Life and Times of Margaret Ekpo

Margaret Ekpo was born in Creek Town, Cross River State, to the family of Okoroafor Obiasulor and Inyang Eyo Aniemewue. By 1934, she got her School Leaving Certificate now known as Primary 6. However, tragedy struck with the death of her father in 1934 and her goals to further her education in teachers training was put on hold. She started working as a teacher in elementary schools and married a doctor, John Udo Ekpo, in 1938. He is of Ibibio ethnic group and she is of Igbo and Efik descent.

In 1946, she had the opportunity of studying abroad at the now Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin Ireland where she earned a Diploma in Domestic Science and on her return to Nigeria, she established a Domestic Science and Sewing Institute in Aba. Margaret Ekpo’s first direct participation in politics was in 1945. Her husband was not happy with the colonial administrators’ treatment of indigenous Nigerian doctors but as a civil servant, he could not attend meetings to discuss the matter. Margaret Ekpo then attended meetings in place of her husband; the 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 later attended a political rally and was the only woman, leading to fiery speeches from Mbonu Ojike, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay. By the end of the decade, she had organized a Market Women Association in Aba to unionize market women in the city, to fight for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansionary political rights of women.

Margaret Ekpo’s awareness of growing movements for civil rights for women around the world prodded her into demanding the same for 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 voice in political matters than their counterparts in Nigeria. She later joined the decolonization-leading 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; the victims 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 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 towns and turn it into a political pressure group. By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a citywide election.

She 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 – 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.

At the end of the First Republic, she took a less prominent approach to politics. In 2001, Calabar Airport was named after her and she later died in 2006.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *