His literary accomplishments and political activism attest to this. He was imprisoned for 22 months by the Nigerian military government as a 33-year-old graduate in 1967 for speaking out against the Nigerian civil war. He fled the country in 1994 after the dictatorship in power charged him with treason for criticising the military junta.
Soyinka continued to criticise undemocratic administrations and the mistreatment of Nigerians in both cases. Soyinka has continued to energize political dialogue around the concerns of ordinary Nigerians and the polity’s corruption after the country’s return to civilian governance in 1999.
Even when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 (the first African to do so), he used the opportunity to draw attention to the world’s continued injustice of white domination in South Africa, dedicating the honor to then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
Femi Falana is also a human rights activist lawyer. Femi Falana has been detained multiple times throughout his career, dating back to the dictatorship in Nigeria. He has been outspoken in his opposition to bad government and human rights issues. He thinks Nigeria’s constitution should be changed.
He’s also known for taking pro bono cases and supporting those seeking justice but lacking financial resources. In 1983, he took action as a human rights activist to defend the rights of seven University of Ibadan students who had been wrongfully jailed, and he paid bail for them. Since then, he has continued to advocate for victims in a variety of scenarios, including human rights violations, manslaughter, fraud, and other legal matters.
ALSO READ: Top 10 Nigerians in Guinness Book of Records
Current Nigerian activists
Activism in the country is not a thing of the past, as many young Nigerians follow in older activists’ footsteps. For the younger generation, they view the likes of Fela Kuti and Gani Fawehinmi as their role models, and they draw their strength from them.
This generation of youth activists is not willing to back down until they see that Nigeria has become a better place. Some of these young Nigerian activists are:
Lola Omolola was one of the millions of women stunned by the news in 2014 when the Boko Haram terrorist group kidnapped around 300 girls from a secondary school in Northern Nigeria. The episode, she believed, exemplified the worst sort of patriarchy: men preying on young women seeking an education.
She started a Facebook group now called Female In. What started as a small group of friends slowly turned into a community of 1.7million strong members all over countries.
Following the kidnapping of 300 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Northeast Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014, Yesufu and Oby Ezekwesili launched the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign to urge the girls’ release.
The campaign was one of Nigeria’s largest-ever, attracting global attention from Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other celebrities. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trended on several platforms around the world, prompting physical protests in several nations.
She was also an active voice in the EndSARS protest, which took place in 2020.
Chimamanda Adichie has written several books, some of which are Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and many others. Adichie has been able to draw international attention to the injustices that women suffer in Nigerian and worldwide society through her work.
Kiki Mordi, one of Nigeria’s most prominent teenage activists, has turned the country on its head with her Sex For Grades documentary (published with the BBC in October 2019).
The film depicted teachers in Nigerian and Ghanaian institutions sexually harassing pupils in exchange for grades and admittance. The Nigerian Senate reintroduced the anti-sexual harassment bill the day after the documentary was released.
Since then, state governments in Nigeria have declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual harassment, with a few states establishing sex offender records. In 2020, the documentary was also nominated for an Emmy.
Mordi has been a journalist and broadcaster for about six years, performing similar work and pushing for women’s and children’s rights. She created the film Life at the Bay in Lagos, Nigeria in 2019. The film chronicles the narrative of the residents of Tarkwa Bay, as well as the women’s survival and tribulations as they faced eviction by government authorities.
Rinu, a young Nigerian law student, came to the limelight in 2020 for her role during the #EndSARS protest.
Folarin Falz Falana followed the footsteps of his parents Femi and Funmi Falana. Falz is also an activist. During the EndSARS protest in October 2020, Falz was one of the leading celebrities who lent their voice against Police brutality in the nation. He also rallied other celebrities to join in on the protest.
The artist is outspoken about issues of social justice in the country. He released a music video for Johnny, the first song from his album Moral Instruction, as a homage to victims of police abuse. In a post introducing the song, he stated, “We will never forget the heroes who were unjustly killed. This is intended for them. We must ensure that justice is served for every Nigerian whose life has been taken illegally.” He also noted that the song’s message was still highly relevant two years after its release.
ALSO READ: Top 10 musical groups in Nigeria