‘If a woman had been among those killed (by the colonial administrators) the British women in Aba would have all been killed!’Margaret Ekpo
Margaret Ekpo was a women’s rights and political activist. She was born in Creek Town (present day Cross River State) of Efik and Igbo heritage on the 27th of July 1914. Like Gambo Sawaba, her education was cut short due to her father’s early death. She started working as an elementary school teacher as her goals to pursue further education had also been halted due to her father’s death. She eventually got married and moved with her husband to Aba (located in Abia state, Southeast Nigeria).
What is interesting about Margaret Ekpo’s story is that she didn’t set out to be involved in Politics. Her husband, Dr John Udo Ekpo, had become discontented with the British Colonial administration’s treatment of the indigenous Nigerian doctors at the Aba General Hospital but being a civil servant, he was unable to attend the meetings set up to discuss and fight against the oppression. Margaret, who had listened to her husband’s complaints had become just as indignant about the oppression, and chose to attend these meetings on his behalf. She also attended a political rally on his behalf and was the only woman at the event – where she was energized by passionate speeches given by Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mazi Mbonu Ojike (key influencers of Nigeria’s Independence) calling for Nigerians to claim their independence.
Margaret couldn’t let go of her dream to advance her education, so she obtained a diploma in Domestic Economics at the Rathmine School of Domestic Economics in Dublin, Ireland and subsequently returned to Aba to start a Domestic Science Institute for young girls. She also continued her activism by organising a Market Woman Association in Aba to promote female solidarity as a means of fighting for the economic and political rights of women. In addition to that, she joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) to fight for decolonisation.
In 1949, she joined Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest the killings of some Enugu coal miners who had been shot while protesting against colonial administrators for delaying the payment of their wages. Mrs. Ekpo and Mrs. Ransome-Kuti organised a day of mourning for the victims and it was so publicized that the incident gained international recognition. At the event, Margaret Ekpo made an impassioned speech where she declared ‘if a woman had been among those killed (by the colonial administrators) the British women in Aba would have all been killed.’ She was arrested on the spot for making such an ‘inflammable’ speech and, along with some other people, was harassed and threatened with deportation from their own country by the colonial masters. In response to the threat, the Aba women threatened to set the town ablaze should this deportation be carried out. The powerful stance of the women led to Margaret Ekpo and the other detainees being released.
In the early 1950’s a female prison officer, Mrs. Onyia, was killed for rejecting the advances of a male colleague. Mrs. Onyia’s death was covered up but Mrs. Ekpo and the Aba women were not going to let it slide. They stormed the Enugu Prisons Department demanding to see what they had done with the remains of Mrs. Onyia. This pressure led to her body being released and the cover-up being exposed. Her murderer was convicted and executed. In 1954, Margaret established the Aba Township Women’s Association which became a political pressure group. The effect of this was that, about a year after its founding, the female voters in Aba outnumbered the male voters in the city elections.
She continued to take on numerous roles in Politics, setting records as the 1st woman from Aba to hold certain positions. She used these positions to fight for the advancement of women’s rights. Her political career ended when the Nigerian civil war began, and she was detained for unknown reasons by Biafran authorities for 3 years. Mrs Ekpo passed away in 2006 at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. She is reported to have had such a strong character and a heart of forgiveness because she firmly believed that all that happened to her was worth it for the unity of Nigeria that was to be achieved.