The Aba Women’s Protest of 1929, also known as Ogu Umunwanyi in Igbo land, Nigeria, was a significant protest movement in the former British Empire. Organised and led by rural women of Owerri and Calabar provinces, the protest spread rapidly throughout southeastern Nigeria, involving a population of about two million people.
Pre-colonial Political Roles and British Intervention
In pre-colonial times, the Igbo and Ibibio peoples lived in mini-states where both men and women held political power. They participated in government, held major roles in the market, and worked collaboratively in the domestic sphere. However, the British colonial government brought changes that diminished women’s political roles. The British established political institutions that favoured men, effectively shutting women out from political power.
The Catalyst for the Protest
The Aba Women’s Protest began in response to British colonial policies, including increased school fees, corruption by local officers, and forced labour. The women were already burdened with supporting their families and helping men pay their taxes. When enumerator Captain J. Cook announced his intention to revise the nominal roll, which included counting women, children, and livestock, women feared that direct taxation would be extended to them as well.
The Spark and the Spread of the Protest
The protest was sparked by a dispute between Nwanyeruwa, a woman, and Mark Emereuwa, a census taker. When Emereuwa arrived at Nwanyeruwa’s house, he demanded she count her goats, sheep, and people. Nwanyeruwa, suspecting this would lead to taxation, became angry and challenged Emereuwa. After this exchange, Nwanyeruwa shared her experience with other women, who quickly joined in solidarity.
The protest spread across various divisions, taking different forms. In some areas, it was peaceful and led to the resignation and imprisonment of local chiefs. However, in other areas, such as Aba, the protest turned violent, with women raiding government buildings, European factories, and other establishments.
The Aftermath and Achievements of the Protest
After the protests, the British government appointed commissions of inquiry to investigate the disturbances. The findings of these commissions led to several administrative reforms, including the abolition of the warrant chief system, reorganisation of native courts to include women members, and the creation of village-group councils enforced by group courts.
The Aba Women’s Protest is a remarkable example of the difficulties in imposing foreign administration on indigenous peoples and highlights the crucial role women played in resisting colonial rule. It is seen as the first significant challenge to British authority in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial period.
Legacy of the Aba Women’s Protest
The Aba Women’s Protest had a lasting impact on Nigeria and the broader West African region, influencing the struggle for independence and the development of Nigerian nationalism.
Empowerment of Women
The protest demonstrated the power of women’s collective action and their ability to challenge colonial authorities. This event raised awareness of women’s rights and contributed to the recognition of their role in society, leading to increased participation in governance and politics.
Influence on Nigerian Nationalism
The Aba Women’s Protest served as a catalyst for Nigerian nationalism. It revealed the dissatisfaction of the Nigerian people with the colonial administration and their desire for self-determination. As a result, the protest played a pivotal role in inspiring future anti-colonial movements and contributed to the eventual independence of Nigeria in 1960.
Impact on Colonial Policies
The protest forced the British colonial administration to reassess their policies in Nigeria. The subsequent reforms, including the abolition of the warrant chief system and the establishment of village-group councils, reflected a shift in the colonial government’s approach to governance, addressing some of the grievances of the Nigerian people.
The Aba Women’s Protest of 1929 was a watershed moment in Nigerian history, serving as a turning point in the relationship between the colonial administration and the indigenous people. The protest highlighted the power of women’s collective action, led to significant administrative reforms, and laid the foundation for Nigerian nationalism. It remains an essential milestone in the struggle for independence and women’s rights in Nigeria and West Africa.