Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in southeastern Nigeria, touching off the most serious challenge to British rule in the history of the colony. The “Women’s War” took months for the government to suppress and became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.
The Aba Women’s War of Nigeria effectively arose out of:
*A fear that the British would tax women separately from men.
*Dissatisfaction with the low prices being offered for local produce e.g palm kernels and edible oil, while imported goods were kept at artificially high prices.
*Hatred of the Warrant Chiefs and the Native Courts because of the corruption and unfair sentences imposed.
Using the traditional practice of censoring men through all night song and dance ridicule (often called “sitting on a man”), the women chanted and danced, and in some locations forced warrant chiefs to resign their positions.
The women also attacked European owned stores and Barclays Bank and broke into prisons and released prisoners.
They also attacked Native Courts run by colonial officials, burning many of them to the ground.
Colonial Police and troops were called in. They fired into the crowds that had gathered at Calabar and Owerri, killing more than 50 women and wounding over 50 others.
During the two month “war” at least 25,000 Igbo women were involved in protests against British officials.
The women’s revolt was sparked after a dispute between a woman named Nwanyereuwa and a man, Mark Emereuwa, who was helping to make a census of the people living in the town controlled by the Warrant Chief, Okugo.
On the morning of November 18, Emereuwa arrived at Nwanyereuwa’s house and approached Nwanyereuwa, since her husband Ojim, had already died. He told the widow to “count her goats, sheep and people.”
Since Nwanyereuwa understood this to mean, “How many of these things do you have so we can tax you based on them”, she was angry. She replied by saying “Was your widowed mother counted?,” meaning “that women don’t pay tax in traditional Igbo society.”
The two exchanged angry words, and Nwanyeruwa went to the town square to discuss the incident with other women who happened to be holding a meeting to discuss the issue of taxing women.
Believing they would be taxed, based on Nwanyeruwa’s account, the Oloko women invited other women (by sending leaves of palm-oil trees) from other areas in the Bende District, as well as from Umuahia and Ngwa. They gathered nearly 10,000 women who protested at the office of Warrant Chief Okugo, demanding his resignation and calling for a trial.
The women sang “Ma O ghara ibu nwa beke mma anyiu egbuole Okugo rie” (If it were not for the white man we would have killed Chief Okugo and eaten him up.
The Aba Women’s war prompted colonial authorities to drop their plans to impose a tax on the market women, and to curb the power of the warrant chiefs. The women’s uprising is seen as the first major challenge to British authority in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial period.
Toyin Falola edited a book on the Women’s War of 1929