Thursday, 7 December 2017

One Good Turn Deserves Another: A True Story by Onigegewura

What you are about to read is a true story that illustrates the saying: one good turn deserves another. One of the things I have discovered is that, in many cases, it is those ‘small things’ that we do or say everyday that culminate to become history. To us it might be insignificant, but to the person on the receiving end, it might be the most singular thing that changed the course of their life.

People may forgive and forget, but history does not forget. Let’s follow Onigegewura to the Central Bank of Nigeria where this story started in the ‘70s. The author is Chief S. Bamidele Falegan, the first Nigerian Managing Director of Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria. Chief Falegan retired as the Director of Research of Central Bank of Nigeria.


“An example of a good turn deserving another, was in respect of three members of staff – two young men, Mr. Bode Leigh and Mr. Aderungboye, both clerks in the Research Department [of Central Bank of Nigeria] and a young woman, Miss Ajoke Ishola, also a clerk in my research library.

Chief S. B. Falegan
The three entered the bank with Grade I in their West African School Certificate Examination. However, due to the “unproductive policy” of promotion every two-years outside the Research Department, they were not only complacent but also wanted to be transferred from Research Department to the Operations Department where they could earn two-yearly promotions.

One day, I told the three of them that not only wouldn’t I transfer them out of my Department but I would not guarantee them any automatic promotion at the end of that year. I ended by saying, “If you don’t find your way to any of the universities in Nigeria with your good grades and equip yourself for the future, I will never promote you.”

I dismissed them from my office, only to discover the following year that they had all left the bank for further studies as I advised, with the following success trailing them:

Mr. Bode Leigh became not only Professor Bode Leigh, but also Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University. We later became good friends at St. Peter’s Church, Faji, Lagos where we met as worshippers and in the same church society, Christian Companions.

My first meeting with him after he left the bank was in the house of my later brother-in-law, late Professor Atanda Adenuga at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Unknown to me, he had told them of my influence in furthering his education; they had had all burst into laughter when he greeted me warmly and familiarly and I could not recognise him.

When Bode later became Commissioner of Lands under Alhaji L. K. Jakande administration in Lagos State, it was he who persuaded the Governor to allocate a piece of land to me and another to Chief Olu Falae where we both built side by side on Ahmed Onibudo Road on Victoria Island.

Mr. (later Dr.) Aderungboye, General Manager of Okitipupa Oil Palm Company whom I met many years later (after he left the bank) as the Operational Manager of the company which the Inter-State Securities Limited was helping to privatize. I led the team that was packaging the privatization and I was in the company’s guest house for two weeks. It was there he disclosed what I did for him. On my departure, he provided me with:

(a) oil palm seedlings free of charge for planting on thirteen of my twenty three acres oil palm plantation at Ado-Ekiti;
(b) the labour to deliver and plant all the seedlings on my farm site free of charge; and
(c)  ten big kegs of palm oil free of charge to me for the burial of my mother-in-law at Igbara-Oke.

In her own case, I came across Miss Ajoke Ishola, one Sunday in 2000 after the morning service at the Cathedral Church of Emmanuel, Ado-Ekiti. I saw a lady knelt down before me to greet me, full of smiles and radiance, in her natural habit. She had always been a vivacious socialite. She introduced herself as Mrs. Ajoke Oluwasanmi, nee Ishola of the Research Library of the Central Bank of Nigeria 1976.

I was taken aback. “How did you get to Ado-Ekiti?” I asked her. Her remark was that when I encouraged her to leave the Central Bank to further her education, she gained admission to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife to read pharmacy. She came to Ekiti for her National Youth Corp programme during which time she met her husband, Mr. Oluwasanmi from the famous Oluwasanmi family of Ode-Ekiti.

It was a warm embrace! I overheard her tell a friend, “That was my boss at CBN” she enthused. “Oga was friendly and tough” she concluded. She became very close to my family, especially my wife. I was privileged to be the chairman at one of her children’s wedding. She rose to the peak of her career and became Permanent Secretary, Public Service Commission in the Civil Service of Ekiti, from where she retired at the end of July 2011 after a meritorious service.”


Culled from My Yesteryears – An Autobiography of an Economist/Banker  by Chief S. B. Falegan, published by Bamboo Books [2013]. 

One good turn indeed deserves another!

Do you have a true-life story that you want Onigegewura to publish on how a good turn deserves another? Please forward your story to Our readers will be pleased to read and learn from your experience.

Please do not forget to leave your comment below for a chance to win Bolaji Abdullahi's new book: On a Platter of Gold - How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 11, 2017.

I thank you for your time.

-Olanrewaju Onigegewura©
History Does Not Forget

The right of Olanrewaju Onigegewura© to be identified as the author of stories published on this blog has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright laws. 

Monday, 4 December 2017

Obafemi Awolowo: The Senior Advocate by Onigegewura

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Obong Ipkan Isong of Ibibio Land, belonged to that rare and exclusive club of people who excel in everything they do. Excellence was his creed and self-discipline was his principle. If there is a saying that summarises Awolowo’s life, it is: He adorns not, what he touches not. Indeed and in truth, Awolowo adorned and improved everything he touched.

His sterling achievements as a politician, an administrator and statesman continue to be the reference point in political leadership in Nigeria. In accepting his resignation from the Federal Executive Council in 1971, General Yakubu Gowon had this to say about Obafemi Awolowo:

“Your outstanding performance as this government’s commissioner for finance during one of the most critical and turbulent periods of our history will always be remembered. You demonstrated, consistently, great courage, forthrightness, leadership, and a spirit of understanding which helped us to get out of our financial disaster.”

As a journalist and publisher, Obafemi Awolowo also left his imprint of excellence.  His Nigerian Tribune is the oldest privately owned newspaper title in Nigeria today. First published in November 1949, Nigerian Tribune has continued to wax stronger more than 30 years after the transition of its founder.

I recall that we learnt to read Yoruba by reading Irohin Yoruba also published under Tribune titles. We also read Gbohungbohun published by Sketch Press. Later, MKO Abiola’s Concord began to publish Isokan. Those were the days when it was not a ‘criminal offence’ for children to speak their mother tongue. Nowadays, my generation that grew up speaking Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa is happy to declare, “My children can’t speak Yoruba!”  Omo to so ile nu, o so apo iya ko!

However, the aspect of Chief Awolowo’s life that holds a special fascination for me is his calling as a legal practitioner. This is only natural; having regard to the fact that Onigegewura practices law in the daytime and writes history at night.

From the day he was enrolled on Tuesday, December 24, 1946, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had left no one in doubt that he was destined for the peak of the legal profession. Unlike nowadays when lawyers are called to the Bar in thousands, in Awolowo’s time, lawyers were admitted in trickles. In 1946 when Awolowo was called, only seven (7) legal practitioners were enrolled.

First to be called that year was John Adejumo Kester who was called in January and who later became my Lord Hon. Justice Kester, the President of the Court of Appeal of Western Nigerian in 1967. Others were Chuba Ikpeazu who rose to become my Lord Hon. Justice Ikpeazu,  Judge of the High Court of Lagos in 1964; Funso Blaize, Edward Randolph, Akitoye Tejuoso (Lisa of Egbaland and Baba Oba of Oke-Ona) and Charles Egerton Shyngle. In the case of Shyngle, he had earlier been enrolled in 1925. His name was however struck off the rolls in 1934 before he was reinstated in 1946.

Awolowo began his legal practice in Ibadan. He quickly carved a niche for himself as a very competent legal practitioner. Awolowo’s clients found in him a very ethical professional whose word was his bond. According to Hon. Femi Kehinde: “He (Awolowo) had a very lucrative practice between 1947 and 1951.” Of his practice, Obafemi Awolowo said: "I had, among others, a fat Retainer from the  United Africa Company Limited."

When Awolowo was preparing to go into politics, he realized that he would not be able to devote a hundred percent of his attention to the case and cause of his many clients. He therefore decided to form a partnership with Chief Abiodun Akerele, the Balogun of Oyo, who was called to the Bar on September 11, 1948. Chief Awolowo was to be a sleeping partner in the firm of Awolowo & Akerele. The partnership was however short-lived and was eventually dissolved for reasons which need not concern us here.

That’s how Law lost Chief Obafemi Awolowo to Politics and Government, at least for the time being. As Leader of Government Business, Western Region from 1952, and first premier of the region from 1954, Awolowo’s primary occupation was governance. As his wont, he also distinguished himself as a first class administrator.

It was not until 1971 that Chief Awolowo found himself back in full time legal practice. In his letter to General Yakubu Gowon resigning as the Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Federal Commissioner for Finance, Awolowo informed the Head of State of his intention to go back to the profession of law and “to write if my professional engagements permit, three books which have always been very much on my mind.”

Immediately after his resignation took effect on July 1, 1971, Chief Awolowo resuscitated his chambers. It was as if he had never taken a break from legal practice. Within months he became one of the most regular faces in the courtroom. According to a learned mentor of mine who was then a young lawyer, it was always a joy to behold Chief Obafemi Awolowo in court marshaling arguments with the dexterity of a skillful advocate.

Little wonder, my Lords of the Supreme Court before whom Chief Awolowo appeared, were consistently of the view that Awolowo’s briefs of arguments were always “well-thought out and well reasoned…”

One of the first cases in which Chief Awolowo appeared as a counsel on his return to active legal practice is the popular case of Idundun v. Okumagba. It is doubtful if there is a lawyer in Nigeria who did not come across the case in Land Law. It is the case where the Supreme Court laid down the five methods of establishing title to land. You remember? Even my friend, Rasaq Ayinde – a surveyor – knew the case.

Another landmark case in which Chief Obafemi Awolowo appeared is the case of Odeneye v. Alakata, a case involving title to a piece of land purchased from Oloto Chieftaincy family which was alleged to have been sold to two different buyers. Chief Obafemi Awolowo appeared for the appellant while Mr. G. O. K. Ajayi appeared for the respondent.

In that case the issue before the Supreme Court was whether it was necessary for a Registrar of Titles to indicate whether an extension of time within which to apply for title to be registered is granted by the High Court Registrar. In other words, what is the effect of proceedings before a Registrar of Titles for an application to register title brought out of time.

Chief Awolowo, the Odole of Ile-Ife, through his forensic advocacy, succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to hold that until an order extending time is made under section 5 of the Registration of Titles Act, proceeding of title could not be initiated.

Chief Awolowo’s practice was not limited to civil litigation. He was also at home with criminal proceedings. In the case of Gregory Godwin Daboh & Another v. The State, a case involving the interpretation of sections 419 and 516 of the Criminal Code, Awolowo  appeared for the first appellant. He appeared with Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Messrs Banjo Solaru and Dele Awoniyi, as well as his daughter, Mrs Ayo Soyode (who was called to the Bar in 1974).

In that case, Obafemi Awolowo displayed an uncommon mastery of classical advocacy. At the end of his submissions, which were both ingenious and creative, the Supreme Court admitted that: “these [Chief Awolowo’s arguments] are important submissions. They are impressive and require careful examination and consideration.”

The issue in that case is whether proof of conspiracy could be deduced from criminal acts of parties performed in common. The appellants, Godwin Daboh and Joseph Mordi, had been convicted by the High Court of conspiring to induce the Registrar of Insurance under false pretences to deliver Certificate of Insurance to Daboh’s company by falsely pretending that the company had credit balance in its account with the Bank of the North.

After listening to submissions of counsel, the Supreme Court held that proof of conspiracy is generally a matter of inference deduced from certain criminal acts of parties concerned, done in pursuance of an apparent criminal purpose in common between the conspirators.

Another interesting case involving Obafemi Awolowo, the Odofin of Owo, is the case of Tijani Bambe v. Yusufu Aderinola. In that case, whilst Chief Awolowo appeared for the respondents, his former Attorney General in the Western Region, the indomitable Chief FRA Williams appeared for the appellants. It was in that case the Supreme Court explained the meaning of the word ‘demurrer’ as having its origin in the Latin word ‘demorari’ meaning to wait.

A common thread that runs through all the cases in which Chief Obafemi Awolowo appeared as counsel is that of diligence and discipline. He was committed to the cause of his clients as well as the cause of justice. His arguments were always “logical” and “neat.”

Awolowo and his jewel on the day he became a SAN
In recognition of his industry and competence, Awolowo was conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1978. He was the 4th Nigerian to be so honoured. Chief FRA Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas were the first and second persons to be given the rank in 1975. Dr. Augustine Nnamani was the third. 

A word about Dr. Nnamani. His Lordship earned distinction as being one of the few lawyers to get to the peak of the legal profession as a Justice of the Supreme Court, as an Attorney General of the Federation, as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and as a holder of Ph.D in Law.

The foregoing is not and does not represent an exhaustive review of Obafemi Awolowo’s cases. It is but to give the present generation an idea of the ideal which Chief Awolowo represented and continues to represent. It is to remind our generation that with diligence, industry, hard work, concern for humanity, and faith in God, we can all get to the peak of our profession.

May the soul of Apesin of Osogbo, the Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti, the Asiwaju of Yoruba, and the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria continue to rest in perfect peace.

Whatever your choice of profession is, please always remember these immortal words of the Sage: “Those who desire to reach, and keep their places at the top in any calling must be prepared to do it the hard way.”

Onigegewura is grateful for your time. See you at the top! And have a fantastic week!

-Olanrewaju Onigegewura©
History Does Not Forget

The right of Olanrewaju Onigegewura© to be identified as the author of stories published on this blog has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright laws. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

How Wole Soyinka Emerged as the First Professor Emeritus in Ife

Prof Wole Soyinka... as a young man

“Shortly after his appointment to Ife, Professor Wole Soyinka, who was teaching in the university at the time, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African to be so honoured in that category.

Prof Wole Soyinka
It was an important international recognition that brought much pride and honour to Nigerians generally, and the academia, in particular. The Council of the university met to examine ways in which it could honour and celebrate Soyinka for the honour he had just brought to the university.

The immediate past vice chancellor, Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, and Wole Soyinka were close friends, and Arthur [Mbanefo] (the Chairman of the Council) knew them well. He had met Aboyade during the administration of General Obasanjo, and had become close to Soyinka through a mutual friend, Femi Johnson. For some reason, both gentlemen [Aboyade and Soyinka] had decided not to accept any honour from the university during the vice-chancellorship of Professor Wande Abimbola.
Chairman of Council - Chief Mbanefo

That notwithstanding, the university proposed honouring Soyinka by naming a street or building in the campus after him. Arthur [Mbanefo] thought differently. He suggested that the Nobel Laureate be offered a position of professor emeritus. That way, he reasoned, Soyinka would still have an academic relationship with the university, which would provide an office and staff for him for his lifetime.

The council agreed with Arthur and approved his suggestion to appoint Soyinka the first professor emeritus of the University of Ife… Soyinka thus became the first professor emeritus at Ife.”

Culled from A Fulfilled Life of Service by Arthur Mbanefo, published by Bookcraft (2015)

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Strength of A Woman: The Story of Aba Women's War by Onigegewura

Nwanyewura Ojim
Leader of the Aba Women's War

When Tai Solarin said in his memoirs that a child’s first teacher ought to be a pretty lady, the iconoclastic educator must have had Onigegewura in mind. Of all the teachers who taught me in primary school, Miss Sola Adefarakan made the greatest impression on my young mind. It was in her class that I read my first full-length Yoruba novel, Ajítòní, as well as my first English prose, The Man Without A Face.  It was also in her class that I learnt about Aba Women Riot of 1929.

Miss Adefarakan was as brilliant as she was beautiful. She not only taught us about the valiant women of Aba who stood up for their rights, she also made us to dramatise the historic event. It was a very sad day for me when Funke Adesiyan told me Miss Adefarakan was no more. I remembered her as I began to write this story.

This piece is dedicated to the beautiful memory of Miss Sola Adefarakan. I am eternally indebted to you, Ma.  Teachers live forever.

Miss Adefarakan did not tell us the names of the Aba Women. Their names were not recorded in books of history that were recommended for us in those days. They were simply described as Aba Women.  But surely they must have had names. We were also not taught that the matter was more than riot. Who were these brave women who refused to bow before perceived injustice? What could have ignited the fire of revolution in these village women? A revolution that shook the British Empire to its feet. To find out answers to these questions, let us follow Onigegewura to Oloko village where it all started on that fateful day in November 1929.

Yes, you read that right. Aba Women Riot did not start in Aba. It also did not end in Aba. It actually started in Oloko village. You don’t know where Oloko village is? It is one of the four villages that constitute Ikwuano Local Government in the present day Abia State. Of course you know that ikwu in Igbo means ‘relations’ and ano means four. Ikwuano therefore means ‘four relations’. The local government is usually described as the food basket of Abia State because of its agricultural endowments.

It was in this agrarian community that history was made almost 90 years ago when the rural women did what was unheard of. They challenged the constituted authority of the British colonial masters. And it started with one woman. Yes, one woman!

When Nwanyewura woke up that November morning, the last thing on her mind was to become a heroine who would be celebrated by generations yet unborn. Nwanyewura was a popular figure in Oloko. She was a traditional nurse who performed circumcisions for new-borns and older children. Her husband, Mazi Ojim, was also a prominent citizen of the village.

She was in her compound squeezing palm oil from kernels when Mark Emeruwa entered. Emeruwa was a schoolteacher who had been out of work for some time. He had recently been engaged by the Warrant Chief Okeugo of Oloko to conduct a census of all the men, women and domestic animals in Oloko. The news had started as a rumour. Women were going to be taxed. As a prelude to taxation, it was decided that a census needed to be conducted.

The reactions of the village women were unanimous. “How could women who have no means themselves to buy food or clothing afford to pay tax?” was the question on every woman’s lips.

It was against this background that Emeruwa sauntered into the compound of Mazi Ojim on that November morning. “I am here to count. Now count the sheep and goats for me and give me the tally!” He commanded Nwanyewura who had by now paused to attend to the unwanted visitor. So it was true. Women were going to be counted for the purpose of taxation.

“Was your mother counted?” Nwanyewura asked sternly. The mention of his mother must have provoked him. In a twinkle of an eye, Emeruwa struck her across the face and seized her throat. Nwanyewura did not hesitate. She retaliated by grabbing the throat of the representative of His Majesty, the King of England. 

Awulamu!” She screamed in alarm.

People in the compound heard her cry of alarm and rushed to rescue the mother of the house from the grips of Emeruwa. They finally succeeded in separating the warring duo. Emeruwa fled. This was not what he expected. He had assumed that as a representative of the almighty Warrant Chief all the women were going to comply with his directives without complaining. He rushed to report to his employer.

In a matter of minutes, the news had spread round Oloko village. Women began to troop into Oloko from neighbouring villages. Could it be true? Women were going to be taxed? What is the business of women with taxation?  Has it not been said that udele si na owehu ihe jikolu ya na onye okpu isi? [The vulture has no business with the barber.] Nwanyewura was asked to repeat her story over and over again. At the end of each narration, the women hissed and clapped their hands in demonstration of unbelief.

A war council was quickly formed. Three women were appointed as leaders of the group. They were Ikonnia, Nwannedie and Nwugo. Their mandate was to confirm Nwanyewura’s story as well as the truth about the proposed taxation of women.

The women had hardly reached their respective homes when they were informed that Chief Okeugo, the Warrant Chief of Oloko,  had summoned Nwanyewura to his court.  For the third time, Nwanyewura became the centre of attention. At the court, the Warrant Chief told her the consequences of her action as being a rebellion against His Majesty’s government, a treasonable felony.

The Oloko women who were waiting to hear the verdict needed no further evidence of British imperialism. The women had no problem with taxation of men. But to tax women? That was the height of it all. The news spread like wild fire. Oloko women were joined by their sisters from neighbouring villages. They were armed with palm fronds and leafy branches in each hand. They trooped to the streets chanting songs of sorrow and woes. Unknown to even the participants, what history would later term as Aba Women Riot had started.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther

Their first point of call was the residence of Mark Emeruwa at Niger Delta Pastorate Mission. The mission had been founded many years earlier by Bishop Ajayi Crowther. “Come out, Emeruwa! Come out!” The women shouted. Emeruwa heard but he refused to come out. The women proceeded to sit on him. When you sit on a man, it means that the person is prevented from carrying out his normal routine without answering to your demands. After all, a nyuko mamiri onu, o gba ofufu [When people urinate on the same spot, it foams.] 

Some of the women decided to also pay a visit to Chief Okeugo. The Warrant Chief had heard what happened to his agent. Before the arrival of the women, he had barricaded himself in. The chanting women arrived to meet the doors of the house locked. “Okeugo! Come out! Come and explain why you have ordered that women must pay tax.”

Like Emeruwa, Okeugo refused to come out of his fortress to address the women of Oloko. The women had all the time in the world. They proceeded to sit on him as well. Okeugo knew that the women would soon be tired. He knew they would leave before midnight. Unknown to him, the women were determined not to leave. For two nights and days, they kept vigil at his residence. They sang, they danced and they shouted.

Okeugo, Onye Oloko Aye
Nne agaghi inu gi Aye
Nna agaghi inu gi Aye
Okengbe Iloro Uwa Oloko Oloko Aye

[Okeugo, a big eagle of a woman
Oke, an Oloko person, Aye
Mother will not give birth to you, Aye
Father will not give birth to you, Aye
Since you reincarnated in the world
Oloko Oloko Aye]

Okeugo and his family could not come out. They could only peep behind closed windows and doors at their erstwhile obedient and loyal subjects. The once powerful warrant chief knew that his family would soon starve to death if there was no help. He decided to do something to ensure that he did not die of starvation. Ugwu muta mgbaji ukwu, Agadi nwanyi amuta agakata ezue ike. [When the hill learns to cause waist pain, the old lady learns to rest intermittently]. message was smuggled out in the middle of the night. On the third day, men of Native Police arrived at his residence to chase away the women. The women retreated but they did not surrender.

Immediately the women dispersed, Chief Okeugo did not wait a moment longer. He knew that the women who sat on him for two days were ready to sit on him for two years. He fled his house and went to take refuge in the native court. He felt a bit safer in the premises of the court.

The District Officer at the time was Captain J. N. Hill. He was away when the crisis broke out. It was the acting DO, Captain John Cook, who mandated the Warrant Chiefs to count and tax the women. Captain Hill resumed on December 2 to meet the rampaging women of Oloko. The first thing that struck him was the sheer number of the women. They were more than 10,000 strong. The women were also well informed despite the fact they were not formally educated. The women knew their rights and were able to articulate their demands. One, they wanted Okeugo to be put on trial, and two, women must not be taxed.

They demanded Okeugo’s cap of office – his symbol of authority. The DO had no choice but to throw Okeugo's red cap to the women. According to him: “it met the same fate as a fox’s carcass thrown to a pack of hounds.” The women however were not satisfied. They wanted Okeugo to be put on trial.

Unknown to them, Captain Cook had smuggled Okeugo out of Oloko under the cover of darkness. The embattled Warrant Chief had been taken to Bende where he was kept in a government building. Captain Hill realized that nothing short of trial was going to pacify the women, he decided to put Okeugo on trial, and in public too. At the end of the trial, Okeugo was found guilty. He was de-capped and stripped of his status as a chief. He was also sentenced to two years imprisonment.

The women of Oloko had won! They had succeeded in removing a warrant chief! The success of Oloko women became the ripple in the pond. It galvanized women from all over the East and South. As the women went back to villages, they informed others of the heroics of Nwanyewura and the brave women of Oloko. Back at their bases, the women began to demand the removal of their own warrant chiefs!

The women of Aba heard the news of Okeugo’s fall from power and his imprisonment. They heard how the women of Oloko refused to be intimidated by the powers of the white-man and his agents of oppression. Oloko and Nwanyewura became the new symbol of the power of womanhood. If Oloko women could stand up to be counted when it mattered, Aba women must not be left behind.  

On December 6, 1929, the District Officer of Aba woke up to receive information that women were moving in the direction to Aba and on to Owerrinta. According to Shasore, “They were dressed with leaves on their heads, carried branches and clubs, and marched through Umuahia.” The women protesters were not just Aba women. They had come from all over Igbo land.

What the DO expected was not what he met. He was expecting to see a motley crowd of protesters. He was shocked to see more than 10,000 women who were well organised under the leadership of Ikonnia, Nwannedie and Nwugo, the three women who had earlier been appointed leaders.

The women who confronted him were bold and fearless. According to Richard Bourne, the women "were angry that direct taxation might be extended from men to women and were protesting at a collapse in the price of their palm produce when import costs were rising." 

The protesting women marched on to the prison and released the inmates. They then moved on to the courthouse. The embers of fire lighted in Oloko village had become a huge conflagration.

It was in the midst of the protest that a European medical doctor knocked down two of the protesting women with his car. It was like adding fuel to a burning fire. The women became incensed.  The mob advanced towards the car. The doctor and his companion fled. They ran inside the building of Niger Company which also housed the Barclays Bank. The women followed them. They ransacked the bank in seconds.

Sir Graeme Thomson
From the bank to the post office, from post office to the train station, there was no stopping the women. All buildings which represented symbols of authority were under attack. The Resident was powerless in the face of the women who were determined to remove every vestige of oppression from Igbo land.

It was no longer a riot. It had become a revolutionary movement. The colonial government was alarmed. A platoon of Nigerian soldiers was sent to Aba to quell the uprising on December 12, six days after the Aba Women Riot had started. A contingent of police was also sent in to maintain order. That was not all. The Lt. Governor Cyril Wilson Alexander also came to take control of the situation.

The women had however discovered their power. From Aba, the protests spread to Owerrinta and from there to Imo River, Mbawsi, Omoba and Azumini. By December 12, it was no longer Aba Women’s riot. It had become Ogu Umuwanyi, Women’s War. The Ibibio women who had been waiting in the wings joined the revolution. At Azumini, the women proceeded to the courthouse and set fire to all the buildings in the compound. And that was when the revolt became bloody.

By the time the riot spread to Calabar Province, the government had realized the enormity of what it was up against it. It was clear that if something drastic was not done the women would overrun the government. A platoon of soldiers was therefore waiting for the women by the time they gathered at Uyo. A line was drawn in the sand with a warning that the line must not be crossed by the protesting women. Well, an ordinary line was not enough to deter the determined women. On December 14, the line was crossed. The police responded by opening fire. Three women, Mary Udo Ekpo, Adiaha Umo, and Unwa Udom were killed instantly. They became the first victims of the Women’s War.

Eric Moore
The government had drawn the first blood. If the government had however thought that the killing of three unarmed women would put an end to the war, it was sadly mistaken. The women grew in number and in determination. At Utu-Etim-Ekpo, there was another confrontation between armed government forces and the unarmed village women.

The commander of government troops was Captain James. He claimed that he was constrained to order his men to fire because “the force of the troops was small and in a hand to hand struggle with these mad women it was possible that some sort reverse would have been sustained and the whole country would have up.”  Captain James ordered his men to fire. 

Eighteen women were killed.

It was however at Opobo that the greatest casualty was recorded. In one day, thirty-one women and one man were killed. Alimi Aromasodun from Lagos was the male victim. It was the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. 

The Women's War had come to a tragic end. It had lasted for 29 days. It was the first major challenge to the British authority in the west coast of Africa. And it all started with one woman!

The initial government response was to "frame the uprising as a mere alcohol-inspired riot of women secretly egged on by the menfolk to loot government buildings." This is perhaps the reason the phrase Aba Women Riot became the conventional way of describing the revolution. 

However, following the uproar generated by the media, government was forced to set up a commission of inquiry. It was a two-man commission. It sat for ten days. Its findings were neither here nor there. Nigerians from all walks of life were not satisfied. They began to clamour for another commission. The Governor, Sir Graeme Thomson,  was left with no choice. He bowed to the will of the people and set up a second commission of inquiry.

The new commission was made up of Mr. Justice D. Kingdon, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa, William Hunt, Graham Paul, Eric Moore and Ronald Osborne. Unlike the first commission which sat for only 10 days, the second commission sat from March 10 to July 30 and it heard close to 500 witnesses. At the end of the day, the Commission found that taxation and some errors of policy and administration were responsible for the revolt spearheaded by the women.

What of Nwanyewura, the one woman who started it all? She was arrested in February 1930 and was arraigned with Mark Emeruwa, the man whose action triggered the crisis. They were both found guilty for their role in the disturbances that rocked the region. They were sentenced to three months imprisonment.

You want to know what happened to the police and officers who killed 55 Nigerians? Well, No one was punished for the tragedy in which 55 Nigerians lost their lives. The commission blamed the women for the situation that the British officers were forced to remedy.

May the souls of the 54 unarmed women and one man who were killed in December of 1929, and that of my brilliant teacher Miss Sola Adefarakan continue to rest in peace.

Adapted from A Platter of Gold by Olasupo Shasore, SAN 

Thank you for your time.

-Olanrewaju Onigegewura©
History Does Not Forget

The right of Olanrewaju Onigegewura© to be identified as the author of stories published on this blog has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright laws.