A Yoruba adage says “bí abá p’orí akọni, aafida ha’lè gaaraga” which means you can’t mention the name of a valiant woman, without adding some respect.
Without mincing words, Olaniwun Adunni Oluwole was one of those icons that earned such honour. She was a colourful politician, an itinerant preacher, rights activist, nationalist and procolonial figure, and an eloquent speaker, who was famous for her support for workers’ rights especially during the Nigerian general strike in 1945.
Just like her four other siblings, Adunni Oluwole was born in Ibadan in 1905 into the family of an Ibadan warrior, but grew up in Mushin, Lagos. After some family squabbles, her mother took all the children from Ibadan to Aroloya, Lagos where they lived close to St. John’s church. While in Lagos, she was taken under the guardianship of Bishop Adolphus Howells, Vicar of St. John’s Church, Aroloya; who enrolled her in St. John’s School, Aroloya. She, however, returned to her mother after her primary education.
Between 1925 and 1932, as one of the most active young people in the church, Adunni Oluwole wrote a play for the Girls’ Guild and it was directed by the famous nationalist, Herbert Macaulay. She went on to establish the first female-owned professional theater group in Western Nigeria.
She later became an itinerant preacher who vehemently opposed bringing dead bodies into the church for funerals, claiming to have seen a vision from God saying that He was God of the living not the dead. As an itinerant preacher, her public speaking prowess gained her a vast audience and increased her popularity. However, she was also unpredictable, though, she preached Christianity fervently, she once turned around and became a Muslim only to later revert back to Christianity.
Her interest in social justice came to fore in 1945 when Nigerian workers demanded an increase in minimum wage from the colonial government and it was denied. This resulted in a general strike that paralysed activities in many parts of the country. Funds were raised for the strike effort and Adunni Oluwole was one of the donors, even though she was not a rich woman. She also marched with the workers and helped in mobilising the women to join the strike.
After the general strike, her career as an activist was launched and she became involved in politics. She joined different nationalist causes.
In May 1954, she founded the Nigerian Commoners’ Liberal Party because she was dissatisfied with the way most political parties operated along ethnic lines. Majority of the party members were men. Barely five months after the party was established, it won a seat in Ikirun, Osun North, defeating the NCNC and AG.
Adunni Oluwole was a Nigerian pre-independence politician and human rights activist who vehemently opposed the call for independence when a date was first proposed in 1956, on the grounds that the then Nigerian political leaders had abused the responsibility they had already secured and were simply African colonialists. She advocated that the common man should choose between gradualism or immediate independence.
Her message resonated with the rural people and they came to be known among Yoruba-speaking groups as “Egbe Koyinbo 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.
Many people however saw Adunni Oluwole as a threat to their continued dominance of politics. History has it that in August 1955, she went before the Olubadan in Ibadan to air her political views and sought support for her party, but she was shut down by Adegoke Adelabu, the then Chairman of Ibadan District Council; who called her a harlot and threatened to hit her with broomsticks.
He thereafter connived with the traditional authorities to banish her from the city because she was said to be misleading the masses. With that, she relocated to Akure where she continued to spread her anti-independence message.
Olaniwun Adunni Oluwole was an advocate for women’s rights and she continuously demanded for women’s participation in politics in constitutional conferences. She however died in 1957 after a brief illness, the same year her political career ended abruptly.