The annual August meeting recently held in Owerri, the Imo State capital, was one with a difference, with its ripple effects still lingering long after the women had dispersed
The 2017 annual August meeting hosted by the first lady of Imo State, Nneoma Rochas-Okorocha has come and gone but for the participants and guests from across the country, the sweet memories will remain with them for quite a long time. For many outside Igbo land, August Meeting is something that exists only in their imagination or make-believe in Nollywood home videos. But in the five states that make up Igbo land, August Meeting is real; it is serious business and an integral part of their cultural calendar. Since assuming office as the first lady of Imo State, Nneoma Rochas-Okorocha had kept up the tradition, with successive editions being an improvement on the previous one. The 2017 edition of the annual ceremonial ritual did not disappoint the participants as it was described as one with a difference. The roll call at the carnival-like grand finale of the annual event indeed aptly amplified the theme of the celebration which was “Women: Building Bridges of Friendship Across the Niger”. The August meeting drew participants from the five states of the South-east geopolitical zone, and attracted the esteemed presence of the wife of Nigeria’s president, Aisha Muhammadu-Buhari, wife of the Senate president, Toyin Saraki, as well as about 15 governors’ wives. The chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Abdulaziz Yari was also present at the colourful ceremony held at the Heroes’ Square, Owerri.
Addressing the teeming ecstatic, gaily dressed women in various uniforms, Aisha Buhari called on Igbo women to lead the way in making Nigeria one united country, noting that women have the capacity to make peace and bring unity in the society. Aisha Buhari stated that the 2017 August meeting was an opportunity for women at all levels in Igboland to come together and discuss burning issues that would galvanize development of the local communities. “Women should lead in the process to make Nigeria one, united country. I see this gathering as a gathering of women to come together and discuss development issues. I also see this gathering as a celebration of the resourcefulness of womanhood. It is important because it is a rare opportunity for local people to come together to dialogue the way forward for our society. We women are building bridges for peace in the country”. The wife of the president promises to give her own support in the development of humanity.
In her welcome address, convener of the meeting and wife of the governor, Nneoma Rochas-Okorocha, posited that the needed transformation in the country would be achieved if all women acquired education. According to her, “as already stated, women are an indispensable group in the development of any nation, and a fundamental instrument for transforming the society into a better one as they accelerate the economic, religious and socio-political order”. Asserting that “indeed, God in his infinite wisdom endowed women with the gift of motherhood, a great potential that makes them special specie”, the governor’s wife emphasized that “It is a truism that the world would be incomplete and will figuratively have an insipid taste if women do not exist in it.
In his brief remark, the state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha encouraged Nigerians to have hope, stating that the country was only passing through a trying period. The visibly elated governor, who was impressed by the quality of invitees and the massive turn-out, enthused: “I do not know why you have loved my wife so much and I believe it is only love that can bring you to this state. We pray that the God of Imo and the God of the people of Imo state will honour you individually and collectively”. Okorocha noted that “unlike the men, some of you women are closer, and I do not notice any quarrel among you. Not the men who are divided along political lines”.
According to the chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC Governors’ Forum, “of recent, our country is going through a trying moment which many nations have passed through before getting to their point of greatness. Let me assure Nigerians that we are only passing through this moment, and it will not be long before we will get to that point that we desire”.
Beyond the glamour and razzmatazz of the event, the 2017 August assembly of women featured exhibition of agricultural produce of women across the state which was a bold statement of the immense contribution of women to the economy and food security of the state. The event also featured a march past by women from the 27 local government areas of the state, non-governmental organizations, NGOs, and traditional dances by various cultural troupes from different states of the country. Guests were also treated to exciting entertainments like a husband and wife head tie and necktie competition, and a dancing contest by 60 year-olds and above.
Over the years, the very essence of the August meeting, an age-long and annual meeting for women of Igbo extraction at home and in the Diaspora, had been corrupted such that it had given a wrong impression of what it is not to the outside world. The August meeting which is celebrated with pomp and ceremony had been portrayed as a forum for the women to show the latest fashion trends and flaunt their wealth or that of their rich husbands. This negativity had been depicted in many home videos thereby reducing the event to a mere show-off, flexing of financial muscle, and inanity. Historically, the ‘August Meeting’, as presently held among the Igbo, began about the late 1980s and has since come to stay. It is believed to have been initiated by some groups of women in the old Anambra State essentially for the purpose of community development. It soon found attraction by women in many other neighbouring communities in Igboland who also adopted it. According to Akachi Odoemene in a paper titled “(Re) Venturing into the Public Sphere: Historical Sociology of August Meeting’ among Igbo Women in Nigeria”, “the ‘August Meeting’ spread across Igboland by the soliciting of women from many other communities to be like their colleagues in Anambra State.
Not a few however wonder of what significance is this annual ritual. Many reasons have been adduced why women come together from their different places of abode to converge on their states every August for this all important meeting. According to Odoemene, “the ‘August Meeting’ is fast becoming a powerful and purposeful sociopolitical symbol and strategy for the exercise of power and maintenance of identity among the Igbo, affecting all realms of life and ‘restoring’ the once strong political voice of the womenfolk in traditional communities. In other words, through this annual home-coming congress, Igbo women hold some socio-political influence and have become active actors and agents in the Igbo public sphere. Such initiatives, activities and participation in rural development are critical factors in understanding the politics and dynamics of any developing rural society; as development in such contexts almost always depends on changes in the cooperation of women and men in activities undertaken at the village and community level”. He further asserted that the aim was “to organise women and develop the community by bringing in some ‘progress’ through development projects in the rural communities”. This comes in the form of drilling of boreholes, building and/or renovating of market squares, renovation of schools and hospitals, etc”. The August women assembly is also aimed at bringing women who live outside the state home to see and interact with each other thereby fostering peace and progress in a community. As somebody puts it, “It is a period of re-union for home and ‘abroad’ women”. It is also a forum for women who were married from outside the community to interact with and know more about their husbands’ people, their customs and traditions. More importantly, it is an avenue for women to rub minds on diverse issues affecting the womenfolk such as health matters, children’s welfare, marriages and family life. Spiritual matters are not left out as church leaders are invited to give talks on issues bothering on spiritual matters, the position of the Church on family planning, divorce, abortion, temporary separation, and so on.
The question on the lips of manyhowever is why the choice of the month of August for the meeting? Why not the yuletide/New Year period when people go home for celebration? Opinions are divided on this. Why some argued that the month of August was chosen for the hosting of the meeting because by that time the agrarian activities are less among the Igbo, thus affording all women the opportunity to attend, another school of thought stated that the choice was influenced by certain occasions like the new yam festival, which is widely celebrated in the month of August among the Igbo. Thus, the women use the opportunity of the festival for their congress, while the larger congress with the men is still held in December, the month for the usual Christmas home-coming. Little wonder therefore that in every month of August, Igbo women from all nook and cranny of the country and beyond troop back to their communities of marriage for this all-important gathering. With the curtains drawn on the 2017 Imo State August meeting, not a few women are already looking forward to the 2018 edition and what pleasant surprises await them as the governor’s wife goes back to the drawing board for better and more exciting packaging of the annual ritual.