The Voice crying from the East: A Journey into the life of Magret Ekpo
Margaret Ekpo was a voice that cried out for gender equality, an activist, a suffragist, a pioneer in her time and a woman who kicked down doors with her voice.
She was born on 27th July, 1914 to Okoroafor Obiasulor and Inyang Eyo Aniemewue in Creek town (present day Cross River state) as Margaret Aniemewue. She earned a school leaving certificate (standard six levels) in 1934 but due to the death of her father in the same year, she could not further her education in Teachers Training College. Instead, Margaret settled for a job as a pupil’s teacher until her marriage to Dr. John Ekpo, a medical practitioner in 1938. Subsequently , she attended Rathmine school of Domestic science, Ireland (present day Dublin Institute of Technology) where she earned a diploma in Domestic science.
Upon her return to Nigeria, she set up a Domestic Science and Sewing Institute in Aba where she empowered young females. In 1945 she attended a meeting to discuss the discriminatory actions against Nigerians by the colonial administration in the stead of her husband, Dr Ekpo, as he could not grace the occasion being that he was a civil servant. She went further to attend a political rally were she was the only woman. Whilst at the event, she was motivated by the speeches of Herbert Maculey, Nnamdi Azekwe as well as Mazi Mbonu Ojike urging Nigerians to take their independence from Great Britain, thus, determined in her mind to speak up and take up the nationalist struggle. Margaret Ekpo further helped set up the Aba Market Women Association through which she encouraged women to speak up and demand their right to vote and be voted for. Together with Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret marched at the Enugu Coal mine in protest of the leaders killed for objecting to colonial practices (1949). They further toured South Eastern region of Nigeria together to encourage women to engage with politics.
As of 1950s her influence was wide spread. She became a member of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon(NCNC) in order to fight for decolonization and was nominated by the NGNC to the regional House of Chiefs in 1953. She attended several constitutional meetings were she helped work on the constitution. Ekpo’s efforts paid off; as by 1955, women voters in Aba exceeded that of men. Following independence (1960), Margaret Ekpo became the president of the women’s wing of NCNC in the stead of Flora Nnamdi Azekwe as both women had worked hand in hand in forming the wing. Ekpo’s voice grew louder and her influence widened. In 1961, she became the first Aba woman to win a seat in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly were she fought for the progress of women in economics and politics. She further pushed for improvement in infrastructure to enable easy travel of women to markets.
Margaret Ekpo represented Nigeria in Inter Parliamentary Union Conference in 1964 as well as World Women’s Domestic Federation in 1963. She was Member of Parliament, Nigeria from 1960 to 1966 as well as Women’s interest representative to the Nigerian Constitutional Conference, NCC (1960) and a delegate to the the NCC in 1953 and 1957. Her political influence wound down following the first Republic of Nigeria. During the Nigerian Civil war, she was arrested and kept in Biafra custody under dire conditions. Upon her release, she went further to lead a minimalist life and died at the age of 92 at University of Calabar Teaching Hospital on 21st September, 2006.
In her honor, Margaret Ekpo International Airport Calabar, was christened making it the only airport in Africa to be named after a woman. Margaret Ekpo was a voice crying out in the East for the rights of women and Nigerians to be recognized and respected. She is a Nigerian heroine; a pride to womanhood.