Wordswent round the University of Ife, now, Obafemi Awolowo University, that a leading literary critic,Ms. Molara Ogundipe (later, Professor) from the University of Ibadan,was visiting. She was at Ife to give a Marxist interpretation of Professor WoleSoyinka’s 1965 novel, “The Interpreters.”
This was1980/81 when Soyinka was Head of IfeDrama Department, and, still half a decade from his Nobel Prize. Many found ‘The Interpreters’ a turgid and impenetrable novel. Thenovel’s very first statement: “Metal onconcrete jars my drink lobes.” wasa put off for some. But this leadingfeminist writer was coming, not just to dissect it, but give a Marxistinterpretation.
Thepresentation went well and the newest professor on campus made a response whichI did not agree with. So in my contribution, I punctured some holes in hisresponse. The man was furious! This was not just his first outing as aprofessor, but to be contradicted by a student, was intolerable. Heinterjected saying: “ Much as I do not want to kill a fly with a canon,I will not tolerate any insult” Mr..Gordini G. Darah (now a professor) cameto my defence. He told the newly minted professor: “ A canon can kill a fly,provided it has balls” The furious professor walked out. That was thefirst time I met Ogundipe. She wascerebral, quite articulate, confident and persuasive.
Someradical intellectuals including Ogundipe held a Women In Nigeria (WIN)Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria from May 27-28, 1982. Theparticipants then established an organization by that name. The objectivesincluded defending the rights of women, working for their liberation andfighting for social justice. Ogundipe and other founders of WIN were quiteclear that women cannot be liberated without the society itself including theworking class and the poor, being liberated.
Ogundipe’spresentation, which was on the theme of the conference, encapsulated herposition on the various strands of women oppression. On race, she argued: “ The oppression ofwomen; economic or personal, is not solely a White-Black Race confrontationalthough the oppression of Black Womenis deeply tied to the variable ofrace in the history of imperialism”
Shenoted that one of the main challenges of women emancipation is that: “ Theliberation of women is conceived as the desire of women to reduce men to housekeepers. Since most men despise manual work for feudal and middle class reasons, women’s liberation is feared as an effort by women to ‘feminize’ men, thatis, degrade them”
Ogundipeargued that women in traditional African societies were quite active in the economy and thateven where they were driven indoors,they continue to be productive, adding:“women work in purdah and sell their products through emissaries” Women, sheargued, tend to be subordinated inmarriage, and blamed for childlessness:“…as men are never admitted to besterile or infertile” She added: “ A childless woman is considered a monstrosity…”
In thispaper she presented 37 years ago, Ogundipe said: “Abortion is not likely to be legalized soon.” and thatwomen: “ can only claim equality within marriage if they are willing to share the financial and other burdensof marriage.”
WIN wasalso open to men, so I joined and helped to establish its Lagos chapter. Ogundipe moved to Lagosto join the GUARDIAN Editorial Board and we worked together on the WIN project.She could not immediately secure accommodation in Lagos, and the Lagos-Ibadanshuttle was quite burdensome. So shemoved in to stay with my family in a flat in Bakinson House, Bakinson Street,Oregun.
In thosedays, we had endless debates, especially about her hypothesis of the sevenlayers of oppression she posited theAfrican woman was subjected to. Ogundipe’s consciousness as a woman, a female in a male-dominated academic system,and being a witness to the place of women within a cultural, religious,capitalist, colonial and neo-colonial patriarchal society, firmed herpostulations on the woman.
Sheargued that while the woman is universally oppressed, the African woman is themost oppressed. She however insisted that rather than a blanketassumption, women needed to be studiedwithin their specific environment.
Ogundipe condensed her ideas on women in an hypothesis she called, the Social Transformation in Africa Including Women (STIWA) Explaining STIWA, she said: “…what we want in Africa is social transformation. It is not about warring with men, the reversal of role, or doing to men whatever women think that men have been doing for centuries, but it is trying to build a harmonious society. The transformation of African society is the responsibility of both men and women and it is also in their interest. The new word describes what similarly minded women and myself would like to see in Africa. The word “feminism” itself, seems to be a kind of red rag to the bull of African men. Some say the word by its very nature is hegemonic or implicitly so. Others find the focus on women in themselves somehow threatening ….”
As athinker, she was conscious that coining such an acronym would be useful formass mobilization. It gave the sense ofan ideology; Stiwanism, while a personwho identifies with the concept could becalled a Stiwanist.
Professor Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie as she later became known, produced a lot of intellectual works including books like ‘Sew the Old Days and Other Poems’ 1985, ‘Re-Creating Ourselves: African Women & Critical Transformations’ (ed.) and ‘Moving Beyond Boundaries.’
We lostcontact when she went abroad. After I returned to the country in 2015 following a three-year absence, I was unaware she was also back. Then on March 12,2016, I got a request from her on Messenger for my cell number and e-mail address; vital information tools that were absent the last time we were in contact. We were back in contact discussing various issues. Then on November 13, 2018, she sentme a message for advise on the media she should write for as she intendedresuming column writing.
Earlierthis year, I promised that when next I am in Lagos or Ibadan, I will visither in the new university in Ogun State she was teaching. That visit willnever happen as on June 18, 2019, the warrior-academic, Marxist-Feminist-Narratologist, departed the earthly battle field for other fields.
Let me end this tribute with a poem she wrote four decades ago: “How long shall we speak to them of the goldness of mother, of difference without home How long shall we say another world lives Not spinned on the axis of maleness But founded and who led, charting through Its many runnels its justice distributive”