Femi Olugbile, the author of ‘Pelewura,’ engaged an audience at a book reading event hosted by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) at the Rovingheights Bookstore, Landmark Event Centre in Lagos on Friday.
He shared profound insights into the motivation behind his book, attributing it to the remarkable influences of his mother, Sabanatu Amoke, and the former Iyaloja of Lagos, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji.
Shedding light on his decision to dedicate the book to these two women, Olugbile provided a glimpse into his mother’s life, portraying her as a woman characterised by two significant attributes: sacrifice and support.
Describing her as an international trader, he revealed that she engaged in buying household items from Dosunmu Market in Lagos and reselling them in Brazzaville, Congo. The harsh reality faced by women like her in the market involved long hours spent at Dosunmu Market, bundling merchandise, and enduring unpredictable flights, leading to airport naps amidst bundled wares.
Despite these challenges, his mother’s home became a haven for family and relatives from Lagos and Abeokuta, sharing meals from a large platter with everyone washing hands and partaking. Her generosity extended beyond family, as she became the go-to person for neighbours, church friends, and anyone seeking not just financial assistance but also warmth and guidance. Olugbile highlighted her unique response to warnings about exploitation: a simple yet firm, “Is it your money?”
Mogaji, despite rarely leaving her room, mirrored his mother’s personality. She remained well-informed about society, offering prayers in both Islamic and Christian traditions to entering guests. Olugbile pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Mogaji’s influence wasn’t solely attributed to her son, President Bola Tinubu. She held connections in the corridors of power, even with limited proficiency in English.
The convergence of these two women in Olugbile’s life sparked his curiosity to delve into the story of Alimotu Pelewura, an illiterate activist who stood against the colonial administration in Lagos.
Olugbile emphasised Pelewura’s remarkable journey as the uneducated daughter of a fishmonger who rose to become the head of the Lagos Market Women Association while speaking at the event, which Kunle Ajibade, the publisher of TheNews, moderated.
“Pelewura,” according to the author, paints a picture of significant battles fought for Lagos’s autonomy. It delves into the resistance against colonial control over food prices, the fight against women’s taxation, and the unwavering struggle to reclaim land from government hands. The narrative also explores the dramatic events surrounding Eleko’s deposition and the relentless campaign for his reinstatement, where Pelewura and her market women stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Herbert Macaulay.
During the event, Olugbile read a chapter titled ‘Celebration,’ portraying the honour bestowed upon Pelewura by her fellow market women, along with other significant figures in the Lagos colony.
Toyin Akinosho, the secretary-general of CORA, had earlier read part of the first chapter of the book.
He noted that the book, a blend of fact and fiction, celebrates Alimotu Pelewura’s exceptional role as the founder of the Lagos Market Women’s Association and her activism, which predated the Aba Women riot.
The participants in the event highlighted the book’s unique perspective on the market’s role in society, showcasing it as more than a place for goods and service exchange. The collaboration between Pelewura, an unlettered market woman, and Macaulay, a highly educated individual, exemplified the quality of relationships that existed during the colonial era.