Between 1968 and 1969, while the civil war was ongoing in Eastern Nigeria between Biafran Forces and the Nigerian Armed Forces, an uprising led by Agbekoya farmers exploded into a full-blown revolt which had been brewing since the early ’60s in most Western Region communities.
Agbekoya is literally a coinage from Yoruba meaning “farmers who rejected suffering”. With a carefully selected name such as Agbekoya for a movement, it was sure to garner popularity quickly among a largely agrarian population.
The mobilisation of these farmers was led by the likes of Adegoke Akekuejo, Tafa Adeoye, Folarin Idowu, Mudasiru Adeniran, Tafa Popoola, among others. This, largely as a result of the corrupt and haphazard policies by the Western region government officials.
These group of farmers who had decided to reject suffering on behalf of themselves and their women demanded the removal of local government officials who were pillaging their villages; the removal of some corrupt Baales; and a reduction of the flat tax rate from $8 to $1.10. They also rejected the use of force in tax collection; demanded an increase in the prices of cocoa at the commodities market; and demanded repair to badly maintained roads leading to their villages.
Due to the focus of Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of the Western Region in the ’50s, the Western region had grown prosperously especially from the proceeds of cocoa farming. The farmers too, who had benefitted from the adult literacy programs of the region in the ’50s, gained a self-awareness in how the fortunes from farming were to be managed.
By 1968, there had been incidences of violence reported in some villages where local government officials were adamant in collecting the $8 tax which was unaffordable for the farmers. It is worthy to note that the fortunes of cocoa farming were reeling and gradually being eroded due to the cocoa disease strain which had destroyed most of the cocoa trees in farms.
After the riots in the villages, the ringleaders mobilised another band of farmer-rioters to the headquarters of the Western government in Mapo, Ibadan where they also fomented trouble. Like any other government-imposed suffering, the riot went largely political as well where the lives of an innumerable number of pro-government supporters were lost too.
The riots were too sporadic and plentiful for the government to handle effectively without a national police force in place. The matter was surely out of the control of the military western region government under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo. Troops deployed to quell violence in a number of flashpoint villages were met with severe resistance and suffered heavy losses too.
In the end, it took the intervention of Obafemi Awolowo who was just released from prison for the demands of these aggrieved farmers to be met. All of the demands of the farmer cooperatives and unions in the western region were met halfway at least, and they were all grateful for it.
Featured Image Source: News Express