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HomeNewsThe Agbekoya Rebellion and Peasant struggles against Increased taxation In Southwest Nigeria.

The Agbekoya Rebellion and Peasant struggles against Increased taxation In Southwest Nigeria.

“Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” – Calvin Coolidge

In 2024, President Tinubu’s IMF recommended fiscal and monetary policies will intensify the hunger in the land. After the N28 Trillion padded 2024 budget was signed by PBAT, Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy promised that the FGN would rely more on increase tax revenue and IGR, rather than borrowing, to finance the 2024 budget. This is in accordance to the IMF neoliberal policies of increasing the tax rates and broadening the tax base by taxing peasants, women, unwaged workers and SME in the informal sector. Last year, PBAT set up the Presidential Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms Committee to review and advise on reforms to shape Nigeria’s fiscal policy and tax system. The general consensus among PBAT’s advisers is that peasants should face increased land seizure for foreign companies, lower prices for export crops, with the introduction of marketing boards, increased taxation, and lower disposable income. Lower disposable income will lead to increased peasant resistance to PBAT’s policies of increased rural taxation.

We will examine the response of Southwest Nigerian peasants to increased taxation in the past, especially the Agbekoya rebellion of 1968-1970. Peasants struggle for lower direct taxes because this leaves them with more disposable household income for their economic self-development. Cash income is their only means of raising their standard of living. During the civil war period, Nigerian peasants were faced with higher taxes, low producer prices and high import prices. In 1967, the cocoa board’s domestic prices stood at £91 per ton against a world price of £250 per ton. The effective tax per adult was increased to £6.00. This included the head tax, the development fund contribution, the compulsory saving deposit, education rates and water rates. The taxation of women was also reintroduced in Southwest Nigeria.

The resistance of the cocoa peasant producers taxation policies began in September, 1968 when Oyo peasants started agitating against the increases in water rates and flat tax rates. Agitation against the new rates also occurred in other divisions as the tax assessment exercise continued. Local leaders and organizers were arrested. On November 25, 1968, 500 armed peasants closed the council offices at Ibadan East Districts. The next day, thousands of armed peasants converged on Ibadan. They marched through the city and demanded the release of arrested organizers, higher producer prices, and a flat tax rate of £1.5. The organizers were released and the armed peasants marched to Mapo Hall for a victory rally. Armed units of the Nigerian Police and Army ambushed them and opened fire on the peasant crowd without warning. Ten peasants were killed and 11 wounded. The Ibadan massacre intensified the peasant revolt.

In Oyo division, tax raids began in December, 1968. On December 11, 1968, 35 peasants were arrested for tax default. A crowd of peasants, demanding their release, soon gathered. The crowd damaged 17 houses in the ensuing riot and was dispersed by armed police units. Attempts to release those arrested continued throughout the month. On December 15, 1968, 200 armed peasants attacked the chief’s palace and destroyed it. The police soon arrived and a battle commenced between them and the armed peasants. Units from the Nigerian Army were brought in to reinforce the police after one ASP and many peasants were killed. At Ishara, the peasants’ attempt to release their captured brethren was forcefully resisted by armed policemen. Five peasants were killed and 3 policemen injured in the ensuing battle. On December 29-30, 1968, battles occurred between armed peasants and police and army units at Egba Obafemi. Thirty five peasants were killed before the peasants evacuated the village. Three thousand peasants captured at Egbe Obafemi were taken to Abeokuta. The next day, 2,000 peasants marched on the Alake palace and demanded the release of all those arrested. An armed conflict followed and 3 peasants were killed. Three days later,the Army released the 3,000 detainees.

On January 1, 1969, 1 person was killed as armed conflicts between peasants and the police and Army units erupted in Abeokuta. On January 3, 1969, Ede peasants attacked the police with dane guns and machete leading to the death of three persons. The Western State government reacted by imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Ibadan, Oyo, Ishara and Ede. The Western State set up the Ayoola Commission which began its enquiry on January 14th. It sat for 29 days and examined more than 300 witnesses. The recommendations of the Ayoola commission were accepted by the Western State in April, 1969. The commission recommended a 50% reduction in water rate for peasants and a general reduction of 5s for other users. From April 1st, the flat tax rate was fixed at £3. 15s. and the tax payments for low income groups were to be staggered. The State Marketing Board was to build up reserves over a 3 years period and then make an annual grant of £0.25millions to local government councils for the development of feeder roads. The commission also recommended an Ombudsman or pubic complaint commissioner. The peasants continued their resistance. On May 5th, at Ila-Orangun, 93 miles from Ibadan, police attacks on the peasant demonstrators were met with the destruction of the police station and the chief’s palace. Two secondary chiefs were killed and 3 policemen wounded. Police reinforcement were needed to occupy Ila-Orangun. On June 6, 1969, only £8,938 out of an estimated £94,581 had been collected from the six Ibadan districts. The State banned the Egbe Agbekoya, the Olorunkoya and the Mekunnu Parapo.

The full strength of the Egbe Agbekoya was revealed when the tax raids began on July 1, 1969. In Akanran (Ibadan Division), armed peasants mounted road barricades and ambushed 200 policemen on the outskirt of the village. Six policemen were killed as fighting commenced. Policemen reinforcement did not yield any result. Hence, 2 companies of the Nigerian Army were sent in to overrun the peasants’ defenses. The battle continued all day, resulting in the death of 10 more persons. Akanran peasants retreated into the surrounding villages at dusk, leaving many wounded policemen and soldiers behind. At Idi-Ayure, Moniya and Olode, police units were ambushed and fired upon. Fallen trees were used as barricades on major roads. The police arrested 28 peasants in Ogunmakun and 342 peasants in Moniya. One hundred and fifteen of those arrested were sentenced to 3 years jail term each for rioting.

In September, the nightly attacks continued. For example, in Egba Obafemi, peasants with home-made guns, cudgels and machetes, carried out a night attack on September 22nd.The town hall, police station, council offices and Treasury building were all destroyed. One week later, a similar attack was carried out at Owode by 100 armed peasants who arrived and left by lorries. In Ibadan, police and army units made mass arrests during the first week of September. Five hundred peasants were detained by the Army while 50 were arrested by the police. It was supposed to be a dramatic show of strength by the State. However, the peasants response was more dramatic. On the morning of September 16th, armed peasants marched into Ibadan from the surrounding villages.They launched a midday attack on Agodi Federal prison and rescued 464 of their brethren. After the rescue operation,the police ambushed the peasants at Mapo but were driven back. One peasant was killed, so the peasant army retaliated by burning down the Molete police station and executing a captured ASP policeman. At dusk, the Western State imposed a curfew on Ibadan and sent armed police and army units after the peasants.

The peasants set numerous ambushes after the Agodi rescue operation. Police and army units were ambushed on the Ibadan-Akanran and the Ibadan-Akufo roads. More ambushes occurred at Egbeda, Bioku, Omi-Adio and Iddo. More than 10 policemen and 30 peasants lost their lives in these armed encounters. Many more were injured and about 300 peasants were captured. Akanran was burnt down by the Army and police units.The State Governor declared an act of rebellion in Ibadan Division and the Federal State was forced to intervene. On September 25th, the Federal State issued a statement demanding a return to law and order in the Western State. The Agbekoya revolt raged on unabated. It ended in October, 1969 when Chief Awolowo, the Federal Commissioner of Finance, met with Agbekoya leaders at Akanran. Chief Awolowo made certain propositions to the Agbekoya leaders. The Agbekoya leaders agreed to these propositions and Chief Awolowo forwarded them as recommendations to the Western State.

The Western State announced its terms on October 15th. The major terms were as follows: (1.)The suspension of the £6 flat tax rate would remain in force. (2.) All anti-tax persons detained would be released immediately (apart from those awaiting trial for alleged murder or manslaughter).(3.) The flat tax rate would be reduced from £3.25 to £2, effective from the 1968-69 tax year. Those who have paid for this tax year would have the excess credited to them for the 1969-70 tax year. The Agbekoya leaders accepted this offer and the State released more than 400 captured peasants. The State also promised that any council official found collecting unauthorized tax rates would be dismissed. The State Governor conducted a successful tour of the Ibadan, Egba and Oshun Divisions after this political defeat suffered by the Agbekoya. The demise of Agbekoya soon followed because the rank and file refused the State’s offer, leading to an internal struggle for the leadership of the organization.

President Tinubu and his men are no Awoists. They do not believe in free education, free health care, cooperative agriculture, social democratic ideology and sustainable development oriented polices aimed at benefiting the Nigerian masses. Rather, they believe in the IMF neoliberal policies of higher PMS prices, devaluation of the Naira, stagnant wages, high unemployment, cheap labour and higher taxes for Nigerian workers and peasants that will generate higher income for their ruling class friends and cronies. They do not care for the rest of us. The possibility that PBAT will be able to walk into a circle of revolting peasants and make a deal is very low. A very detailed account of the Agbekoya Rebellion can be obtained from Toyin Falola’s book “Counting the Tiger’s Teeth”. We would seriously recommend that PBAT and his advisers read it. It is a precursor of the autonomous power of the peasants and their capacity for resistance that will face the IMF ill conceived policy of land grabbing and increased rural taxation of Nigerian peasants in 2024.

Izielen Agbon
January 1, 2024.


IMAGE CREDIT - Igbo Ora Facebook page/Africa Uniqueness
IMAGE CREDIT – Igbo Ora Facebook page/Africa Uniqueness


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