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OBITUARY: Afegbua, the first elected female senator who inspired women participation in politics

OBITUARY: Afegbua, the first elected female senator who inspired women participation in politics
March 13
12:31 2023

On Sunday morning, the news of the passing of Franca Afegbua, the first elected female senator in Nigeria, wobbled through the country. She was famous for her role in flipping the political table in Nigeria, paving way for more women politicians despite strong male dominance.

Afegbua’s story was a motivation for women at a time when top political positions were tagged as a terrain for men only and women were kept as party members — or graciously bequeathed the incontestable position of women leaders.

She was a beautician and an outstanding leader who joined politics with the agenda of transforming her community. Born on October 1943 in Kano, she was a native of Okpella – a town in Estako-east LGA of the old Bendel state, which is now divided into Edo and Delta states.

The Edo-born beautician had her education in Kano, Kaduna, and Lagos states. She was said to own a hair care and massage salon in a shopping centre at Falomo in the Ikoyi area of Lagos.


She was a strong entrepreneur who won several beauty awards locally and internationally before the second republic. In 1977, she won an international hairstyling competition in London.

“I contested as Miss Kaduna and I won. I was living in Kaduna then. I contested a few beauty contests and I won,” she had said in an interview.



Afegbua was introduced into politics by Joseph Tarka, a Nigerian politician from Benue state who served as a minister for transport and communications under Yakubu Gowon, former military head of state.

In 1983, she started politics fully and contested the senatorial position of Bendel north under the National Party of Nigeria. She contested against John Omolu, a formidable politician and a trade unionist. Afegbua remained resolute despite the male dominance and canvassed votes through women and their organisations. She earned a slim victory in the election and defeated Omolu. She was then sworn in as the first elected female senator in Nigeria in October 1983.

In an Interview with Okpella TV, Afegbua said her interest in politics was triggered by her desire to provide water and other basic amenities to the people of Okpella.


“When it was time for the regional contest, I contested and I won. The great and greatest inspiration was that I wanted to fight for my people because Okpella is in Nigeria and we had no water to drink. We were so backward,” she said.

“I stayed in Kano and I just came to Okpalla, no water. I lived in Kano, Kaduna, Zaria and I thought how come they have pipe-borne water and we don’t have it? What is wrong? Did the government neglect us? I said what will stop me from going there and getting these things right. So, I decided to go into politics for that purpose.”



At the time Nigeria witnessed the second republic when the military rulers passed power to Shehu Shagari, the civilian president in 1979, there was no woman in the senate. Female politicians were said to have been marginalised by cultural and gender stereotypes with patriarchy posing the greater challenge.

While men occupied the majority of the legislative positions with 230 members, women were said to occupy about five of the seats.


Even though Afegbua had massive transformative agenda, her political career was cut short on December 31, 1983, when the military coup staged by Muhammadu Buhari, a major-general, overthrew the government. This ended the civilian government and the second republic.

Afegbua, in an interview, expressed regret over her inability to fully deliver her mandate to the people of Okpella.


“I couldn’t because there was the coup that ousted us and I didn’t come back, but I did my best to get water to the people,” she said.

“The Nigerian politics now is more political; it is come and chop. The politics of my time was to come and work and get something to your people. Some people worked for the betterment of their environment, and some it was a money-making affair but I didn’t see it as a money-making affair.


“I saw it as an opportunity to fight and get something done for my people and if every politician fights for the country, there will be progress, and this country will be more progressive than it is now.

“Some people are working for their pockets, so there cannot be general progress. The situation is getting worse and it is very pathetic. Politics, I don’t see it as divide and share and all that. I see it as presenting a case and fighting for it. It is not to go and take money. It cannot improve education, anyway. May God help us and may God forgive us.”


Afegbua was a community mobiliser who was highly admired by her people. She was a trailblazer in her community and a passionate advocate of education and women’s right. This earned her the chieftaincy titles, Aidotse of Onwoyeni Town and the Memisesewe of Okpella.

In 2019, when Afegbua marked her 76th birthday, THISDAY reported that Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo, described her as a role model to men and women.

Obaseki, represented by Philip Shaibu, deputy governor of the state, said: “Edo government will be building a home for our first female senator in the heart of Benin city. And we are also setting up a trust fund for her upkeep for life.”

“I pray that God will continue to bless you. You are a role model to men and women the world over, whose outstanding achievements and accomplishments continue to inspire many,“ he added.

She was also praised by Betsy Obaseki, wife of Edo governor, who described her as “a great woman, a trailblazer, and a mentor to many”.

“The most distinguished Senator Afegbua has been a source of pride to the people of Edo state as well as to women all over the world. She is the first black woman in the world to become a senator at a time when women’s inclusion in the political process was largely unrecognised in Nigeria.” She added.

“What she did was to pave the way for women all around the world to believe that such a feat was possible. The senator did the impossible in 1983 and since then, women all over the world have come to see it as a possibility.

“The world is at an interesting phase, where women at various levels are standing up and demanding inclusion and diversity.”


Franca Afegbua

In May 2014, Afegbua’s autobiography was launched by Women Foundation in Nigeria (WFN). The book, “Walking on hot coals”, detailed her journey into the political world and the Nigerian senate in 1983.

The book, reviewed by Nuhu Yakubu, a professor at Sokoto State University, was not only recommended for women in politics but all men across Nigeria. He described the book as a lesson in perseverance and determination.

Afegbua’s memoir was launched by Edwin Clark who was in the senate alongside Afegbua in 1983. He said she was a fearless woman who was not afraid to blaze her own trail.

Afegbua died on March 12, 2023, at the age of 79.

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