Margaret Ekpo was born on July 27, 1914, into the family of Inyang Eyo Aniemewue from the Royal stock of King Eyo Honesty II and Okoroafor Obiasulor native of Agulu-Uzo-Igbo near Awka in Anambra State.
She reached standard six of the school leaving certificate in 1934, unfortunately, she could not go further because of the death of her father.
Also, her goals to go further in teacher’s training was also put on hold. She then started working as a pupil-teacher in elementary schools.
She got married to Dr. John Ekpo, in 1938 and she automatically became Margaret Ekpo.
Her husband, Dr. John Ekpo was from the Ibibio ethnic group who is predominant in Akwa Ibom State, while Margaret was of Igbo and Efik heritage. Margaret moved to Aba shortly after her marriage to Ekpo.
Margaret died on Thursday, September 21, 2006, at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital at age of 92.
Margaret attained standard six of the school leaving certificate in 1934, she was persistent for a while, and in 1946, she had the opportunity to study abroad at what is now Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin Ireland. She was able to obtain a diploma in domestic science and on her return to Nigeria she established a Domestic Science and Sewing Institute in Aba.
In 1945, Margaret began to get politically inclined after her husband became dissatisfied with the colonial administration’s treatment of indigenous Nigerian doctors at the Aba General Hospital. As a civil servant, he was unable to attend meetings organized to discuss these biased practices and fight the cultural and racial contrast. Ekpo went on his behalf and begun attending political rallies, where she was the only woman.
She heard speeches by Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Mazi Mbonu Ojike urging Nigerians to claim their independence from Great Britain and took up the nationalist struggle. Margaret started to devise ways to encourage women in Aba to participate in political rallies.
She tried to encourage women to join the Aba Market Women Association so that she could pass on information from meetings to them, but their husbands were unsupportive. After World War II, salt was difficult to get a hold of and Ekpo used this to her advantage.
She bought all the bags of salt, giving her control of its sales, and decreed that only women who were a member of the association could be sold to. This trick worked perfectly well, as salt was a necessary item, all the men allowed their wives to register.
In the year 1946, Ekpo’s husband was taken to Ireland for medical attention and Ekpo used her time there to study for a diploma in Domestic Economics which she received in 1948 from the Rathmines School of Domestic Economics in Dublin, Ireland. When they return to Nigeria, she founded a domestic science institute in Aba, Abia State. Ekpo trained girls in dressmaking and home economics at the institute.
She continued her activism and by the end of the 40’s she had organized a Market Woman Association in Aba to unionize women in the city. The organization promoted female solidarity as a way to fight for the economic rights of women and to expand their political rights. She also joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) to fight for decolonization.
In 1949, Margaret Ekpo joined Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in protesting the killings of leaders protesting colonial practices at an Enugu coal mine. They organized a day of mourning for the victims and were able to draw international attention to the occurrence.
She gave a speech at the event and was subsequently arrested and threatened with deportation. The women of Aba were outraged and threatened to set the town ablaze, leading to Ekpo’s release. During their time together, Ekpo and Ransome-Kuti discussed the need for women’s involvement in politics, and together they went on to tour the South Eastern region to encourage women to engage with politics.
In the early 1950s, following the murder of Mrs. Onyia, a prison officer killed for rejecting the advances of a male colleague, Ekpo and the women of Aba stormed the Enugu Prisons Department demanding to see where the deceased was buried. Eventually, the body was released and the truth of the murder was uncovered, leading to the execution of the murderer and uncovered the attempt to cover up the incident. In 1953, Ekpo was nominated by the NGNC to the regional House of Chiefs, and in 1954 she established the Aba Township Women’s Association, which she was able to turn into a political pressure group.
A year later, women in Aba outnumbered male voters in a city-wide election. In 1960, Ekpo became the President of the NCNC’s women’s wing after the previous president, Flora Nnamdi Azikiwe became First Lady. Together, Ekpo and Azikiwe had been responsible for the formation of the NCNC’s women’s wing. Ekpo led women in campaigning for party candidates across the country, forming a disturbing campaign team.
In 1961, Margaret Ekpo won a seat in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, becoming the first Aba woman in the position. She used her influence to carry on the fights for issues affecting women, including the progress of women in economic and political matters and improving infrastructure, so that it was easier for them to travel to markets.
She was a Nigerian representative in Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in 1964, Nigeria representative, World Women’s International Domestic Federation Conference in 1963, Member of Parliament, Nigeria, 1960 –1966, and Women’s interest representative, Nigerian Constitutional Conference in 1960. After the First Republic ended following a military coup, Ekpo took on a less prominent role in politics.
Margaret Ekpo’s political career ended with the commencement of the Nigerian civil war. During the war, she was detained by Biafran authorities for three years. In spite of the long detention, under conditions which could best be described as deprived – at a point she became quite ill from inadequate feeding. Mrs. Margaret Ekpo remained undefeated and never bitter. The reason for her arrest was not known, but it was said to do with her agitation for Calabar and Ogoja States to be carved out of Eastern Nigeria. It was a trying time for her, however, she accepted it as a sacrifice she had to make for the unity of Nigeria.
Madam Margaret Ekpo lived on a meager pension provided by the State Government. It was barely sustainable, but she carries herself with much grace and fortitude. She was grateful to Nigeria’s former President Olusegun and his late wife, Stella Obasanjo, former Nigerian leaders, and other concerned Nigerians for honoring her and taking care of some of her material needs.
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