Nwanyereuwa: The Woman Behind The Tactical Aba Women’s Protest
Ever heard of the Aba’s women’s Riot? Well, just like “the wives revolt”, when women decide to take action they do not go back on their word, the Aba women’s riot is an instance of this. There are actors to this riot and Nwayereuwa the brainbox behind the Aba women’s riot of 1929 is to be particularly remembered.
Nwayereuwa pursued with grace the interest of the women of the community. Spearheading this necessary and nonviolent riot through the cultural ‘sitting on a man’ tactics, by means of singing and dancing, ‘Yes’ singing and dancing like the Greek sirens to weaken and disarm their oppressors.
The struggle was ignited by the need to put an end to the abuse of the warrant chiefs, the tax system and the subjugation of women through this means. It was perhaps personal for her especially with the question she directs at Emereuwa [who came to tax her according to the British authority], “was your mother counted?”
Nwayereuwa had allies who helped strengthen the colonial resistance and these ladies are called the Oloko trios (Ikonnia, Nwannedie, Nwugo) – leaders of the ogu umunwanyi- when the protest first began at Oloko in Aba.
The Oloko trios bravely took to a protest demanding what rightfully should be, as it threatened to thwart the norms and traditions of the Igbo system. The taxation system was to be implemented thus the headcount to determine the tax to be paid by each household causing an uprising which spread to other regions affecting the Calabar, Ogoni, and Opobo women.
During this uprising, it is believed that over 25,000 women faced cruelty that had at the least over 50 women killed despite that they did not seriously harm anyone during the riot. Also, Okugo the warrant chief in charge of the Oloko district was sentenced to jail and women were put in to serve at court.
Locally called The Women’s War, the British labelled it the “Aba’s Riot” to silence the role of women and change the narrative.
The Aba riot, the women’s war, ogu umunwanyi whichever appeals to you, is not just any war, but it is the first historical public display of feminism in Nigeria. It is consequently a pivotal deed in the history of Nigerians most importantly, in the history of Nigerian women. It is the hallmark of the feminist struggle in Nigeria, possibly West Africa.
Affirmatively they not only spoke for women but for men too who were undergoing poverty due to the tax system because as women they nurture the earth and everyman great and small are born of a woman.
The Aba women’s protest was one of struggle, a demonstration which not only put women in the limelight but also elevated their status of being functional not only in the home frontiers but also as master strategists in moments of revolution, it was an epitome that women can do more than society has relegated them.
It would also be a source of inspiration for Ben N. Azikiwe (later known as Nnamdi Azikiwe)’s letter titled “Murdering Women in Nigeria” in The Crisis in 1930 about the “recent massacre of Opobo women by British commanded soldiers.” Again, as president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe proposed a tax system for the men, where women intercepted and matched up to his office in Enugu at which a compromise was made and the talk of taxing was put to rest.
Consequently, the protest is remembered for resisting colonialism and acts as the pointer to the beginning of feminism.
Having affected so many lives and leaving an impact on all. Margret Ekpo was left with a great impression from the women’s war, being only 15 at the time and when older she formed the Aba market association in 1946, which was the point of politics for her. At the time, the market was the home of the Igbo woman a place outside the home where she took charge.
Already dealing with the poverty of their husbands and sons were subjected to due to the imposed tax system, the news of women to be added to the chain was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Unfortunately, one whose name will be forgotten by the history books is Princess Princess Nnete Okorie-Egbe of Akwete, the inspiration behind the Aba women protest.