Dora Akunyili: The bold administrator who rid Nigeria of fake drugs




Godwin Etakibuebu; a Veteran Nigerian Journalist, known on air as The Guru, has been in the pen-pushing business for over Forty years. He has, over the years, created and sustained a very dedicated clientele of followers and listeners around the globe, regularly pushing words of wisdom/understanding/knowledge; cast on stone, across his various media platforms.

The Guru promised his followers and listeners last week that he would, henceforth, be uploading three of his most popular creations – Historical Perspective, Periscope and Knowledge Dropbox, on his website:, on weekly basis.

Here, in fulfilment of the promise, and coming in The Guru’s Knowledge Dropbox, is the boldly confirmation of Nigerian first female Senator; iyalode Wuraola Adepeju Esan – she is Nigerian first female Senator.

This confirmation comes with the clarification that while Wuraola Esan was the first female Senator, through Selection, by the provision of the Nigerian 1959 Constitution, Franca Afegbua was the first Nigerian female Senator elected, in accordance with the 1979 Nigerian Constitution.

Nigerian’s first female Senator was Iyalode Wuraola Adepeju Esan, and not Franca Afegbua

Sixty years ago, a Yoruba woman – Wuraola Esan, became the first woman in pre- and post-independence Nigeria to be a member of the Nigerian Senate. Esan was one of a handful of Nigerian women actively involved in politics at the time.

Although women were actively involved in political activities in the southern part of Nigeria. They were seen more as agents of mobilization for garnering the support of other women to vote in elections.

Before Esan’s rise to national political prominence, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the fearless activist, ran for a seat in the Western Region Assembly as the candidate of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) in 1951. She lost.

Esan was from Ibadan, and she joined partisan politics in the 1950s as a member of the Action Group (AG) after working as a schoolteacher and advocate for women education and empowerment. In 1958, she was elected to the Ibadan Urban District Council.

The AG was the ruling party in the Western Region at the time and it was also home to two former Premiers of the region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as well as other prominent Yoruba political leaders. The party was seen as a pan-Yoruba political group and with this sentiment it dominated politics in the region for a long time before the relationship between Awolowo and Akintola went sour.

Esan was born in 1909 in Calabar, present day Cross River State to Chief Thomas Adeogun Ojo a veteran of the First World War and a forestry officer and Madam Ajike Ojo Aina popularly called Iya Gbogbo (mother of all), a self-made businesswoman.

She was first educated at the Sacred Heart Covenant, Ibadan. She later went to Sacred Heart Covenant School in Calabar and Baptist Girls College, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State, and the United Missionary College where she was trained as a Teacher. This qualified her to take up a teaching job as a domestic science teacher at a missionary training school in Akure. She married Victor Esan a civil servant at the Ibadan City Council in 1938 and they had four children.

As an educationist, in 1944, she established the Ibadan People’s Girls Grammar School in Molete to educate women in different subjects including domestic science. Before politics, she had distinguished herself based on her philosophy that a woman has to be twice as effective and efficient as a man to get recognition in a society where women were seen as second fiddle. With this philosophy she was first among equals.

How she got to the Senate:

Esan’s emergence as a Senator was not by election but by appointment. In the 1959 constitution becoming a member of the Nigerian Senate was by appointment. Section 37 of the 1959 Constitution states that the Senate shall consist of:

(a) twelve Senators representing each Region, who shall be selected at a joint sitting of the legislative houses of that Region from among persons nominated by the Governor;

(b) four Senators representing the Federal territory (Lagos); and

(c) four Senators selected by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.

This led to the appointment of Esan on January 8, 1960 to represent Ibadan West, at a joint meeting of the Western House of Assembly and the House of Chiefs held in Ibadan which was the capital of the Western Region.

At the meeting there was a mild drama between the ruling party AG and members of the opposition NCNC who later staged a walkout over disagreement on the principle on which the selection should be based.

Dennis Osadebay, leader of the NCNC which had 27 members at the Western Assembly as against 54 of the ruling AG, had said the AG is entitled to eight while NCNC is entitled to four seats in the Senate because that was the reflection of the political representation in the Western House of Assembly. The ruling party disagreed with Osadebay’s suggestion and said it will give the opposition three seats only if the Eastern Region government where the NCNC is the ruling party would give the AG three seats in the region.

When a consensus could not be reached, the NCNC lawmakers staged a walkout and the Premier of the Region, Ladoke Akintola appointed 12 Senators. They include – Olajide Somolu, Chief Sanmi Esangbedo, Dalton Asemota, Chief Solomon Huponu-Wusu, M.G Ejaife, E.A Lagunju, Wuraola Esan, Chief T.A Odutola, Chief J.S Olayeye, P.A Ogundipe, S.A Eyitayo, Dr. J.O Omitowoju. The Oba of Lagos, Oba Adeniji Adele was also appointed to represent Lagos as the Federal territory.

The appointment meant Esan would be the first woman to become Senator, a distinction that placed her among 47 male Senators throughout the period she was at the Senate from 1960 – 1964.

Though her legacy is hardly remembered, biographers described Iyalode Esan as “a fierce critic of corruption and tax evasion”. She led advocacy for improving women’s education and providing loans and services to help market women.

She strongly condemned the decision of the northern region government denying women the right to vote in the province. This decision limited the likes of fearless activist Gambo Sawaba from contesting in elections.

Recalling her skill in diffusing difficult situations, Denzer LaRay, author of ‘Gender and Decolonization: A Study of Three women Leaders in West African Public Life’, quotes Esan as saying: “I have the power of combating those people who want to fight me better than men, because when you smile sweetly when your enemy is coming there will not be any fight.”

After leaving the Senate, she continued her advocacy as a founding member of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS). The 1966 military coup forced her to stay away from politics and on May 9, 1975, she was installed as the Iyalode of Ibadan.

Just like Esan, her youngest child Jadesola Akande, a professor of law and former Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), also made history as the second woman in Nigeria to be appointed a Vice Chancellor, after Professor Grace Alele Williams of the University of Benin.

Prof Jadesola also followed the path of her mother, as an academic and activist. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1989 Constitution and a member of the National Council of Women’s Societies where her mother was a pioneer member.

Before her death in 1985, Iyalode Esan witnessed the emergence of Franca Afegbua as the first female elected Senator in 1983, from Bendel north in present day Edo state.

Iyalode Wuraola Adepeju Esan died on January 1, 1985, at the age 75 years.


  1. First Woman Senator – 1960-65
  2. Iyalode of Ibadan – 1975-85
  3. First Christian and Educated Iyalode of Ibadan
  4. Proprietress of People’s Girls Grammar School, Ibadan
  5. Proprietress of Ibadan People’s Girls School, Ibadan
  6. Proprietress of Dorcas Memorial Nursery School, Ibadan
  7. Trustee of the National Council of Women’s Societies
  8. Honorary Member of the Nigerian Association of University Women
  9. Grand Matron of the Y.W.C.A
  10. Member of Oyo State Council for Arts and Culture
  11. Member of the Nigerian Red Cross
  12. Grand Matron of the Ibadan Descendants Union
  13. Saturday’s Child Worked had for her living.



Godwin Etakibuebu; a veteran Journalist, wrote from Lagos.



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You can also listen to this author [Godwin Etakibuebu] every Monday; 9:30 – 11am on Lagos Talk 91.3 FM live, in a weekly review of topical issues, presented by The News Guru [TNG].


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