Igbo women's war
In November, 1929, thousands of Igbo women from the Bende District of Nigeria, the nearby Umuahia, Ngwa, and other places in southern Nigeria traveled to Oloko to protest against the Warrant Chiefs, who they accused of restricting the role of women in the government; this incident become known as the Igbo Women's War of 1929 (or "Ogu Ndem," Women's War, in Igbo). It was organized and led by rural women of Owerri and Calabar Provinces. During the events, many Warrant Chiefs were forced to resign and sixteen Native Courts were attacked, most of which were destroyed or burned down.(2)
Events and causes
The Women's revolt of 1929 was sparked by a dispute between a woman named Nwanyeruwa and a man, Mark Emereuwa, who was helping to make a census of the people living in the town controlled by the Warrant, Okugo. Nwanyeruwa was of Ngwa ancestry, and had been married in the town of Oloko. In Oloko, census was related to taxation, and women in the area were worried about who would tax them, especially during the period of hyperinflation in the late 1920s.
On the morning of November 18, Emeruwa 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."(3) 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 taxation of women. Believing they would be taxed, based on Nwanyeruwa's account, the Oloko women invited women (by sending leaves of palm-oil trees) from other areas in the Bende District, as well as from Umuahia, Ngwa and elsewhere. They soon gathered nearly 10,000 women who protested at the office of Warrant Chief Okugo, demanding his resignation and calling for a trial.(3)
The Oloko Trio
The leaders of the protest in Oloko are known as the Oloko Trio, consisting of women named Ikonnia, Mwannedia and Nwugo. The three were known for their skills in speaking, their intelligence, and their passion. When protests became tense, it was often these three who were able to deescalate the situation, preventing violence. However, after two women were killed in a car accident in Aba, the trio was not able to calm the situation there, and the police and army were sent to the town.(3)
The Legacy of Nwanyeruwa
Nwanyereuwa played a major role in keeping the protests non-violent. She was advanced in age compared to many of the youth who led the protests, and under her advice, the women protested in song and dance, "sitting" on the Warrant Chiefs until they surrendered their insignia of office and resigned. As the revolts spread, other groups followed this pattern, making the women's war a peaceful one. Other groups came to Nwanyeruwa to get in writing the inspirational results of the protests, which, as Nwanyeruwa saw them, were that, "women will not pay tax till the world ends.[and] Chiefs were not to exist any more."(3)
Madam Mary Okezie
Madam Mary Okezie (1906-1999) was the first Ngwa woman to gain Western education, and was teaching at the Anglican Mission School in Umuocham Aba in 1929 when the women's revolt broke out. Although she did not participate in the revolt, Madam Okezie was very sympathetic to the women's cause. She was the only woman who submitted a memo of grievance to Aba Commission of Inquiry (sent in 1930). Today, the major primary source for studying the revolt is the Report of the Aba Commission of Inquiry. After the revolt, Madam Okezie emerged as a leader of Ngwa women, founding the Ngwa Women's Association, and working for her entire life to support women's rights in Nigeria (3).
Other major figures in the Women's War
- Mary of Ogu Ndem (Mary of the Women's War)
- Ihejilemebi Ibe of Umuokirika Village
- Ahebi Ugabe of Enugu-Ezike: "The Female Leopard" who was appointed as a Native Court Member in 1930.
A major tactic in the protests was what is known as "sitting". Along with singing and dancing around the houses and offices of the Warrant Chiefs, the women would follow their every move, invading their space and forcing the men to pay attention. The wives of the Warrant Chiefs were often disturbed and they too put pressure on the Warrants to listen to the demands of the women. This tactic of "sitting on the Warrants," i.e. following them everywhere and anywhere, was very popular with the women in Nigeria, and used to great effect.
As a result of the protests, the position of women in society was greatly improved. In some areas, women were able to replace the Warrant Chiefs. Women were also appointed to serve on the Native Courts. After the Women's war, women's movements were very strong in Ngwaland, and many events of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were inspired by the Women's War, including the Tax Protests of 1938, the Oil Mill Protests of the 1940s in Owerri and Calabar Provinces, and the Tax Revolt in Aba and Onitsha in 1956 Template:Ref. On two occasions were British district officers called and security forces forced to break up protests. During these occasions, at least 50 women were shot dead and 50 more were wounded. The women themselves never seriously injured anybody against who they were protesting, nor any of the security forces who broke up those protests (2).
- Aba Commission of Inquiry. Notes of Evidence Taken by the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Calabar and Owerri Provinces, December, 1929 (Lagos, 1929), 24-30. 4th Witness, Nwanyeruwa (F.A.).
- Aborisade, Oladimeji, Mundt, Robert J. Politics in Nigeria. Longhorn (2002) New York, United States
- Oriji, John N. (2000). Igbo Women From 1929-1960. West Africa Review: 2 , 1.