n the 1920's, there was a wide popular
dissatisfaction with the British administration in Nigeria due to worsening
economic conditions and the disruption of
the democratic traditional form of government. What is commonly known as the "Aba
Women Riot" was a phenomenon which
was neither Aba in origin nor a riot in nature. It was well planned uprising by women
with known and identifiable goals and good
leaders in front. A riot suggests an "uncontrolled, irrational action, involving violence
to property or persons or both". The issue
of extending direct taxation to the Eastern
Provinces was re-opened in 1924 by the
Lieutenant Governor of the Southern Provinces, Sir Henry Moorhouse, giving his plan
to include the taking of census of all taxable
That plan failed because a good proportion of taxable males ran into the bush. The
attempt in 1929 to produce a more reliable
nominal roll resulted in the women's war.
At the end of the first year's tax collection, the British authorities had become familiar with the problems inherent in the
machinery. The then Lt. Governor of Southern Nigeria, Cyril Wilson Alexander ordered
a closer assessment with instructions given
to check on the accuracy of the nominal
roll supplied the year before by the chiefs.
Simultaneously, rumours spread that women
were going to be taxed along with men. It
has been said that the rumour to tax women
was fabricated by Chief Okugo Ekurna
Okezie of Oloko in Bende. Edward Morris
Falk, Resident for Calabar Province recalls
issuing circulars to district officers instructing them to gather information and statistics which would lead to a final calculation
of the lump sum which the units of taxation
could be reasonably expected to pay on the
basis of two per cent of the whole income
earning population including women. The
prevailing economic condition brought about
drastic slump in the prices of palm produce,
accompanied by a sharp increase in the cost
of imported goods. It was no longer fashionable to buy oil in puncheons. The requirement to buy in pounds and hundred - weights
constituted a source of great irritation to the
women. Another concern was the colonial
forestry laws which prohibited the indiscriminate felling of trees. Women demanded that
"we don't want to be getting permission for
the cutting of sticks."
Whatever grievances behind the rising of
1929, started in Oloko, Bende. Warrant of
Chief Okugo Okezie of Oloko had detailed
Mark Emeruwa, a teacher with Niger Pastorate Mission to conduct a census of all
taxable males as directed by Captain John
Cook, the Ag. District officer for Bende.
Emeruwa had been instructed to do a census of not only adult males but also to obtain from them, the number of their wives,
children, goats and sheep.
Emeruwa had started his work as directed
in the conpound of Ojim on November 23,
when Nwanyeruwa, Ojim's wife objected
to being counted and scuffle ensued. Chief
Okezie threatened to report the matter to
the D.O. Oloko. Women were all summoned to a meeting "and Nwanyeruwa's
excited story was told as confirmation of
the rumour" about taxation of women. The
women, whose number had now increased due to new arrivals, seized the opportunity
and demanded Okezie removed as a warrant chief. Chief Okezie was removed, tried
and jailed for two years.
In the second week of December, it
spread to Aba. It was Aba that its first most
serious nature occurred in terms of the number of women who took part but no loss of
life was involved. According to Perham,
some two thousand women, scantily clothed,
took part, "singing angry songs against the
chiefs and messengers." By December 13,
the news reached Abak. Captain James the
District Officer for Abak had to secure all
government property. The native court
building and staff quarters at Utu Etim Ekpo
had been contacted and the resident who
went to Uyo, a platoon of troops under Lt.
Browning proceeded to Utu Etim Ekpo to
restore order, but they met 500 strong
women advancing towards the camp. A line
was drawn on the roads which the women
were dared to cross. And they finally
crossed the line. At this juncture, Captain
James, Captain Blackburn, Assistant District Commissioner of Police fired their revolvers into the air, without any injury. Lt.
Browning with his platoon of 26 men armed,
ordered a burst of seven rounds. Poorly
targeted, the first had no effect and the second, but the third found a mark. A total of
18 women were killed. Houses were burnt
At Ikot Ekpene, the District Officer, Captain Hanitsch had visited all the Native Court
areas, assuring women that they were not going to be taxed. A platoon of troops from
Calabar to reinforce the defence of Ikot
Ekpene was sent. Also, plans were made
to destroy all bridges leading to the town.
Unfortunately, a group of women numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 had reached
Ikot Osurua, and Captain Hanitsch enlisted
Rev. Groves and Mr. Udo Essien Obot to
talk to the Women. The lack of bloodshed
in Ikot Ekpene was due to the intervention
of Rev. Groves and representative of Ibibio
It now moved to Itu which was quiet up
to December, before women marched to
attend a meeting at Itu hill. The District
Officer, Mr Hughes had to telephone Dr.
A. B. MacDonald of the United Free
Church of Scotland Mission who was the
physician in charge of the Itu Leper Colony.
Dr. MacDonald arranged for 250 lepers to
block the road. As the women went downhill, the lepers were ordered to charge and
"the women were driven helter skelter
down the beach again and a great victory
The women's war reached its peak at
Opobo (Ikot Abasi). In Opobo Division between 1928 and 1929, taxable adult males
in Queenstown had fallen short of the estimated number. Warrant Chief Tim Uranta
obtained court decision to collect the deficit
from the defaulters with the help of policemen. Mr Floyer on getting to Queenstown
led the police to be shown homes of tax
defaulters, though most of them left for Aba
and Azumini, their livestocks were all seized. Mr. Whiteman, the District officer fixed a
meeting with the women for December 16.
But on December 15, he was informed that
the women had wrecked the dispensary and
had began destroying the native court too.
On December 16, a platoon of the 3rd battalion, Nigeria Regiment consisting of 30
men, a Lewis gun, and Lt. Hill arrived at
Ikot Abasi from Uyo. Edward Morris Falk,
the then resident, instructed Hill that he
should not hesitate "to use ball cartridge in
the defence of life and property." The meeting between the women and Whiteman
began at about 8.00am. The women asked
Whiteman to put everything in writing.
Whiteman wrote the following;
" The Government will not tax women
" No personal property such as box is to
" Any woman who is a known prostitute (not?) to be arrested
" Women are not to be charged rent for
the use of common market shed.
" They asked that licenses for holding
plays should not be banned. I promise to
bring this complaints to the notice of government.
" They do not want Chief Mark Pepple
Jaja to be head Chief of Opobo Town. I
will so inform the government.
" The women do not want any man to
" They are speaking for Opobo, Bonny
and Andoni women.
They demanded six copies of the letter
for Opobo town, Bonny, Andoni, Ibibio,
Ogoni and Nkoro. An office seal, the clerk
and interpreter should witness to it. When
the typed letters were ready, the women
demanded that the letters should be enveloped with two shilling stamp affixed to them.
More women arrived the scene and they
were gesticulating with their fists and sticks.
The women broke the fence surrounding
the compound where the meeting was held.
An order was demanded by an officer from
Whiteman who gave by nodding, then the
On the right flank, the first volley did not
stop them. On firing the second round, the
crowd broke and demanded cease fire.
After the cease-fire, 31 women and one
man were killed and another 31 wounded.
One of those killed was the women leader
and mother to Late Justice (Dr) Egbert Udo
Udoma. So many were drowned, whereas
in Oloko and Aba, no life was lost. The
women's war brought to international light
the misfit of the British administration. There
was a reorganization of the British administration in Nigeria. Special efforts were
made to employ anthropological studies of
the communities in their rule and educated
Nigerians were drafted into the service.
Since then, no government dared impose
any taxation on the rural women.
Nigeria remembers these events with
awe and pride, because the heroic women,
through their united valiant action and supreme sacrifice, showed the way for later
day Nigeria Nationalism. They forcefully
asserted their role as an active social and
political force and engraved their names on
the sands of time.
Okuette Edet writes from the National
Museum Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.