Margaret Ekpo, born July 27, 1914 was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and a pioneering female politician in Nigeria’s First Republic and a leading member of a class of traditional Nigerian women activists, many of whom rallied women beyond notions of ethnic solidarity.
She played major roles as a grassroots and nationalist politician in the Eastern Nigerian city of Aba, in the era of a male-dominated movement towards the country’s independence. In doing this, she had to deal with the socialization of women’s role into that of helpmates or appendages to the careers of males.
MARGARET EKPO’S BACKGROUND
Margaret Ekpo was born in Creek Town, Cross River State, Nigeria, to the family of Okoroafor Obiasulor -originally a native of Aguluzigbo, a rural town in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State- and Inyang Eyo Aniemikwe. Through her mother, she was a member of the royal family of King Eyo Honesty II of Creek Town.
She reached standard six of the school leaving certificate in 1934. However, her goals of further education in teachers training was as put on hold after the tragic passing of her father in 1934,. She then started working as a pupil teacher in elementary schools. She later married a doctor, John Udo Ekpo(whom she moved with to Aba), in 1938.
In 1946, she had the opportunity to study abroad at what is now the Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin Ireland. She earned a diploma in domestic science and on her return to Nigeria, established a Domestic Science and Sewing Institute in Aba.
Margaret Ekpo had her first participation in political ideas and association in 1945. Her husband John, was indignant with the colonial administrators treatment of indigenous Nigerian doctors but his being a civil servant, prevented him from attending meetings to discuss the matter.
Margaret Ekpo then attended meetings on her husband’s behalf. These meetings were organized to discuss the discriminatory practices of the colonial administration in the city and to fight cultural and racial imbalance in administrative promotions.
She would later attend a political rally which saw fiery speeches from Mbonu Ojike, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay. She was the only woman present at this rally.
By the end of the decade, she had organized a Market Women Association in Aba to unionize market women in the city. She used the association to promote women solidarity as a platform to fight for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansionary political rights of women.
Margaret Ekpo had her political career truncated by the Nigerian Civil War of 1967. At that time, she was imprisoned by Biafran authorities for three years without adequate feeding.
MARGARET EKPO: ACTIVISM
Margaret Ekpo’s awareness of growing movements for civil rights for women around the world prodded her into demanding the same for the women in her country of Nigeria and to fight the discriminatory and oppressive political and civil role colonialism played in the subjugation of women.
She felt that women abroad including those in Britain, were already fighting for civil rights and had more voice in political and civil matters than their counterparts in Nigeria. To this end, she joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), as a platform to represent a marginalized group.
In the 1950s, she also teamed up with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest killings at an Enugu coal mine; victims of which were leaders protesting colonial practices at the mine. In 1953, Ekpo was nominated by the NCNC to the regional House of Chiefs, and in 1954 she established the Aba Township Women’s Association.
As leader of the new market group, she was able to garner the trust of a large number of women in the township and leveraged on that to establish a political pressure group. By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a citywide election.
Margaret Ekpo won a seat to the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961, a position that allowed her to fight for issues affecting women at the time. In particular, there were issues on the progress of women in economic and political matters, especially in the areas of transportation around major roads leading to markets and rural transportation in general.
Margaret Ekpo took a less prominent approach to politics, after a military coup ended the First Republic. However, this did not undermine her previous works as a politician and women’s rights activist. She was later honored for her services in her state of Cross River.
The Calabar Airport was renamed Margaret Ekpo International Airport in 2001, to honor her for her activism and anti-colonial activities. Margaret Ekpo passed away 5 years later on September 21, 2006.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.