The Ebira Women Riot of 1951 had its root in the taxation of women in Ebiraland. This was the contribution of the Ebira to the general resistance of African Tribes to colonial rule. In a republican society like that of Ebira, the Indirect Rule system created tension between the traditional rulers and the subjects. The most serious point of friction was the issue of taxation.
To an Ebira, the payment of tax was the most irrational thing the Whiteman has imposed on them. If not out of sheer wickedness, what is the rationale behind the Whiteman minting money for the Blackman to seat and struggle for only to come back and ask the Blackman to return the money in form of the so-called tax? If they need money for anything, why can’t they mint as much money as they needed? The most irritating aspect is perhaps the name given to the tax itself. It is called “ekehi irehi” (house tax). This is translated to mean that they are paying tax for the house they built out of their sweat and on their father’s land.
At the time of the riot, women in Ebiraland paid an annual tax of 35 kobo. The people continued to bear this burden in silence. The much-travelled members of the society who formed the intelligentsia brought news that women in other places do not pay tax. As this revelation permeated the society, resentment began to mount against the taxation of women.
The chorus of dissent became louder when, in 1951, it was rumoured that the annual tax paid by women was to be increased from 35kobo to 50kobo. Tension mounted and things soon came to a head
At the beginning, it was an all-women affair. The hurriedly formed Ebira Women Association led by a very dynamic woman called Onoo of Idogido and assisted by such able lieutenants as Onyare of Idukokoro and Onaki of Ukowa went into action. They conducted mobilization rallies all over Ebiraland to stir up the women to stand up and fight for their rights. All women were forced to swear to “ovorivo” that they would utilize all the powers at their disposal to remove women from taxation. They marched along the streets in imitation of the military corps chanting….. “Left!…..Right!….Left!……Right!…..Pence!…..Wam!…Pence!!!
The happenings soon assumed greater dimensions. Women met in broad daylight to display their strength in witch-craft in preparation for the ultimate showdown with the Atta who was believed (and even feared) to possess tremendous spiritual powers. These new happenings soared higher into the popular mass witchcraft confessions. Many women came out openly to proclaim that they were “enebe” (witch). The confessions caused a lot of disaffection among various families as those who were accused but refused to confess were beaten with brooms and coated with ashes. Others were sent to Okenyikenyi for proof. The revolt against taxation soon got manipulated and degenerated to a call for the removal of the Atta from office.
The storm that has been gathering broke into a storm on 1st September, 1951. People from Ihima, Obehira, Agassa and other places, fully dressed in war regalia and chanting “Ogugu” songs converged in Okene. Bloodshed was averted by the timely intervention of the District Officer – D.O.
Though women were not immediately removed from taxation, the rumoured increase was never implemented. The uprising shook the administration to the roots and things were never the same again in Ebiraland.
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Credits: “The Heritage of Ebira Tao,” a book by S.S. Salami