The Abeokuta Women’s Protest

by Joseph Ikhenoba


This is a protest about taxes by the Abeokutas women, until they succeeded in abolishing imposition of taxes on women by the government.

In the late 1940s, the Egba and Abeokuta women were ordered to pay taxes by the British Colonial Government. This became shadows on their fleshes. Oba Ladapo Ademola II was the traditional ruler of Alake Land, charged with collection of taxes. He was only answerable to the British Colonial Government. Perhaps, the women weren’t only angry for the imposition of taxes but the exclusion of the Egba women from Sole Native Authority, a union concerned with controlling market prices and collection of taxes. The Egbas have rich history. They were once part of the Oyo Empire, until they broke out to form an independent country. This lasted for few years when Lord Fredrick Lugard, a British soldier, rescinded their independence and introduced the Indirect Rule System. Egba kingdom was amalgamated with other villages including Abeokuta. Oba Ademola Ladapo II, the Alake was selected by the British government to head the other kings and collect taxes. This brought him in loggerheads with them.

Many of them refused to pay taxes, tortured and jailed by the British Colonial Government. This led to the Adubi War, a war against the British Colonial Government. About 600 Egbas, an Oba Osile, a High Egba chief and a European trading agent were killed. The Egba women don’t want recurrence of the war. They wanted peace. They wanted the government to yield to their demands. However, the government remained obstinate. Therefore the Abeokuta women pleaded again on the Egba women behalf but nothing changed. Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, a learned Egba woman joined the protest. The Abeokuta Ladies Union earlier formed became Abeokuta Women Union. Together, with Mrs. Eniola Soyinka, her sister in law, they spearheaded the union. So, the Egba market women and artisans were inducted into the union.

“I think we have to educate the market women and artisans. We have to teach them how to defend themselves from tear gases and other arms.” Said Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti.

“That’s a good idea, ma.” The people will welcome it. Replied Mrs. Eniola Soyinka.

“Tomorrow, we shall summon a meeting at Abeokuta Grammar School. The women would be told our plans.”

The women began classes. Absenteeism and lateness weren’t tolerated. Though, some of the women became frequent absentees and late comers. They told her how some tax collectors had often harassed and confiscated their goods on their way to the class. She was enraged.

One early morning they marched in throngs to Oba Ladapo's afin to demand their rights. They hired W.N.A Greary, a foremost lawyer, to defend their actions. However, when the Abeokuta Women Union continued to protest the king escalated the situation. They held non–violent protests. When the king still wasn’t yielding to their demands, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti travelled to England to grant interviews and publications, concerning the bedeviling shadows faced by her people. She wrote some excerpt to editors in various newspapers:

“On the assurance from the Egba Central Council that all matters relating to taxation of women would be suspended…. During this period of waiting, Egba Women have been summoned, worried, harassed and ill-treated by the tax collectors. Others have been actually jailed by the Court. A woman was jailed with a nine-day old baby… Will the authorities please act without any further delay? Thanking you Mr. Editor for space allowed.

She also wrote another petition:

“We, your children, entreat you respectfully and obediently kindly to consider the cases of women who have been specially assessed…because there is no work that women do at present to justify payment of special assessments….. Therefore the system of conditional sale now in practice does not permit of any appreciable gains on goods on that anybody.”

When she returned several protests were held. The women didn’t want to revert to violent protest because of the aftermath effect of the Aba Women Riot in 1929. They marched in thousands to his afin with their foods, water and mats chanting different abusive words.

I can’t continue to take these insults. These women have grown wings. Tí òjò bá dá tán, ti abẹ́ igi kì í dá bọ́rọ́. When the rain subsides, the dripping under trees seldom promptly cease. Guards arrest them. Ordered the king.

Your Highness, our people say Bí inú bá bí baba tó bá gbé ọmọ ẹ̀ jù sí inú èèrùn, bí inú ẹ̀ bá rọ̀, inú èèrùn lè má rọ̀ – “If a father gets angry as to throw his child into a raid of army ants, by the time he calms down, the ants may not be. Please, let’s dialogue with them. Said one of his chiefs.

The other Egba chiefs nodded in support.


Days later, the women were invited by the Council and chiefs to dialogue peacefully. They were represented by fifteen members.

You have been protesting for days our mothers. What is the problem? Asked King Ladapo gently.

Mrs. Funmi stood and spoke boldly.

Your Highness, we are not happy with your reign. We can smell injustice everywhere. A king’s role is to make peace and see to the happiness of his people. The Egba women don’t have a single representative in the Sole Native Authority, yet your tax collectors humiliate and harass them. We also admonish you to remove the taxes from women. What works are they doing that demands this pay for sanitary, market and water taxes? We also demand that women who have been abused and ran away to seek refuge in your afin shouldn’t be sexually harassed. In conclusion, we have turned our backs against you. We no longer want you to be our king. If these demands aren’t meant, we shall all go naked. Remember that kò sí bí imú ṣe lè tóbi tó, kó lè gba ọ̀rọ̀ ẹnu sọ – “No matter how big the nose is, it can’t take over the speaking role of the mouth.

He was confused for days. Then, he travelled to Jos to ruminate on their demands, while his chiefs mediated on their complaints. When he returned, taxes against women was abrogated. But, the women didn’t stop. They wanted him out. The pressure became unbearable. His chiefs who knew his treacherous and abusive nature supported the women. They dethroned him by ringing a bell and beating the traditional drums. On January 3, 1949, the king vacated to Oshogbo to their sole excitement. Therefore, The Sole Native Authority was replaced by Egba Central Council. Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and some members were elected and taxes on women was abolished. They were all excited to have defeated their shadows as they say:

Mọ̀jà mọ̀sá ni ti akínkanjú; akínkanjú tó bá mọ̀ọ́ jà tí kò mọ̀ọ́ sá á bá ogun lọ – “Warriors must know when to fight and when to retreat, a warrior who knows when to fight but not when to retreat will perish in battle.”

Rate this submission


You must be logged in to rate submissions

Loading Comments