Known as Nigeria’s pioneering female political icon, Margaret Ekpo helped change the face of Nigerian politics forever.
Born in Creek town, Calabar, Margaret was Nigeria’s women rights activist, social mobiliser and a pioneering female politician in the First Republic.
Beyond ethnicity, Margaret gathered women and encouraged them to protect their interests by taking part in the political advancement of the nation.
In an era of a male-dominated movement towards independence, she played major roles as a grassroots and nationalist politician in the eastern Nigerian city of Aba.
Margaret Ekpo’s first direct involvement in political association was in 1945, when she attended meetings in place of her husband because he was a civil servant who could not attend meetings to discuss the colonial administrators’ unfair treatment of indigenous Nigerian doctors.
Margaret decided to encourage the the participation of the women folk in Aba as she was the only woman at political meetings organised to discuss the discriminatory practices of the colonial administration and to fight cultural and racial imbalance in administrative promotions.
She wanted more women to become members of the Aba Market Women Association, so that she could pass on information from her meetings to them, but their husbands would not let them.
Fortunately for her, after World War II, there was a general scarcity of salt.
With this, Margaret went round the shops and deposited money for all available bags of salt, giving her control of its sales.
She ordered that any woman who was not a member of the association should not be sold to. With no choice, all the men released their women to register.
By the end of the decade she had organized a Market Women Association in Aba to unionize market women in the city.
She used the association to promote women unity and a platform to fight for the economic rights of women, protections and expansionary political rights of women.
Aware that the movements for civil rights for women around the world was growing, Margaret intensified her demand of the same for the women in her country.
She fought the discriminatory and oppressive political and civil role colonialism played in the suppression of women.
She later joined the decolonization-leading National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NGNC), as a platform to represent a marginalized group.
In the 1950s, she joined 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 NGNC to the regional House of Chiefs, and in 1954 she established the Aba Township Women’s Association.
As leader of the new market group, she turned it into a political pressure group.
By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a city wide election.
in 1961, she won a seat at the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, a position that allowed her to fight for economic and political issues affecting women, especially in the areas of transportation around major roads leading to markets and rural transportation in general.
In 2001, Calabar Airport was named after her.
Margaret Ekpo died in 2006 at the age of 92.