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Funmi Falana raised activist daughters who witnessed Father’s arrests, heard “SSS” growing up

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ARINZE NWAFOR, Lagos

There is no gain in repeating that Femi Falana is a household name in Nigeria and among Nigerians. What needs to be restated is that a very strong-willed woman is behind and indeed, providing strong support for Femi Falana and the Nigerian women. 

That woman of unequalled strength and character is ‘Funmi Falana; Femi Falana’s wife of many years with whom they raised children. 

It is not a coincidence that the children of the Falanas are toeing the path of their parents. 

‘Funmi Falana raised especially her two daughters in an environment where they grew up hearing the most unlikely words as “SSS,” the acronym for the State Security Service, also known as the Department of State Security (DSS). 

The other things that ‘Funmi and her daughters became familiar with at a tender age were arrest, detention and human rights. 

Falana’s daughters, Folakemi Falana and Foladele Falana-Ngadi presently serve on the management team of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), a non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Lagos.

While Folakemi is the Director of the Legal department of WELA, Foladele is the media consultant. 

‘Funmi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and foremost human rights activist took a deeper interest in and for years has campaigned for the rights of women who, according to her, are facing “multiple oppression and discrimination” in Nigeria. 

Welcome to the world of the Falanas, to the tent of ‘Funmi Falana, the strong voice of the campaign for women’s rights.

Daily Champion sat down with Funmi Falana and explored the activist’s experience raising two daughters in Nigeria, where she diagnosed the situation of women as marginalized and oppressed.

She recounted raising her daughters during the military administration when her husband, Femi Falana, SAN, faced serial detentions by former military Heads of State, Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 and Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. 

“At the time I was raising them, the vocabulary that they grew up to understand was SSS; those were the words they picked up before any other thing.” Funmi Falana recalled. 

She said her children, including the musician and political activist Folarin Falana, professionally known as Falz, grew up hearing the words: arrest, detention, Police, harassment and human rights.

“These were the things that rang bells in their heads when they were young and so there is no way they will not grow up becoming defenders of the less privileged and human rights activists,” Falana recalled.

Mrs ‘Funmi Falana believed that her children’s upbringing, especially her daughters, in the climate of human rights injustices, helped shape them for their work in society. 

About her children, she told Daily Champion “They were born into it, they suffered for it. Several times they were left without their father’s love because he was always going in and out of detention facilities.”

However, Mrs Falana took pride in these sufferings. She mentioned going to court with her children, suing the government and defying the threats of Decree 12 that the military government of the time brought to her. 

Daily Champion witnessed Mrs Falana’s display of leadership during a visit to the WELA College of Vocational Training which, according to her, is the organization’s Human Rights House located in the Agege area of Lagos state.

Funmi Falana addressed the audience at WELA’s 2024 International Women’s Day celebration where she spoke on the need to include women in decision-making in the society. 

She told her audience, “Women should be included in decision-making, women should be included in politics, and women should not be dragged behind (to) the back”

In one of her instances, she spoke on the need for society to recognise a woman as not inferior to a man and the boy child as not superior to a girl child; delivering an executive summary of her passion and life’s work. 

The spirit of activism in Mrs ‘Funmi Falana led her to establish WELA in 2009 after years of legal practice to enable her to specifically address the cases of women’s rights that she came across in her practice. 

Before concentrating on her legal practice, the women and children’s rights activist worked for two years as a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. 

During her brief stint in academia, Falana was still an active legal practitioner but was not satisfied; as she said, “I discovered that I wasn’t able to give much to the masses that I intended to touch.” 

She referred to the societal treatment of women in Nigeria as containing multiple forms of oppression and discrimination. 

She cited the politics in Nigeria as an external form with an example of a lack of a female state governor who was directly elected into office.

In addition to the external forms, Falana said that in domestic settings, “the girl child is abused at home as if she is inferior to the boy child, and a woman is marginalised in her own home.” 

“She has no say in the decisions. She is seen as an article, an object and sometimes as a machine to manufacture babies and food, the activist told Daily Champion.

Falana did not end by only describing the oppression of women in Nigerian society. 

In retrospect, the activist briefly paused and tied everything she had said about campaigning for women’s rights to the need to empower women economically.

She said, “Along the line, we also noticed that most of the problems we found women tackling in society are strictly connected to economic dependence.”

Funmi Falana noted that by providing women with more opportunities to earn a living they can be emancipated economically and socially and find their places and positions in society.

She said that WELA, the organisation she chairs, works to stand in and help women learn marketable skills through its College of Vocational Training. 

The college, which admits both men and women, runs a six-month programme and features multiple departments including tailoring, hairdressing, shoemaking, makeup, catering and ICT departments.

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