Lagos market women campaign to remove income tax, Nigeria, 1940-1941

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Time Period:  
16 December
12 January
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
To overturn an income tax ordinance on women, specifically those who earned more than 50 pounds annual income.

Women market workers in Lagos, an area in western Nigeria, in the 1920s were organized into a powerful group known as the Lagos Market Women Association (LMWA). In 1932, a rumor emerged that the British colonial government was going to begin taxing Lagosian women, which had never been done before, although taxes for men had been introduced in 1927 (in spite of coordinated resistance by different groups). The market women felt that a tax was unfair and that they were already struggling to make a living. The LMWA quickly organized and, led by Madam Alimotu Pelewura and leaders from other markets, met with the administrator of the colony. The administrator said that women would not be taxed, the women procured a written assurance of the guarantee, and the issue of taxation of women did not recur over the next eight years.

In March 1940, the government issued an Income Tax Ordinance, which mandated that women whose yearly incomes were less than 50 pounds per year would pay a flat rate of 5 pounds, but women who earned 50 pounds or higher would be taxed 3d. on each pound. Over the next months, 70 women received “return of income” notices.

After a period in which no recorded action took place, protests and action began in December. On 16 December 1940, the women closed the Lagos market and marched to the office of the Commissioner of the Colony. A local newspaper, the Daily Service, reported that around 10,000 women participated, while the government reported 100. Outside the Commissioner’s office, Pelewura and other leaders spoke out against the ordinance. They said that many of the women’s husbands were unemployed, making women the primary earners within households, and that “times were very hard.” The Commissioner asserted that only “well-to-do” women would be taxed, and claimed that men often transferred property to their wives to avoid taxation. The women, dissatisfied with the Commissioner’s response, then marched to the Government House, where Pelewura and another woman met with the Governor. The other women were barred from entering by guards. Pelewura and her associate presented a petition, written by Nigerian National Democratic Party leader Herbert Macaulay on behalf of the LMWA, containing 91 thumbprints (in lieu of signatures) of women opposing the ordinance to Governor Bourdillon. The Governor refused to reverse the ordinance.

On 18 December, the LMWA organized a meeting at Glover Memorial Hall to discuss the ordinance. The government estimated 1,000 people in attendance, but a local newspaper, the Daily Times, estimated 7,000. Pelewura argued against the ordinance and the Commissioner reiterated his statements, but the meeting ended without a definite action from either side.

The ordinance was also opposed because it was against Lagosian cultural practices to tax women. On 10 December 1940, Oba (king) Falolu had denounced the tax ordinance in a meeting of his chiefs. Chief Sasore proclaimed that taxing women was “not the custom of this country [Lagos].”

The women insisted on another meeting with the Commissioner, and on 12 January 1941, leaders of the main Lagosian markets and the Commissioner convened at the oba’s palace to resolve the conflict. The women argued that they were not slaves of the British government and that regardless of the situation of other areas, it was against Lagosian custom to tax women.

The government eventually raised the level for taxable income to 100 pounds, an income they claimed that most market women did not attain. It is unclear from the available sources the exact date of this concession or whether this claim was true, but after the concession was made, the campaign actions ended.

Research Notes
Johnson, Cheryl. "Grass Roots Organizing: Women in Anticolonial Activity in Southwestern Nigeria." African Studies Review , Vol. 25, No. 2/3 (Jun. - Sep., 1982), pp. 137-157. <>.

Mba, Nina Emma. Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women's Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900-1965. [Berkeley]: Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1982.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Lekey Leidecker, 11/11/2012