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Retro: History of Margaret Ekpo who was one of the pioneers of female politics in Nigeria

Retro: History of Margaret Ekpo who was one of the pioneers of female politics in Nigeria

Margaret Ekpo was one of the first female politicians in Nigeria and she made it her life's mission to fight for women in power movement.

In an era of male-dominated movements towards indepence, Ekpo was able to play major roles as a politician in the Eastern part of Nigeria.

Before she became a pioneer of female politics, she was a women's rights activist and a social mobiliser. Margaret Ekpo was born in 1914, Creek Town in Cross River state. She married a doctor, John Udo Ekpo, who was a civil servant.

Margaret Ekpo's determination to educate herself motivated her to obtain a degree in domestic economics at the Rathmine School of Domestic Econimics in Dublin, Ireland, in 1948, The school has been renamed as the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Margaret Ekpo

Margaret Ekpo was one of the pioneers of female politics in Nigeria Photo source: Politicoscope

The women's rights activist took the opportunity to obtain her degree when she traveled to Dublin with her husband for medical purposes.

After their return to Nigeria from Dublin, she put her education into use and began a domestic science institute to train young girls in home economics and dressmaking in Aba, Abia state.

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Her dreams of becoming a female politician to make way for other females did not manifest until she heard fiery speeches given by Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mazi Mbonu Ojike at a political meeting in Aba. It was a meeting that urged Nigerians to claim their independence from the Britain.

She decided to encourage the participation of women folk in decision making in Aba. By the time she was in her 40s, Margaret had already organised a Market Women Association in Aba. The association promoted female solidarity as a way to fight for economic rights of women and expand their rights to politics.

The pioneer wanted more women to join the association but their husbands refused. However, unfortunately for the men, there was a general salt scarcity after the World War II and Margaret used this as an opportunity to get her way.

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She went around shops and deposited money for all available bags of salt which gave her total control on sales. The woman then ordered that any woman who is not a member of the association should not be sold to and all the men gave in to her demands at the end of the day.

After her success in Aba with the Market Women Association, Margaret went ahead to join the decolonisation process which led to the establishment of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NGNC), a platform to represent a marginalised group.

In 1949, Margaret joined Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest the killings of leaders of an Enugu coal mine who were protesting colonial practices. The two women leaders organised a day of mourning for the victims which drew the attention of many Nigerians and that of people across the world.

Margaret made a speech that led to her arrest and a threat of deportation from authorities in Enugu state. However, the women of Aba came to her rescue and threatened to set the town ablaze if she wasn't released.

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During their time together, Margaret and Funmilayo decided to urge more women to get involved in politics in other to have a voice. They both set out to tour the South Eastern region to achieve their mission.

In 1950, she stormed Enugu prison with the women of Aba to seek justice for the murder of a female prison officer who was killed for rejecting the advances of a male colleague. She was later nominated by the NGNC to the regional House of Chiefs.

By 1954, she already established the Aba, Township Women's Association which became a political pressure group and led to female voters outnumbering male voters in a city wide election.

Margaret won a seat at the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961. She was able to properly tackle economic and political issues affecting women from her position at the Eastern Regional House of Assembly.

And in 2001, the Calabar airport was named after her. The female political icon died in 2006 at the age of 92.

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