Every country in the course of its history has had defining moments that really set them up for either greatness or disgrace.
Nigeria, not being an exception, has had its fair share of these defining moments, and safe to say that greatness has rarely been an outcome.
But the rare occurrences that the people truly triumphed against the government, i.e., the government was actually made to listen to the cries of its citizens, those incidents/ events are today being revered as pivotal moments in the society.
One of those events is the Aba women’s riot, also referred to as the women’s war that occurred from November 1929 to January 1930.
Unfortunately, not all cries of the people have been met with eventual understanding and altruism by the Nigerian government. An incidence that comes to mind is the events that led to the Lekki toll gate massacre on October 20, 2020.
Aba women’s riot
The Nigerian government hasn’t been exemplary in treating its citizens or granting them little things like human dignity and basic human rights.
However, they soon met their match with a most unlikely opponent.
The root of the Aba women’s riots started in 1914. Lord Lugard, the first colonial governor, decided that outrightly exploiting a nation was too on the nose and instead instituted a system of indirect rule in southern Nigeria.
This means that the people were to be ruled by the British government through appointed British administrators who were usually Igbo appointed traditional chiefs.
All this was fine and dandy to the people; however, things soon turned sour when these British administrators became tyrannical and oppressed the people they were supposed to be ruling.
They imposed strict regulations, seized properties, and punished those that tried to oppose them.
The final straw was when they tried to impose taxes on the Igbo market women. These women were responsible for the food supply in growing urban regions. The main fear was that these taxes would limit the food supply, and many women would be out of business.
And that was the genesis of these riots.
The riots began in 1929 when a large group of women congregated outside various locations to protest against this Draconian ruling system and unfair taxes.
They used the traditional practice of culling men to order, which is known as sitting on a man.
And no, not literally.
Sitting on a man involved chanting, dancing, and singing songs intended to ridicule the man. Most times, they held all night processions outside the homes of these men taunting them.
In some parts of southern Nigeria, they were able to force these warrant chiefs to resign from their positions.
Apparently, things started to get out of control when prisons were being broken into and prisoners released, and European-owned stores, native courts, and Barclays Bank were attacked.
The government was forced to take action and deployed colonial police troops to curtail the protesters.
Over 50 women were killed, while more than 50 were injured.
The Aba women’s protest is today acknowledged as the first major uprising against the British administration in West Africa.
2020 was marked by a long list of tragedies. There was a pandemic that nobody was prepared for, and there was clear uncut evidence of how far the Nigerian government was willing to go to bring its citizens to order.
SARS which stands for the special anti-robbery squad was a special force within the police unit that was responsible for protecting the citizens and curtail armed robbery in the country.
However, much like the British administrators, they became tyrants, and instead of making the people they swore to protect feel safe, they did the opposite and struck fear in the hearts of the citizens.
No one was spared, especially the young people, as these special task force constantly abused their power and caused even more havoc than the criminals they were fighting against.
Incidents of police brutality, aggravated assault, rape, armed robbery, and even murder were constantly being reported. And since this task force was a division within the police force, no reports of their criminal behavior were ever taken seriously.
Eventually, the people had enough and went to the streets to protest the disbandment of Sars, the reformation of the police unit, and justice for the innocent civilians whose lives they took.
Progress seemed to be made when by October 10 of 2020, the government dissolved the police unit and promised to reinstate the police officers in other units.
The #endsars protesters demanded accountability for the crimes committed by the unit as well as better leadership.
However, what had been a peaceful protest had been taken over by hoodlums under the guise of protesters to cause mayhem across the country.
History soon repeated itself as the government was forced to take action yet again and responded to the demands of unarmed protesters by deploying the military to commit genocide in what is now known as the Lekki toll gate massacres.
The Nigerian government still denies this incidence to date despite irrefutable evidence.
What lessons can be learned
It’s strange how similar the Aba women’s riot is to the #endsars protest.
Unfair government policies and maltreatment of citizens leads to citizens being disgruntled, leads to protesting, then intervention, and ultimately the killing of protesters by either police troops or military forces.
What’s even more unsettling is the similarities in the pattern of events that led to the intervention by the armed forces.
What always started as a peaceful protest would suddenly get taken over by violent protesters, and almost immediately, the armed forces with be deployed to handle the situation by any means necessary.
With a lack of tangible evidence, one can’t assume whether the government had a role to play in this chain of events or not, but it’s safe to assume that there was foul play somewhere.
With no justice for the lives that have been lost in the fight for better governance and with the Nigerian government’s long history of regression and violation of the human rights of its citizens, it’s easy to assume that the fight was pointless and all hope is lost.
However, what this protest shows is the need for unity and oneness amongst the citizens of the country Nigeria.
As sad as the loss of lives were during the aba women’s protest, they still got what they wanted, and generations still remember them for their bravery.
It’s only by being united and proactive about the betterment of the country that progress can be made.