Example Essay on Taxation Affecting the British Colonial Government and Nigerian Women

The Women’s War marked the beginning to the road of independence against the British in Nigeria. The British colonized Nigeria and implemented the Warrant Chief System. This led to the rumors that women would face taxation. Once the rumor was confirmed, protests began, hence the war commenced. Women faced violence from colonial authorities, which led to more anger sparked in them. Protesters destroyed symbols of white power and supremacy to show their power. However, the war ended early in 1929 as the government promised to accept reforms to the system. Yet, little did the women know that taxation would soon rise again, in addition to both racial and gender segregation. Hence, the taxation on the Nigerian women affected both the British government and women negatively because of the protests against colonial authorities, violence towards females, in addition to the British losing partial control over the government and the decrease in the economy and the financial statuses of Nigeria’s citizens.


Taxation on women affected all of Nigeria as a whole. As Nigeria was being colonized, the colonial government commanded the Warrant Chief System, in addition to a different political system throughout communities. This led to the belief amongst women that the British government felt the need to impose taxes on them, in addition to increasing the tax on men. It all started “In 1925 the British decided to impose direct taxation in southern Nigeria [...].” (“The Aba Women’s War: 1929” 3) Throughout the years that led to 1929, women grew more indignant and irritated by the colonial government as rumors of taxes were confirmed through the hints in society, such as market tolls. Hence, “By 1929 the Nigerians realized that the tax collection was to be continuous. Initially, only women from a specific group in southeastern Nigeria were taxed independently of men. By the late 1920s, however, it became evident that all Nigerian women and their personal property were to be counted and taxed.

There were new levies and fees placed on women alone, without any corresponding benefits to them.”  (“The Aba Women’s War: 1929” 3)  However, the British did not realize that “The plan to impose direct taxes on women led to frustration and hostility among women’s groups. The situation was made even worse by colonial censorship and ban on political organizing, making dialogue and negotiation over the issue of women’s taxation impossible.” (“The Aba Women’s War: 1929” 3) Taxation became famous in an instance throughout the nation. Questions were always asked, and curiosity never answered. Many women believed that they do not deserve the taxation implemented on them. They were the “base” of the nation, providing it with agriculture and keeping its economy stable.

Although the women kept on trying to cooperate with the British government, it was known that the decision was set and nothing might ever change. Not only did they not deserve the taxation being brought upon them, but the taxes were also high compared to what they can afford, spouses had to help each other with taxes. It was brought up with the government that “many women helped their husbands pay the tax assessment, the tax threat appeared to them an added burden ‘to an already existing and excessive one.’(55) More fundamentally, the women questioned why they should even pay tax: ‘We women are like trees which bear fruit. You should tell us the reason why women who bear seeds should be [taxed].’ And further, ‘’t is not fit for men to pay even.’ (56)” (Nigeria Women as Forces of Change 10) The country depended on the women, and with taxation, they would not be able to economically survive without the tillage provided by the women and the financial state of the country would be frightful. 

Effect on Women

Not only would the taxation affect the country, but it negatively affected the women as well. In 1937, “Okugo . . . sent a messenger [named Emeruwa] to count some of his people. This man entered a compound and told one of the married women, Nwanyeruwa, who was pressing oil, to count her goats and sheep. She replied angrily, ‘Was your mother counted?’ at which they closed, seizing each other by the throat. A meeting of women was called and Nwanyeruwa's exciting story was told as confirmation of the rumor [that women would be taxed].” (Perham 1) Although this did not occur during the war, it is the most known taxation incident on women. It showed that the government did not care for the women’s needs, proving the females right. Proving that it would not matter if the women suffered for the country, as long as the British benefited. This caused “[...] the whole countryside, women poured into Oloko and proceeded according to custom to ‘sit’ upon the man who had tried to assess Nwanyeruwa.” (Perham 1) This caused the realization that the British did not care for the women nor the country However, this was not the only thing that the British did to infuriate women.

Palm Products and Forced Labor

In addition to taxation, both men and women were forced to perform hard labor and were not paid enough to supply for their needs. Not only, but the prices of the products that were native to the women, such as palm products, had their prices declined in order for other goods to be exported and imported in and out of Nigeria. Moreover, British authorities recruited men in order to perform hard labor, building railways, roads, and government guesthouses. However, women were also subjected to labor, which was another way for the colonial government to influence the decreasing prices of palm products. Palm products were the goods that were mainly sold by African women in general to British traders and earned the reputation of being a chief export asset for Nigeria.

There were many instances that showed that the products that were native to the women were being put aside. For instance, “[...]from December 28, 1928, to December 29, 1929, the prices of palm oil and kernel in Aba fell by 17 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while duties on imported goods like tobacco, cigarettes, and gray baft, a form of cloth used to make dresses, increased 33 percent, 33 percent, and 100 percent, respectively.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) The declining state of the economy and “trade led to the impoverishment of women, and once the rumor spread that they would be taxed, the Women's War started.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) Moreover, the decrease in prices of palm products affected both the economy and the citizens of Nigeria negatively. This drastic effect of Nigeria was caused due to “[the] economic downturn resulting from this worldwide price drop contributed to rising unemployment, increased prices for goods, and even higher school fees.” (“The Aba Women’s War: 1929” 3) In addition to the taxes imposed on women, many citizens were barely making ends meet.

Although the British were benefiting from this economic downturn in some way, the Nigerian people were not even assured that they could live without being under the poverty line. Yet, without consideration about the increasing pressure spreading across Nigeria and colonial nations, the British required more forced labor, increases in taxation, as well as creating a quota, imposing trade restriction, and ignored and neglected the signs of corruption within the government, and its authorities.

However, the government’s tactics and changes to the country does not end there. In the 1930s and 1940s, “[...] oil mills were introduced and palm oil production became mechanized, thereby undermining women’s economic status.” (“The Aba Women’s War: 1929” 7) Considered as a new type of technology, it made palm oil production automatic, therefore causing a dent and an antagonistic effect in women’s economic status. These acts performed by the British reassured the citizens of colonial Nigeria that the British were not going to change. This led to the belief that the British were only trying to help their own native country, no matter the cost in different locations. This belief would later cause protests to rise. 


The rumors of taxation and increased labor led to protests to commence. It became known that the women had a strong belief that they do not deserve any taxes being brought upon them. Government officials would go around the community, town to town, tribe to tribe, counting the women’s belongings. Once women would start questioning these officials, conflicts would rise within a short amount of time. As the women questioned the colonial government’s decision of taxes being imposed on women, protests started to arise. The initial protest began in Oloko in Bende Division of Owerri Province, famous for being the location in which the colonial government had counted the number of men in 1926, without giving them the knowledge that the results from being counted would be used in taxing them two years later, in 1928. “Thus, when on November 18, 1929, the British-appointed Warrant Chief Okugo asked a teacher to count his people in keeping with the directive of the British district officer, women who feared that they would be taxed began to protest against the census.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 569)

The women contacted one another in Bende Division, inviting them to Oloko. They stressed on the fact that an emergency meeting would take place. In the short amount of time that the women had gathered with one another, thousands of females had taken themselves to Okugo’s compound, who was a warrant chief and used their traditional method of protests, the “sitting on” method. Similarly, in 1937, approximately 8 years after the war had ended, the same warrant chief, Okugo, investigated the amount of taxes that should be brought upon the people in a region called Oloko. He sent a messenger named Emeruwa to count the people in his province. Emeruwa entered a compound and found himself in the presence of a married woman called Nwanyeruwa. As she was pressing oil, he asked her to count the livestock that she owned.

She replied angrily asking if his mother was being counted as well. This then led to again another protest, with the same traditions used. However, this time, it had quite a surprising outcome. The women stood in thousands around the District Office until the famous warrant chief was taken to court, and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for assault. Although this protest had a tremendous effect on society, the more brutal and persuading protests took place in around 1929. Late that year, the women decided to travel to Aba to continue with their protests. The “women, in anger, raided the nearby Barclays Bank and the prison to release their leader. They also destroyed the native court building, European factories, and other establishments.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570)

Women were turning into the patriots of their country, demanding the government to abolish their plan of taxation amongst females. In order to accomplish that, they destroyed symbols that represented British power and authority, showing that they will not quit without putting up a fight. This led to the British’s decisions to backfire. They first believed that the Warrant Chief System would help them and the colonized country, however, due to the protests, they were proven otherwise. The only way to fix this in their point of view was violence.


Although women destroyed many objects and architecture that represented British power, they never caused any severe physical damage or death. Yet, the same cannot be said for the British. Most of the British’s despotism towards women came during the protests. The violent protests began in Owerrinta after the “enumerator (census taker) of Warrant Chief Njoku Alaribe knocked down a pregnant woman during a scuffle, leading to the eventual termination of her pregnancy. The news of her assault shocked local women, who on December 9, 1929, protested against what they regarded as an ‘act of abomination.’” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) The women then protested in the warrant chief’s compound. This resulted in them to encounter armed officers, leading to two women getting killed and numerous women severely injured.

After a meeting with other women, the final decision was to head to Aba to continue their protests. Once they arrived on Factory Road in Aba, “a British medical officer driving the same accidentally injured two of the women, who eventually died.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) Considering the fact that the person that caused the injuries is one of the protester’s opponents, the female rebels took this as an act of violence towards their cause.

This caused them to raid nearby banks and prison to release their incarcerated leader. Not only that, but the women “destroyed the native court building, European factories, and other establishments.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) Destroying structure belonging to the British was considered as violence towards the British, and since the English considered themselves at the highest position with power. The Englishmen decided to start lashing back, although the women never harmed or killed any colonial authorities. For instance, as the women’s trip in Aba was coming to an end, the women decided to move to Utu-Etim-Ekpo.

The women burned government buildings on December 14 and stole from a factory. The British fought back by “leaving some eighteen women dead and nineteen wounded.”  (“Igbo Women’s War” 570) The death of the women affected the protesters severely considering they never caused any harm to their enemies. Nevertheless, the violence did not stop there. The British left more fatality at Ikot Abasi, where thirty-one women, in addition to one man, were killed, leaving another thirty-one injured. Nonetheless, the women did not decide to let the British’s despotism stop them from protesting for their beliefs. Although they did not have power in numbers, they had the brains. Women then used the violence as leverage towards the British.

Loss of Power

As the war was coming to an end, it may have seemed that the British won. However, the women had already taken power from the British. The British started to lose control in early 1928. Once the rumor of taxation was confirmed, women grew angry and “began blocking the road . . . and disrupted all activities in the area.” (Kies 1) The disturbance of taxation flow throughout the colonial region infuriated the British, causing a delay and decrease in tax income. Unfortunately, things did not turn positive in the protests when the British could have had all the power.

The women took the opportunity to destroy and damage anything and everything that represented British power and their supremacy over the natives. Not only did they destroy government buildings, but they ruined the reputation of government authorities and officials. Okugo was a warrant chief in colonial Nigeria and ended up being the center of a protest in Oloko, due to his taxation amongst women. The protesters demanded “his resignation and imprisonment for allegedly assaulting some of them.” (“Igbo Women’s War” 570)

Although it was just one imprisonment of one colonial authority, this step gave the women the power and tactics to try and defeat the British. Furthermore, as the rebellion was concluding, the British won, but did not escape the women’s conditions, one of which was that the “[...] British finally abolished the warrant chief system and reassessed the nature of colonial rule among the natives of Nigeria.”(Korieh 3) However, that was not the end as “Court tribunals that incorporated the indigenous system of government that had prevailed before colonial rule were introduced to replace the old warrant chief system.” (Korieh 3)

Besides the fact that the British had to lose a system that kept them in power, they had to accept that the natives were not in charge of what laws should be set. Lastly, women played a huge role in politics after the war had ended. One thing that lost the British their power was that the women “‘exercised considerable influence over the selection of new chiefs’ [...] ‘Practically no new chief has been selected without the consent of the women of the town, and he is in their hands if he wishes to keep their goodwill.’” The women had all the say of what should and should not happen, leaving the British with the least percentage of power. Yet, the conditions did not end there. The women required that “[...] ‘all white men [must] go [back] to their country so that the land in this area might remain as it was many years before the advent of the white man.’” (Ekechi 12) Althought they demanded the English’s departure, their request would not be met until a few decades later, in the 1960s, as the reign of the British in Nigeria would come to an end. 


The imposition of taxes on women influenced both the females of Nigeria and colonial authorities due to protests against British powerheads, violence towards women, increase in power towards the Nigerians, and the fiscal and economic damages that were made to the nation. As the rumors of taxation on women were confirmed, protests towards the British government began, which caused many landmarks that symbolized white supremacy to break down. This led to the colonial authorities to use their power through despotism. The women protests did not die off until they finally came to an agreement with the British. After a few reforms to the government, women were able to participate politically within their community and the Warrant Chief System was abolished. It should be pointed out that taxation on women and protests against colonial authorities did not end until 1960 when Nigeria regained its independence. 

Works Cited

“The Aba Women’s War: 1929.” Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, edited by Jennifer Stock, vol. 1: Africa, Gale, 2014. Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/GFDMIR089621514/GIC?u=dubaiuas&sid=GIC&xid=465f87e1. Accessed 19 May 2019.

Barsom, Andrew G. “Marc Matera, Misty L. Bastian and Susan Kingsley Kent. 2013. The Women's War of 1929: Gender and Violence in Colonial Nigeria.” African Studies Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, 2015, p. 84+. Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A415109187/GIC?u=dubaiuas&sid=GIC&xid=72147948. Accessed 21 May 2019.

Ekechi, Felix K. “Perceiving women as catalysts.” Africa Today, vol. 43, no. 3, 1996, p. 235+. Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A18919542/GIC?u=dubaiuas&sid=GIC&xid=20e275e1. Accessed 19 May 2019.

Falola, Toyin, and Paddock, Adam. The Women’s War of 1929, A History of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Eastern Nigeria. 2001.

Kies, Samantha M. “The Road to the Women’s War of 1929.” Matriarchy, the Colonial Situation, and the Women’s War of 1929 in Southeastern Nigeria, Eastern Michigan University, Mar. 2013.

Korieh, Chima J. “Warrant Chiefs, Africa.” Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, edited by Thomas Benjamin, vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 1123-1125. Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2587300418/GIC?u=dubaiuas&sid=GIC&xid=790e13d1. Accessed 28 May 2019.

Perham, M. (1937). “Document A: Margery Perham”. Native Administration in Nigeria. London: Oxford University Press.

Oriji, John N. “Igbo Women's War.” Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, edited by Thomas Benjamin, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 569-572. Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2587300206/GIC?u=dubaiuas&sid=GIC&xid=3938f8d3. Accessed 19 May 2019.

The Testimony of Nwanyoji, March 14, 1930. The Women’s War of 1929 by Toyin Falola and Adam Paddock. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2011



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