The Ugo Archives: The Aba Women’s Riot


The Aba Women’s Riot is a revolt that started in Oloko, Current day Abia state in the November of 1929. It spread throughout the entire colonial eastern region and became the biggest single rebellion that British colonialists had faced in Africa at the time and to make matters worse it was entirely a women affair.

The riot was a while in the making and really started when British Colonialists decided to tax men in 1928. It’s important to remember that there was a global economic meltdown that eventually resulted in the Great Depression that started in 1929. It was bad enough that a culture was being rewritten to exploit a people it was worse because times were hard.

The taxation worked on men without any trouble till there was a change in administration. A new district officer was appointed and he noticed the tax laws didn’t cover women and their properties. This wasn’t exactly surprising because the British had largely ignored the women and their political and societal institutions. It’s also important to note that Igbo women weren’t and still aren’t pushovers.

When it was announced that the women would be taxed tensions began to rise. It came to a hilt when a widow named Nwanyereuwa confronted an official taking census for the tax authorities. They wanted to know how many goats and sheep she had so she could be taxed on that. She refused. Igbo women weren’t supposed to be taxed. It was that simple.

Nwanyereuwa went to the town and discussed this with other women who discussed it with others and soon there were 10,000 women marching to Warrant Chief Okugos house demanding his resignation and trial.

They “sat” on him which is a fancy way of saying they harassed his existence. They would “sit” outside warrant chief’s offices, singing songs and recounting the offences committed against them. They would bang huts and sling mud at it too and for a while under the leadership of Nwanyeruwa and the Oloko trio (Three women referred to as the movement’s leaders) the protests where peaceful.

The British responded with force to crush the revolt and killed some women and all hell broke loose. Not even the movements leaders could calm the women down. Eventually the British “triumphed” but not after some intended changes where gotten.

A lot of warrant chiefs had resigned and 16 native courts had been destroyed. Women where now allowed to assume positions of warrant chiefs. European factories were attacked and damaged and for some time no one could try radical decisions in Ngwaland. Till today there’s still some fear of Ngwa people.

There were also casualties, about 50 women were killed during the riots.

It’s also worth noting that this wasn’t an all Igbo affair, there were women from 6 different ethnic groups including Ibibio, Andoni, Orgoni, Bonny and Opobo.

Which brings me to my take.

Where did the ability to react against wrong authority go in the Nigerian society? These women started out by revolting against their own people who were against their interest. Today people feel the need to support a political leader to their graves simply because they are from the simply because they are from the same state.

We no longer objectively analyse the issues, but get carried away with sentiments. These women said no to exploitative taxes in the middle of a depression and they said no till it was heard.




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