The Aba Women’s Riot of 1929: A Story of Bravery and Resistance Against British Oppression

The Aba Women’s Protests were a series of protests that took place in Southeastern Nigeria in 1929. The protests were led by a group of women who were fed up with the British colonial authorities’ harsh treatment and unnecessary taxes.

The Aba Women's Riot of 1929: A Story of Bravery and Resistance Against British Oppression

The protests began when a group of market women, who were mainly traders and sellers of food items, refused to pay the head taxes that had been imposed on them by the colonial government. The women, who were already struggling to make a living due to the economic difficulties of the time, saw the taxes as a burden that they could not afford to bear, so they utilized collective action to communicate their dissatisfaction.

Background

The Aba Women’s protest turned riot was sparked by a dispute between a woman named Nwanyeruwa and a man who was helping to make a census of the people living in the town controlled by the British appointed Warrant chief of the area, Okugo.

When Nwanyeruwa learnt that the census was related to taxation, similar to the one levied on their husbands the previous year, she rallied other women and together, they sought assurance from the colonial government that they would not to be required to pay taxes.

The Protests

On December 2, 1929, more than ten thousand women demonstrated at Oloko, Bende, against the taxation of women, and livestock by the acting district officer. This event at Oloko was to spread to other parts of the Eastern Region within the next four weeks in the Aba Women’s Protests of 1929. The women looted factories and destroyed Native Court buildings and properties along with the property of members of the Native Court.

As the protests grew in size and intensity, the women were joined by other members of the community, including men and children. The protesters marched through the streets, shouting slogans and carrying placards demanding an end to the taxes. The women also called for the removal of warrant chiefs whom they accused of high-handedness, bribery, and corruption, and their replacement with indigenous clan heads appointed by the people rather than by the British.

Newspaper article on the Aba Women's Riot of 1929

The colonial authorities responded to the protests with force, using tear gas and bullets to disperse the crowds. Several people were injured and several more were arrested, including the leaders of the protests. By the time order was restored, the colonial troops had killed about fifty-five women and injured many more.

At the end of the protest, ten native courts were destroyed, several others were damaged, native court personnel’s homes were attacked, and European factories in Imo River, Aba, Mbawsi, and Amata were looted.

Although the protest was violently put down, the women’s efforts eventually paid off as the British colonial authorities abandoned their plans to tax the women and took into account some of the women’s recommendations in revising the structure of the Native Administration and appointed women to serve on the Native Courts. The warrant chief system was also abolished by colonial authorities, and the indigenous system of government that existed prior to colonial rule was restored.

The Aba Women’s Protests are remembered today as a significant moment in the history of Nigeria, and as a testament to the bravery and determination of the women who took part. They are seen as a key moment in the struggle for independence and as a reminder of the power of ordinary people to effect change in the face of injustice.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for educating me. I had never heard of this. Schools in the US never taught me so many things in world history. I’m 68 yrs old. It amazes me how much learning I have to do.

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