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The #Owerri112, Can We Take a Lesson from History?

By Abigail Anaba

Igbo women are not new to rebellion and fighting for their rights. Even within a hugely patriarchal system which excluded them from participating in politics, they still find a way to get their voices heard. As far back as 1929, the women of Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State organized themselves and headed to Aba. Their mission was to demonstrate against tyranny. Back then, the British government wanted to impose special taxes on the Igbo market women also the Warrant chiefs installed by the British were becoming more and more authoritarian.

Not even the might of the British could stop them. For two months, November to December 1929, their numbers grew and the women demonstrated in what has come to be known as the Aba Women’s Riot. The rebellion spread to Owerri and Calabar.

Granted, the Biafra agitation may not be as popular as the imposition of taxes on women by the British. But a common thread runs. Igbo women will rise and demonstrate against tyranny if they feel strongly enough about an issue. Thus it was that 114 women from Owerri rose to ask the government of Nigeria to produce their son Nnamdi Kanu who disappeared from public view since the October 2017 after the invasion of their Afara Ukwu home in Umuahia, Abia State by the military.   

About one week later, what started off as a peaceful demonstration has taken on dangerous ramifications. The Pro-Biafra women, aged between 22 and 70 are still in custody at Owerri Prisons even though the Magistrate admitted that her court had no jurisdiction over the matter. Reports say the women were teargassed and beaten before being taken away to court and have since been remanded in prison without being granted access to visitors. Vanguard Newspapers reports that some of the women are pregnant.

Civil society groups and other stakeholders have taken to social media to call for the release of the #Owerri112. Chairperson of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu in a series of tweets called for the release of the women. His position is that the persons “whose idea it is to keep them gaoled are lawless”.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have also issued a Press Release asking the authorities to let the women go. They described the arrest of the women as an “abomination” and “an invitation to anarchy”. 

Despite the silence of  Igbo groups in the South East and beyond, the world watches to see how the Nigerian Government will react to these developments. Already some individuals are giving this an ethnic spin.

Eighty years ago, the British authorities balked to the  25,000 women were eventually part of that protest. The Colonial Authorities dropped their plans to impose a tax on the market women and the Warrant Chiefs were called to order.

Will the Nigerian authorities tow this path?



*Caption Photo Credits: Vanguard Newspapers

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