Margaret Ekpo was born in 1914 in the muddy settlement of Creek Town in Cross River State, southeastern Nigeria. At the time, Nigeria was ruled by the British and women weren’t allowed to vote. Ekpo died aged 92 in 2006 in Calabar, Cross River State.
Margaret Ekpo, pioneering feminism in Nigeria. She was strong. She was outspoken. Margaret Ekpo didn’t just open doors for women, she kicked them down. The Nigerian women’s rights activist and politician, Margaret Ekpo, helped change the face of politics in Nigeria.
Margaret Ekpo Full Biography and Profile
Margaret Ekpo (June 27, 1914 – September 21, 2006) was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and social mobilizer who was a pioneering female politician in the country’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.
Her determination to advance her education motivated her to obtain a diploma in Domestic Economics in 1948 at the Rathmine School of Domestic Economics in Dublin, Ireland (now the Dublin Institute of Technology) during the period her husband was taken there for medical attention. When the couple returned to Nigeria, Margaret Ekpo established a domestic science institute in Aba, Abia State where she trained young girls in dressmaking and home economics.
NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons – later the National Council of Nigerian Citizens), at the time a nascent political party, came to address a political meeting in Aba. Ekpo was the only woman at the rally and it was there, after listening to fiery speeches by Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiweand Mazi Mbonu Ojike (popularly known for his slogan “Boycott the Boycottables”) urging Nigerians to claim their independence from Britain, that the fire of political activism was ignited in her.
She was responsible for the formation of the NCNC women’s wing along with the wife of the leader of the party, Flora Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became its first president with Ekpo as vice-president. When Azikiwe became First Lady in 1960, Ekpo assumed the presidential post of the women’s wing. As president, she continued to lead women in canvassing for party candidates across the country, forming a formidable campaign team.
Ekpo’s growing awareness of civil rights movements for women around the world spurred her to develop the same for the women in her country and to fight the discriminatory and oppressive political and civil role colonialism played in the subjugation of women. She felt that women abroad had more of a say in political and civil matters than their counterparts in Nigeria.
She took risks that many politicians today might not take. In 1949, during a protest in Enugu where coal miners requested a wage increase, their ringleaders were shot by colonial officials. Ekpo got in touch with other women leaders around the country (most notably Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti) and they declared a day of national mourning for the colliery shooting victims. This helped draw attention to the incident not only in Nigeria, but also across the world.
In the early 1950s, Mrs Onyia, a prison officer, was murdered by a colleague, ostensibly for rejecting his advances. The authorities covered up the murder to avoid controversy, but Ekpo and the Aba women stormed the Enugu Prisons Department demanding to see where the deceased was buried. When the white superintendent rebuffed them, they threatened to break the prison gates and enter forcibly. They were then allowed in and ensured that the body was exhumed and an autopsy carried out. The truth was unveiled and the guilty warder executed.
In 2001, the Calabar airport was named after her. Her name graces the Ekpo Refectory at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and various other buildings and structures across the nation. Until her death, she was the Life Patron of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS).
Ekpo died at the age of 92 on September 21, 2006 at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital.
– Margaret Ekpo Biography and Profile (Independent/DW)