In the years following World War II, the women of Abeokuta, Nigeria, staged a successful tax revolt that led to the formation first of the Abeokuta Women’s Union and then of Nigeria’s first national women’s organization, the Nigerian Women’s Union, in 1949. These organizations became ground zero for a new political vision of a vehicle for women across Nigeria to define their interests, desires, and needs while fulfilling the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship. In The Great Upheaval, Judith A. Byfield has crafted a finely textured social and intellectual history of gender and nation-making that not only tells a story of women’s postwar activism but grounds it in a nuanced account of the complex tax system that generated the “upheaval.”
In capturing the dynamism of women’s political activism in Nigeria’s postwar period, Byfield illuminates the centrality of gender to the study of nationalism. She thus offers new lines of inquiry into the late colonial era and its consequences for the future Nigerian state. Ultimately, she challenges us to problematize the collapse of her female subjects’ greatest aspiration, universal franchise, when the country achieved independence in 1960.