Aba Women Protest 1929

The amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorates will forever be indelible to Nigerians. It is forever engraved in the country’s history books as when the inconceivable present-day Nigeria was formed. Others would argue that it was the day when our unity forever stood the test of time. Did Nigeria derive its name from “The Niger Area” or from “The River Niger? Either way, it’s still a questionable name. The British government championed this unsolicited union in 1914 through Lord Lugard. British colonialism in Igbo society ushered in the indirect rule system. This system of colonial leadership worked in other parts of the amalgamated area except in Igboland because of the absence of a central authority, which predates colonialism. In their quest to get a proper hold on or control of the southeastern part of their new country, they instituted puppets under the guise of warrant chiefs.


In law-abiding states, the rule of law guides the people and brings defaulters to the book. Likewise, in a society characterised by so many ills, people become rebellious or protest for correctional purposes. Colonial Nigeria was represented by the corrupt leadership of the colonists and their appointed authorities, hence the unrest and uprisings against the ill. This posed a social threat to the Igbo people and society. Although social threats can take many different forms, four fundamental categories are easily recognised: threats to one’s physical well-being (pain, injury, or death); threats to one’s economic well-being (seizure or destruction of property, denial of access to resources or work); threats to one’s rights (imprisonment, denial of ordinary civil liberties); and threats to one’s position or status (demotion, public humiliation) (Buzan, 1983).


The individual security of people in southeastern Nigeria was thrown into a shambolic state. As a result of this social threat, which took the forms of autocratic leadership of warrant chiefs, imposition of obnoxious laws, heavy and direct taxation, particularly on Igbo market women, seizure of property, abuse of freedom of speech, and so on, the women of Igbo, Ibibio, Ogoni, Andoni, and others There are, however, varying accounts as to the cause of the protest. This period marked the beginning of the Great Depression, which made everyone feel the heat of the economic turmoil. The natives bore the brunt on both sides, while the colonial masters exploited them through importation and taxed them heavily, too.


The straw that broke the camel’s back was the case of Nwaanyiukwu, a widow who was taxed by Chief Okeugo on November 18, 1929. In pre-colonial and colonial Igbo societies, women were not taxed. The women came out and protested against the ills of the colonial overlords at the expense of their lives. It led to the establishing of a commission of inquiry in Calabar, Owerri, and Aba provinces, subsequently leading to reforms.



‘So amazing how this world was made; I wonder if God was a woman… So don’t underestimate the strength of a woman. Over the years, women have been a source of cataclysmic change in society. John Locke opined that the great and chief end of men’s putting themselves under government is preserving their property (meaning here their ‘lives, liberties, and estates’), which in the state of nature is very unsafe and insecure (Locke, 1688). Albeit the protest recorded about 50 deaths and 75 injuries, it led to the retracing of steps by the colonists and the resignation of hardhearted warrant chiefs. It blazed the trail for the resistance movement.


By Chidimma NWAFOR

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