Aba Women Riots: The Ancient Better Than Modern

This piece narrates on the history of the famous Aba Women Riot and questions whether the current Aba women is ready to stage a repeat of the history.

Ever since I grew into adulthood, I had, and have always reiterated that women are more potent compared to men. Women are more powerful than men in all ramifications of life. They have the human power to do and undo. They also have the human power to create and destroy. Women's power must not be underestimated or taken for granted; because, in so doing, one may not live to tell the consequences. Although, the Holy Scripture proclaimed women to be weaker vessels; this can be true only when it refers to their physical appearance. But deep down within a woman, she is not a weaker vessel. Women are strong creatures with intense feelings about getting whatever they want. No powerful man on earth can withstand the power of a woman. A woman's power always comes out victorious wherever it wrestles with a man's own. Various examples abound to justify this assertion.

In the Holy Scripture, for instance, a great man named Samson was lured to his early grave by a woman. More than two women messed up his life. The first woman, an anonymous Philistine, used her tears --woman's most powerful weapon --to get Samson to yield to her demand. She wept for straight seven days before Samson yielded! Here, it happened that, Samson posed a riddle to the Philistines during a feast to marry one of their women. When the Philistines couldn't figure out the riddle and felt embarrassed and perturbed, they decided to use the woman whom Samson came to marry to get the riddle. They issued a statement of threat to the woman. They threatened her to entice Samson, her husband, that he may tell them the riddle or else they will burn her and her father's properties with fire. Twenty years later, Samson met another woman called Delilah. Delilah used the power of persuasive words --another women's weapon to get Samson to succumb to her request. She requested him to tell her where his great strength lies and how he may be bound to afflict him. Samson, of course, took clever possibilities on the woman. But Delilah was determined until finally, Samson had to reveal the secret of his great strength to her. 

In November 1929, an event that later culminated in what is known today as the Aba women's riot was initiated. The action began when a woman named Nwanyiriuwa; a traditional nurse applied her powerful weapon as a woman. She used her power effectively. It was after she had won a protest against the policy of the then British Colonial Government that other women across the South East and some part of South-South discovered theirs and followed suit. On 18th November 1929 in a village called Ụmụngboro, Oloko in present-day Ikwuanọ Local Government Area of Abia State, the Acting District Officer named Captain John Cook upon taking over duties of the Bende division temporarily from Mr. Weir; a serving officer until the return of the District Officer, Captain J N Hill who were on leave, decided to revise the existing roll because he had deemed the originally stated rolls for Taxation insufficient as they did not include details of a number of wives, children and domestic animals in every household. Hence, he mandated the Warrant Chiefs to do census for the purpose of Taxation. Upon this mandate, the Warrant Chief of Oloko named Chief Okeugo engaged the services of a former school teacher and court clerk, Mr. Mark Emeruwa to conduct a census of people and animals in Oloko. 

While carrying out this order from the Warrant Chief, Mr. Emeruwa entered the compound of Mazi Ojim; a prominent man and Nwanyiriuwa's husband to do his job. He met Nwanyiriuwa and instructed her to count her family and domestic animals, and revert to him. Embittered by this, Nwanyiriuwa challenged him instantly. She, like the other women of the community, could not fathom why women should be made to pay tax as taxing women is not supposed to be obtainable in any Igbo society. Meanwhile, Mr. Emeruwa who did not expect such reactions from Nwanyiriuwa had assumed that all the women shall comply with his directives as a representative of the almighty Warrant Chief. But how unfortunately wrong he was! 

"Was your widowed mother counted?" Nwanyiriuwa queried him. This query got Emeruwa provoked that he had to seize her by the throat. Trust a woman, Nwanyiriuwa retaliated! Her cry for help alarmed the neighborhood. People came and separated the fighting duo. Subsequently, all women of Oloko and other villages gathered at the town square to hear Nwanyiriuwa's story. Nwanyiriuwa's story prompted the women of Oloko to invite their sisters from the neighboring villages within the Bende district. The invitation was done with the aid of palm leaves. The women were above ten thousand in number and hence, appointed three women leaders namely Ikonnia, Nwugo, and Nwannediya for proper coordination. They had to protest against taxation on women. And they were unanimous! The question on their lips was, "How could women who have no means themselves to buy food or clothing afford to pay tax?" They have no problem with taxing men, but to tax, the women must be a big no-no. So, they had to begin a protest against it. The news, meanwhile, spread like a wildfire. And unknown to them, what history is known today as the Aba women riot was about to begin.

Armed with palm fronds and leafy branches, the women trooped out to the streets chanting songs of sorrow and woes. They went to Emeruwa's house and shouted at him, "Come out, Emeruwa come out!" As Emeruwa refused to come out, the women proceeded to sit on him. Some of the women proceeded to the Warrant Chief's residence. While the Warrant Chief had heard what happened to Emeruwa, he barricaded himself indoors before the protesting women arrived. As the women arrived at his residence to meet all doors locked, they shouted, "Okeugo come out! Come and explain why you have ordered that women must pay tax!" Okeugo refused to come out to address them. And they proceeded to sit on him. Okeugo assumed the women would leave before midnight. How deadly wrong he was! The women had all the time in the world to sit on him. They sat on him for days. They sang, danced, and shouted for two days and nights. Okeugo and his family could not come out. They were only able to peep behind closed windows and doors.

On December 2nd, 1929, Captain J N Hill, the District Officer who traveled when the crisis broke out, resumed his office. He met the rampaging women of Oloko. He was struck by the great number of the protesting women. The women were more than 10,000 strong! Although not formally educated, the women were well informed. They knew their rights! When the women met the District Officer, they demanded two things. One is that Okeugo is put on trial. Two, that women must not be taxed. They demanded Okeugo's cap of office. The cap of office signifies his symbol of authority. Captain Hill granted this demand by throwing Okeugo's cap at the women. But the women were not yet satisfied. They wanted Okeugo to be tried. And the District Officer realizing that nothing short of the trial will pacify the women, put Okeugo on trial in public. Okeugo was found guilty at the end of the trial. He was subsequently dethroned and stripped of his status as a Chief and sentenced to two years imprisonment. 

The success of the Oloko women in removing a Warrant Chief of the British Colonial Masters galvanized the entire women of the South East and South-South. They began to demand the removal of their own Warrant Chiefs! The news of the trial and imprisonment of Okeugo reached the ears of Aba women. They heard how Oloko women resisted the powers of intimidation from their oppressors. If Oloko women could challenge almighty British authority and emerge victorious, Aba women thought, they too can do it and make a name for themselves. The District Officer of Aba woke up on the morning of December 6th, 1929 to receive information that women were marching to Aba through Ụmụahịa. This was women of the Bende division numbering over 10,000 ably led and well-coordinated by Ikonnia, Nwannediya, and Nwugo. Make no mistake, the women were bold and fearless. They were joined in by the women of Aba and those of other parts of Igbo land. They confronted the District Officer at Aba who was shocked at the sheer number and able coordination. They were angry that direct taxation might be extended from men to women and was protesting at a collapse in the price of their palm produce when import costs were rising.

In Aba, the embers of fire lighted at Oloko village had become a huge conflagration. The protesting women marched down to the prison and freed the inmates. In the midst of the protest, a white man knocked down two women among the protesters. Ha! Hell was let loose. The action of the white man incensed the protesting women. And they advanced towards the car! The white man who was a medical doctor fled with his companion! They ran, and ran, and ran, into a building. Trust these women, they pursued the European Doctor and his companion into the building and ransacked there within seconds. The protesting women attacked all commercial and colonial buildings that represented a symbol of authority. They also looted. From the prison to the bank to the post office and down to the train station. They were gallantly unstoppable! The residents of Aba were powerless in the face of the women who were determined to remove all forms of oppression in their territory.

As a result of this attack on buildings and its looting, the uprising in Aba became named by the colonists as "Aba Women Riots" and it struck. However, the British Colonial Administration of Sir Frederick Lugard was alarmed as the protest was no longer a riot but had become a revolution. On December 12th, 1929, the government mobilized the Nigerian soldiers to Aba to quell the uprising. A contingent of police was also mobilized to maintain law and order. The two mobilizations were not all as the Lieutenant Governor, Cyril W. Alexander also came to take control of the situation. The women were not stopped, of course. The protest spread more like a wildfire from Aba to Owerenta (Owerri nta), Imo River, Omoba, Mbọsi (Mbawsi), and Azumini. The women of Azumini proceeded to the courthouse and set all the buildings there on fire. The Ibibio women joined too. By this time, it was no longer Aba women's riot. It had become Ọgụ Ụmụ Nwanyị (Women's War) and subsequently, bloody!

The government came to realize the enormity of what it was up against by the time the riot spread to Calabar. It became clear to the government, at this stage, that the protesting women may overtake them (the government) if drastic actions were not taken to arrest the revolution. Therefore, a platoon of soldiers waited for the women at Uyo. The soldiers drew a line in the sand with a warning to the protesting women that the line must not be crossed. Not deterred but firmly determined, the women crossed that line on the 14th of December, 1929. The police opened fire on them, killing three women instantly. The three women identified as Mary Udo Ekpo, Adiaha Umo, and Unwa Udom sadly became the first victims of the women's war. The government was very wrong to have thought that killing three unarmed women would put a stop to the women's war. Very wrong. The women grew in number and incensed. There was another confrontation between the armed forces of the government and unarmed rural women. The greatest casualty was recorded at Opobo where in just one day, about thirty-one women and a man were killed. Altogether, fifty-three people were killed. And the riot ended in Opobo. 

The Women's War which lasted for twenty-nine (29) days was thus the first major challenge to the British Authority not only in Igbo land but across West Africa. The Aba women's riot promoted the British administration of Sir F. Lugard to drop their purposed plans to impose a tax on the market women, and also to curb the power of the Warrant Chiefs. Additionally, women were appointed to serve as Warrant Chiefs in certain areas. Ninety (90) years after the first Aba Women Riot precisely on 8th October 2019, the whole city of Aba was awakened to a protest that had an inscription: ABA WOMEN RIOT PART 2. Just like part one of 1929 which was initiated by one woman, Nwanyiriuwa; a traditional nurse and popular figure in Oloko, this part two was initiated by a woman named Jane Ọgbaụta; a businesswoman and Founder of two Non-governmental organizations in Aba.

But there is a big difference between the two parts. While the first part was truly a riot in every aspect, the second part was not. The second part was merely a riot in name only! And Nwanyiriuwa where ever she is would certainly be strongly displeased with the later protesters. Led by Jane Ọgbaụta, the acclaimed part two of the Aba women's riot took to the streets to protest against the poor state of infrastructures especially roads in Aba. Unlike part one of 1929 which was ignited due to the proposed taxation of women, this part two of 2019 was initiated due to the bad state of roads. The protesters which were not even up to 500, unlike the part one that had over 10,000 women in number, marched to a local government Headquarters. It was Aba South Local Government Headquarters. Carrying placards and appearing in uniform wears, unlike the part one women who carried palm fronds and chanted songs of sorrow, the protesters stood at the gate of the local government building and pronounced their demands. They gave the government 100 days to fix the problem of collapsed roads in Abia State, especially Aba. And unlike the part one women protesters of Oloko who proceeded to sit on the government agents for failing to come out and address them, the part two protesters simply issued their demands and went home! Just like that. If the recent Aba women protesters and their leader think that the government shall take them seriously after they had just issued their demands and dispersed, they are mistaken big time.

The government reacted by staging a counter-protest. They also released a false video, accusing the women protesters of being paid by the opposition to stage such a protest. That was not all. The sycophants of the government were deployed to address Jane Ọgbaụta in a pejorative sense. The government also sent thugs led by one Chijioke Solomon to attack the women leader at her shop in Ogbor Hill. On 10th October 2019 the thugs, numbering five, came to Jane's boutique shop to issue her threats and subsequently looted her goods in the shop. From all indications, it is obvious that the women of Aba who recently protested against the infrastructure decay in Abia State are yet to discover their power as women. And they need to discover their power now before things get out of hand. The women must, first of all, know their rights. Knowing their fundamental rights as citizens of Nigeria is very important in winning every oppression of the government. The women must also know how to articulate their demands. They must equally understand the essence of applying their greatest weapons in winning battles against bad governance in their State. Without these fundamental steps, nothing tangible shall come out of their protest. Instead, the government will take absolute advantage of them.

For any Aba women to protest to make greater impacts and sweep the government off its feet, they must be united with one accord and unanimous decision as did the women of Oloko. For there to be truly a part two of the Aba women riot in essence and content, the number of protesters should exceed 50,000 in number! And must take days, if not, months. If Aba women in 1929 could maximize their power to challenge the government against taxing them, why cannot the present-day Aba women follow suit in a better way? What has really changed about Aba women? The total collapse of infrastructures in Abia State coupled with prolonged unpaid salaries and pension allowances is enough source of anger for Aba women to stage a near revolution. Aba women, are you ready for another Aba women riot?

By Chukwudimma Aaron-Okonkwo

3
222
View all 3 likes
support@nairapen.com
+14047026965
.

Create An Ad Like Th...

Give your skills and business more visibility with NairaPen Ads. We'll...

View details
Dr Abiodun Anifow...

More from Chukwudimma Aaron-...

2023 Elections For Ovia C...

As we look forward to the period of electioneering campaigns ahead of the February 25th, 2...

1656251989.jpg
Chukwudimma Aaron...
1 year ago

Obi-datti 2023: A New Daw...

By sloganeering, it is the Food Basket of the Nation and could have lived abundantly well...

1656251989.jpg
Chukwudimma Aaron...
1 year ago

Anambra State With A New...

This article decried the rate at which former governor Chief Willie Obiano destroyed the l...

1656251989.jpg
Chukwudimma Aaron...
1 year ago

2023: Understanding A Man...

Nigeria as a multi-lingual and multi-religious nation with attendant chaotic sociopolitica...

1656251989.jpg
Chukwudimma Aaron...
1 year ago

The Birth Of A New Nigeri...

Few days ago, a statistical report from Debt Management Office, DMO revealed that Nigeria'...

1656251989.jpg
Chukwudimma Aaron...
1 year ago

You may also like

Having A Healthy Relation...

A healthy relationship is one of the most important things in life. It can provide you wit...

1656331749.jpg
Emmanuel Dickson
1 year ago

Keep Your Secret Secret

After reading this piece, you will agree with me, that not every talk should be let out to...

1656003146.jpg
Onyema Blessing
1 year ago

The Get-together: Whoduni...

This is a snippet from my thriller novel "The get-together". This part features a game of...

1652082430.jpeg
Oluwatoyin Odunuy...
1 year ago

Solemn Lasting Days

Hatred whiffs the air and there is more than you can take. Patience is to what level of un...

1656669353.jpg
Heritage
2 years ago

My Name Is Cain (chapter...

Father’s story of how they lost our beautiful home and made life so difficult for us made...

1673572711.jpg
Damian King
2 years ago
Comments (0)

There are currently no comments for this article. Be the first to comment.

Support this Writer
Secured Payment in Dollars

$