Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti

Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti He was born on 30 April 1891, to an Egba family in Abeokuta. His father was Reverend Canon J. J. Ransome-Kuti well known for his outstanding administrative competence as well as his talents as a singer, which earned him the nickname “the Singing Minister.” Israel Oludotun was born at the Anglican parish of Gbagura, Abeokuta, where his father was serving as a teacher/catechist. After attending the Suren Village School there he went to the Lagos Grammar School, but returned to his hometown to complete his secondary education at the newly opened Abeokuta Grammar School. He was the first pupil to be enrolled at the school in 1908.

In 1913 Ransome-Kuti matriculated at Fourah Bay College, Freetown and returned to his country in 1916 with a B.A. degree. He began work in Lagos, as a teacher at his former grammar school from 1916 until 1918 when he left Ije-Ode. For thirteen years he was principal of Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, which had been established in 1912 and provided the only secondary education for all of Ijebu province. One of Ransome-Kuti’s innovations at this pioneering institution was to form the first Boy Scout troupe there which became known in the province as the first Ijebu-Ode Troupe.

Ransome-Kuti’s great intellect and sensitivity towards people soon won him the admiration and respect of the Ijebus. He became their spokesman, pleading their cause with the British colonial residents in the province. His great achievement in Ijebu was to break down the myth that his own Yoruba group, the Egbas, could not work among the Ijebus. Through his example, and the utmost concern for all, he was able to draw the two groups together. His departure from Ijebu was marked with a widespread expression of loss. Of his successor at the Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, the people used to say: “This new Kuti is not as the old.”

On leaving Ijebu-Ode in 1932, Reverend Ransome-Kuti returned to Abeokuta where for the next 22 years he served as principal of the Abeokuta Grammar School. During that period he visited Britain in 1939 and again between 1943 and 1945; he spent the latter years as a member of the Elliott Commission reviewing higher education in West Africa.

During his posting at Ijebu-Ode Ransome-Kuti founded an association of local teachers known as the Association of Headmasters of Ijebu Schools. This was in May 1926 a year after a similar association had been formed in Lagos by another renowned Anglican clergyman, Reverend J. O. Lucas, who inaugurated the Lagos Union of Teachers in May 1925. These two bodies became the base from which the idea of national organization that could embrace teachers from all parts of Nigeria grew and culminated in the formation of the NUT on 8 July 1931. At its founding that year, in Lagos, Ransome-Kuti was elected its first national president. At successive elections he was re-elected and he held that post until his retirement in 1954 at the age of 63. A man of strong, forceful and charismatic personality, he guided the union in its early campaign for improved working conditions for teachers and against colonial education policy in general.

Ransome-Kuti and his colleagues in the NUT executive, notably A. A. Ikoku, E. E. Esua and the Reverend (later Bishop) S. I. Kale, succeeded in winning recognition from the British colonial authorities as well as benefits for their members, which by October 1948 were said to number 20,000. With the improved conditions the union grew rapidly and by the 1960s had become the largest professional organization in Africa, with a membership that exceeded a quarter of all the teachers in the continent. Today education is still the largest single employer in Nigeria, directly touching more Nigerians than any other service. The thousands of teachers who joined the NUT annually soon found not only respectability but also strength in their union. It was the foresight and dedication of Reverend Ransome-Kuti that led to that dignity and unity.

Source: Dictionary of African Christian Biography

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