Adetowuni Felicia Ogunseye, first female professor in Nigeria, is a delight to be with. The nonagenarian is old in appearance, but very witty and youthful at heart. Adetowuni, as she insisted, is first in many ways: First Nigerian female to get a degree from Cambridge University; first female student of Yaba High College, and first female Professor in Nigeria. In this interview with Oluwa tosin Omoniyi, her spoken English remains impeccable
In addition to her series of ‘First’: She wrote the first academic article on Nigerian Women in a 1958 issue of Presence Africaine – a Francophone African journal.
She organised the first pan-African conference on African Women in 1960 in conjunction with the International Women Alliance in University of Ibadan with the theme: ‘African Woman Designed Her Future’.
She was the first General Secretary of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) – Nigeria’s women flagship society.
Been the first African female professor, what motivated you, was it something you were conscious of achieving or you just happen to be?
Let me say this, I was very lucky, I had educated parents, my mother was one of those who had gone to CMS girls school, girls seminary in Lagos , so she was educated, my father had gone to St. Ambrose college and was trained by the mission.
My father encouraged me as well.
In our household, there was no difference between a boy and girl, as such, my father was more ambitious for his daughters than his boys.
He just assumed his boys will do well naturally, so, he really helped us at home, he was interested in our progress.
So, were you able to become a professor while he was alive?
No! no! He died about three years before my inaugural lecture, before my professorship.
It is still making me mad until today, I would have loved my father to be there, and I would have felt the world in my palm. His death made me miss my inaugural lecture and it was through my grandma’s wish that I became a professor.
Going by your background ma, you were involved in a lot of women movement, what was the struggle for?
Well, in those days we were fighting for equal rights, equal stands and to certain extent we had achieve that on paper legally, in fact the western region did something fantastic as a result of our pressure then.
Back in the 60s and 70s, I was very active with women organisation. In fact, I was the founding secretary of the National Council of Women Society (NCWS), as early as 1960, UNESCO deed sponsor a conference on the African Women Decides Our Future (AFWDOF), here in Ibadan and UNESCO sponsored us.
We were really recommended by the International Alliance of Women (IAW), which we were associates then and it was a fantastic conference because we had women from almost all part of Africa.
We had women from 17 African countries- from South Africa, Morocco, and all of West African countries.
At the end of that conference, we formed a West African Council of Women Society (WACWS).
Then we were fighting for equal opportunities for education for women in the early days, equal pay for equal work.
There were very few girls in schools then, as such, we tried to promote more girls school. We were not allowed to be on the customary court, so we fought to be there.
How will you describe the parity back then?
You can count the number of girls in school on your fingers then, this was 1960 before independent. Actually, the whole thing started about 1957 when we fought many issues and were accepted by the government. We also acquired nearly twenty hectares of land in Shamonda for women development programme.
Shamonda is an area in Ibadan just before you get to the old airport, coming from UI and we had 20 hectares of land there where we built a fantastic hall.
The hall is still in existence, we collected money by ourselves, and some of our international contacts gave us money to build this hall.
We build the hall mainly because one of the things we had established was a sort of networking system; we had a by-monthly fair between the rural women and the urban women.
The idea was that they will bring their goods from the farm, thereby cutting out middlemen or women. We also taught them how they can empower themselves.
We also had training programmes for young girls then, we bought machine and taught them how to sew and be independent.
How participatory were the younger women among you?
The younger ones do not want any responsibility; they only want to join societies for the benefit sake.
Most women Non- governmental Organisations, NGOs now are not really NGOs, they are more businesslike. They call themselves NGOs so that they can get funding or government supports.
Most of the women like only to attend societies where they would get hand me downs from the government and when you collect hand me downs from the government, you become a quasi government organisation, so we had that problem.
They were strong through the local government.
In addition to that problem, the set of women that would have been available are the working class women.
The problem I guess, should be that they have challenges which made it impossible for them to want to engage in voluntary services. I quite understand that it is not enough nowadays to have one profession but you can also be a lecturer in the university and a market woman with a shop somewhere else. So what time do they have for voluntary service?
The women who are now available for voluntary service are the ones who don’t have anything to do and they are usually local government nominated.
How should women overcome men with core African mentality- a situation the man wants the woman to succumb?
That is not only African’s problem. It is all over the world except among the Eskimos.
It is only around the Eskimos that the women were very clever, I listened to a talk on this by an American, who said women Eskimos tend to be physically stronger in old age and that somehow give them a sort of superiority.
It was described like this, before modern education came into play, the women were in a sacred and special position because they produce babies and so it gave them a certain strength and that’s among the eldest but in the rest of the world women have sort of been put in a secondary position.
It is becoming apparent nowadays that women are gaining upper hand economically than men, do you consider the home front safe enough for women especially as some of the men are losing their confidence in being men because they were not ready to give us the chance?
You make things too easy for them, perhaps there should be a discuss between men and women about this. I believe that we have become so efficient and have hyped the men to such an extent that we have neglected our homes, neglected our people, we just want to pal with them, be like them.
We went through a faith where we want to be like them, we wear trousers, smoked and all sorts of things. And that’s when I say that they started the rejection of the old tradition of saying ‘I belong to the kitchen’.
But ever since women went through a phase where they now have education, equal rights and equal opportunities for job, they have unfortunately in the process become so materialistic that children becomes victims of neglect.
We don’t have time for them again, can you imagine they are managing two or three jobs so that they can meet the man, thereby, giving room for the man to have a good time, because the wife can now afford to maintain the home.
Why is it that women don’t support women?
Honestly, that is a question I cannot answer because I don’t understand why myself. They rather render the appendage to a man boss than to a woman boss, and it is still like that.
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