The “riots”, led by Biafran women in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri in Biafraland in November and December of 1929, which was termed “Aba Women Riots of 1929.” Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive insurrection against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in Biafraland, touching off the most serious challenge to British rule in the history of humanity. The revolt broke out when thousands of Igbo women precisely from Bende District, Umuahia and other places in eastern Nigeria traveled to the town of Oloko to protest against the Warrant Chiefs, whom they accused of restricting the role of women in the government. This is more aptly considered a strategically executed anti-colonial revolt organized by women to redress social, political and economic grievances. The protest encompassed women from six ethnic groups Ibibio, Andoni, Ogoni, Bonny, Opobo, and Igbo.
The roots of the revolt evolved from January 1, 1914, when the Britain under Lord F. Lugard, committed the worst atrocity by amalgamating people from different ethnic group into one country and called them Nigeria. That was why Sir Hugh Clifford described Nigeria as “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.” They instituted indirect rule in Southern Nigeria. British Colonialism altered and displaced the position of Biafran women in Biafraland. Biafran women by tradition were allowed to participate in the government and held major positions in the society. Biafra Men and women also worked collaboratively help each other in the domestic sphere, and both have important individual roles. The British saw these practices as “a demonstration of disarray and chaos”, and so they attempted to create political institutions which commanded authority and monopolized force.
Under this plan British administrators would rule locally through “warrant chiefs”. Within a few years the appointed warrant chiefs became increasingly oppressive as directed by their pay masters, Britain. They seized properties and imposed draconian local regulations, and began imprisoning anyone who openly criticized them. Although much of the anger was directed against the warrant chiefs, most Nigerians knew the source of their power, which is the British colonial administrators. Colonial administrators added to the local sense of grievance when they announced plans to impose special taxes on the Biafra market women. Our mothers feared the taxes would drive many of the market women out of business and seriously disrupt the supply of food and non-perishable goods available to the populace.
In November of 1929, thousands of Biafra women congregated at the Native Administration centers in Calabar and Owerri as well as smaller towns to protest against both the suppression from warrant chiefs and the taxes on the market women. 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. In the course of it, more than fifty Biafra women were killed by British troops and an unknown number were wounded and otherwise traumatized. During the two month “war” at least 25,000 Igbo women were involved in the protests against British officials.
In spite of being challenged by a police force that utilized teargas among other aggressive methods, the women remained steadfast and in the end their demands were met, leading to the abdication of the King in 1949.
These uprisings were among the earliest campaigns against British rule in Nigeria and West Africa during the colonial era. These our mothers were armed with their conviction, united by their determination and motivated by a sense of dignity and justice. Otherwise, they were technically powerless since they were still deemed socially inferior and subservient to their men folk. A significant number of them were not formally educated and did not have the privilege of engaging the colonial masters diplomatically, whether at home or abroad. Moreover, these women were trailblazers in resisting colonial domination and are rarely recognized in historical accounts that continue to glorify men whose later impacts, though noble, were heavily facilitated by education, status and gender.
It is time for our mothers to replicate the same attitude that surprised the whole world, that shocked Britain even till today which inspired the United Nation women to commend and recognize our mothers on 8th March, 2018. On that note United Nation women affirmed, “incensed by their social standing under colonial rule, the Igbo women send palm leaves, similar to today’s Facebook invite, to their fellow sisters across Southeastern Nigeria. “Together they descend in the thousands to ‘sit on’ or make ‘war on’ undemocratically appointed chiefs by publicly shaming them through singing, dancing, banging on their walls and even tearing down roofs. “Although the backlash against protests turn deadly, it eventually forces the chiefs to resign and market tax impositions on women to be dropped.”
It is time for you our dearest mothers to take control of this Biafra restoration project, it is time for our mothers to clear the ground for the forth coming referendum, it is time for our mothers to come out and request/ask for the whereabouts of their son Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his parents.
The time is now, it is now or never. Biafra women it is time to lead the battle as usual.