“Was your widowed mother counted?” That sounds crude. Yeah! But those were the words of a woman who had been pushed to the wall. Desperate situations require desperate remedy, so says the axiom. When the widow, Nwanyereuwa, uttered those words on November 18, 1929, she meant every syllable of the sentence. That rhetorical question marked the beginning of what is known in history as the Aba Women’s Riot, which claimed the lives of 51 women and one man.
Nwanyereuwa, it was recorded, was minding her palm fruits processing business when Mark Emereuwa, the agent of the newly imposed Warrant Chief, Okugo, came calling to assess her for the tax imposed on the women folk in the Aba area of the then Bende Division of the present Abia State. “Count her livestock and people living with her”, Emereuwa had ordered his assistants to which Nwayereuwa responded by asking if the agent’s widowed mother had been counted. The ensuing altercation attracted other women, who had gathered at the Oloko town square to discuss similar exercises carried out in their neighbourhoods.
By the time the dust settled, 51 women and one man had been gunned down by the repressive colonial Army sent by Captain J. Cook, the Assistant District Officer, ADO, in charge of the locality. The women, however, won as the exploitative tax regime was instantly abolished. Not only that, the over 10,000 estimated women who participated in the riot ensured that the powers of the Warrant Chiefs in all Igboland were reduced and the republican nature of the Ndigbo restored. The Aba women of yore gave back to their husbands and men, the dignity of their masculinity.
Seventeen years after the Aba Women’s Riot, something similar happened in Abeokuta, the capital of the present Ogun State. On October 5, 1946, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the Amazon and mother of the iconoclast, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, supported by a niece-in-law, Mrs. Grace Eniola Soyinka (mother of the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka), led the Abeokuta Women’s Union, AWU, to meet with the then Alake of Egbaland, Oba Ladapo Ademola, to protest the increased “flat-rate tax on women”. The meeting was deadlocked. The following day, Mrs Ransome-Kuti led over 1,000 AWU members to mount a blockade on the Ake Palace. The colonial masters, who were in support of the taxation brutalised the women, using tear gas on them generously. But the women were undeterred. They continued with their agitation until Oba Ademola was forced to go into exile in 1948 for a period of two years. The women, again, prevailed.
In the not too contemporary history, there was an Offa Princess named Mọremí Àjàṣorò. Beautiful and homely, Mọremí married Oba Oranmiyan of Ile-Ife. According to the legend, Ife came under severe attack from their Ugbo neighbours, who used to invade the ancient town with spirit-like masquerades, covered in raffia leaves. Mọremí, moved by patriotism and the zeal to defend her husband’s kingdom, visited the Esimirin River, where she made a vow to the river goddess that she would make any sacrifice if the river would assist the Ife people to win their war against the Ugbo warriors. She subsequently deliberately allowed herself to be captured and taken to Ugbo as a slave. Due to her beauty, the king of Ugbo married her and in the course of the years, she knew the secret of the invading masquerades of Ugbo and escaped back to Ife to reveal the secret to Oranmiyan. The next battle saw the Ugbo warriors badly defeated by the Ife people. In fulfillment of her vow, the Esimirin River goddess demanded that Mọremí should sacrifice her only son, Oluorogbo. When the goddess would not be persuaded to take another item or object, Mọremí surrendered and offered Oluorogbo to the Esimirin River. That bold act saved the Ife kingdom from those pillaging the land and Mọremí became the folk heroine of not just Ife but the entire Yoruba race till date.
In Benin history, during the reign of Oba Esigie, his mother, Queen Idia, played a prominent role in ensuring that Oba Esigie was not only crowned as the Omo N’Oba, but that he won the very many wars waged against the Benin Kingdom while her son reigned. History has it that Queen Idia was instrumental in securing the title of Oba for Esigie following the death of his father, Oba Ozolua, by raising an army to fight off his brother, Arhuaran, who was subsequently defeated in battle. When Esigie became the 17th Oba of Benin, he instituted the title of iyoba (queen mother) and conferred it on his mother. When the Igala warriors from Idah, Kogi State, came knocking, Queen Idia used her spiritual powers to mesmerise them for Oba Esigie to feast on them.
I have dwelled on these tales to show that in very tough times, redemption always comes from the female folk. In the present democracy, when the country was about to collapse beside Umar Yar’ Adua’s death bed, it was the late adorable Dora Akunyili, who came as our Amazon of salvation to bring the then Vice President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on the throne. On Wednesday, February 17, 2010, after almost three months in a Jeddah, Saudi Arabia hospital bed, Akunyili, as Minister of Information, moved the motion at the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting for the ailing President Yar’Adua to be declared incapacitated to allow the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to be sworn in as the substantive president.
Though the motion did not sail through as eight ministers, who were said to be fiercely loyal to Yar’ Adua opposed it, the move set in motion the clamour for the public disclosure of the state of health of the president. Following the “Doctrine of Necessity” invoked by the National Assembly, Jonathan became the Acting President. In all the historical cases already adduced, we notice that the female folk always rose to the occasion whenever the menfolk seemed to have lost their mojo.
Anthropologically, the African continent is patriarchal in nature. Nigeria is not an exception to the sociological make-up. From the pre-colonial era, through colonialism and the post-colonial period, the female segment of the Nigerian society has been mercilessly marginalised. There is no doubt, however, that we have a sizeable number of female Nigerians who have proved their mettle, challenged the male domineering structures, and towered far above their male counterparts. In many instances too, we have proofs to show that the women folk are better managers of men and resources. But, structurally, the female folk are yet to be given their desired proportion of national reckonings in Nigeria.
Nigeria, at this moment, is at one of its tough times, if not the toughest of its times since the colonial masters packed their baggage on October 1, 1960. Never in the history of the Nigerian nation has the country been this devastated as we experience under the leadership of the Daura retired General, Muhammadu Buhari, who, fate cruelly shipped into power in 2015 as the President and Commander-in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. From economic woes to completely collapsed security architecture; from the worst of social malady, to the dregs of political buffoonery, Nigeria has slipped into a failed nation under the watch of the one his promoters told us would be the Messiah that would take the country to Eldorado. Life, in Buhari’s Nigeria, has gone to the stage described by Thomas Hobbes as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The pessimistic thinker must have had the killer herdsmen, kidnappers and the blood-sucking terrorists of the Buhari era in mind, when in his 1651 book, the Levithan, he expressed his low view of human nature. Just as it happened in the past, when Nigeria was at its lowest ebb and its female folk rose to the occasion, one is very hopeful that the women folk may once again be called upon to rise and rescue Nigeria from the hopeless situation the dysfunctional phallus in power has pushed the country.
In all these chaos from Sambisa to the crevices of Zamfara and to Zuma, have you heard a single woman as one of the fierce, gun-wielding, blood-sucking felons? No! That appears to be neither in their nature nor in their way.
Already, we have begun to see that in the midst of the doom and gloom surrounding the listless leadership that we have had to endure these past seven years, the female folk are again redeeming us from the all-permeating despondency foisted on us, causing us to smile through the dimness of the dispiritedness of these times. Last Monday, Nigerians woke up to the cheering news of the world record feat recorded by our very Tobi Amusan, in the 100m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships held at Oregon, United States. The young Amusan set the World Record twice before she was crowned the world champion in the 100m hurdles. She clocked 12.06secs to obliterate the former World Record of 12.20secs held by Kendra Harrison of the United States since 2016 to become the first Nigerian World Champion ever. Amusan was joined on the honour stand by another Nigerian girl prodigy, Ese Brume, who won a silver medal in the long jump.
In like manner, the duo of Adijat Olarinloye and Folashade Lawal, did Nigeria proud in the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom, by winning gold in weightlifting in the 59kg and 55kg categories. The doyen of female Football, Asisat Oshoala, is also keeping the flag flying as she was named African Women’s Player of the Year for the fifth time. In the entertainment industry, Nigeria has etched its name in gold in the world record by producing Temitope Openiyi, known by the stage name, Tems, who is recorded as the first Nigerian artiste to be nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in 2022, in addition to featuring on the soundtrack of marvel Studio’s latest film, “Black Panther”.
It is therefore gratifying to note that in a society where men like retired Generals have turned to jelly fish in the face of daunting insecurity; a society, where the very C-in-C is becoming a soft target for rag-tag terrorists who are threatening to kidnap him, we have our female folk doing exploits for us and bringing back our pride. What the Amusan, Brume, Oshoala and Openiyi have done for us by the laurels they have won is to change the narrative that Nigeria is not the Bullamakanka that the current docile leadership and its fatalistic ineptitude has portrayed it to be. The quartet, and others not named, have proved to the world the tenacity of the saying that from inside a black clay pot comes the white pap. Given the joy these heroines have brought to us, I therefore wish to sing for them, the Ekiti berceuse, an Ekiti folk song:
Ori jo’mo hi temi sayiye-My destiny allow my children to be successful
Ke he lopolo- Let them have brain
Kemi tika gbe’ho Udoji- So that I too can earn Udoji
If the female folk are giving us these many reasons to be mirthful, would it be a bad idea if a woman is made the next President?