Nigeria: August meeting with the fiirst Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

patience_jonathanAnambra State was agog with the visit of the first Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during her two days official visit to the state from 21 – 22 July, 2010. It was completely women affair and even the governor, his deputy and male commissioners and legislators looked out of place. Why? Could they dance like the women? Of course they could not. You need to see the women in their best and different colours in different columns. Those in red occupied a particular position that made it look all red, then those in blue, then green and others, all beautifully dressed. It was a gathering of women of timbre and caliber, all dancing joyously to the live band that reeled out beautiful tunes as long as the occasion lasted. Numerous activities marked this august visit, including the commissioning of certain projects by the First Lady and her meeting with the traditional rulers of the state. All this might not have interested the women more than the flag-off of the 2010 August Meeting by the First Lady.

The August Meeting has assumed a position of prominence in Nigeria that the First Lady had to flag it off in Anambra State. Any reason could have been given why it had to be in Anambra with such a joyous and tumultuous celebration. The origin of the August Meeting in its present form is not very clear. However it can be categorically stated that this annual phenomenon that brings the womenfolk together cannot be wished away. In fact, it is one of the things which only the women can do better than the men. Naturally, women seem to be more gregarious than men and they respect their leaders more. Men are more independent and seem to calculate their value more by what they have and what they are. They more often than not see their leaders as competitors and this often results in opposition. The men leaders who are poor seem to shrink before the rich men. This belief of men in wealth comes out in the words of an illiterate politician who was quoted to have said that, “My opponent has money and I has money too”. This is not so with the women. Any woman who challenges the authority of the women leaders does so at her own perdition, no matter how highly placed she may be. The toughness of women is seen in their leadership.

Initially, the August Meeting used to be associated with the main stream churches. But the story has so much changed these days as almost all the denominations do not want to be left out and their women organizations stand out in various activities. Today, one can see different uniforms with different names and insignia of different denominations all over the place once it is the time for the August Meeting. Also, some denominations, whose members, hitherto, did not join in the village meetings now think otherwise. Such notion that those who attend such gatherings are ‘sinners’ or that they ‘belong to the world’ seems to be dying out fast. In the women’s village meetings of today, almost all the women, irrespective of denomination or religion now come together to discuss for the good and future of their various communities. Whether one believes it or not, their decisions influence those of their husbands.

In the Catholic Church, the emphasis during the August Meeting is always on the emulation of the praiseworthy qualities of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This could have accounted for why all other fashion except the normal CWO uniform is prohibited during the August Meeting. The uniform simply consists of the CWO-crested blue wrapper with a simple white blouse sewn in a particular design. It has to be noted that the blue colour is usually attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Recently, this uniformity was extended to the necklace which now appears as blue and white beads with a blue medal. Another reason for these restrictions is the proclivity of women to show off. In fact, it is in the nature of the women to seek to be noticed and this may lead to the intimidation of the poor ones with very costly materials by the rich ones. The type of foot wears worn this time cannot be controlled. If not, the women would have done that also. So, two things that still separate the rich women from the others are the costly foot wears they put on and the rich colour of their new wrappers. The poor women’s wrappers have seen more days and they are bleached by time and hardship. Their blouses also sit between white and brown.

Though the August Meeting is normally punctuated with paper presentations on diverse spiritual topics, it largely offers the women the opportunity to meet with each other and discuss on sundry issues which include the welfare of the women, their families, the society and the Church. The women who have not been home for long see in the August Meeting the opportunity to interact with the home-based women and eat the local foods like boiled corn, okpa, akara etc. These are readily made available by some experts among the women. Some family issues, especially matrimonial cases are treated in the August Meeting. That is when one hears of stories of some mothers-in-law maltreating their daughters-in-law or the daughters-in-law maltreating mothers-in-law. Also cases like husband-snatching and wife-battery are also treated. Then, simple family squabbles and exchange of words are also treated. Sometimes it is made in such a way that any case that comes out before the women must have some sort of fine attached to it both from the accused and accuser. This is to make sure that only issues of importance are presented before the women.

Occasionally, in both the village and church August meetings, one witnesses a horrible scenario of power tussle and deleterious politics. Some politically-minded women believe that the leadership of women in the church gives them the opportunity of actualizing their secular political ambition. They form cliques to undermine the powers of the incumbent leaders in order to capture power easily. They hoodwink the unsuspecting ones among them to sing their praises and lead the battle. It is said that there is no extent these ambitious women cannot go for this. Sometimes, it is said to assume the form of political campaigns where gift items are distributed to attract followership. Such women are also known to make some dubious movements from house to house at dusk to get supporters. This is mild. In serious cases, it is said that some go as far as visiting the native doctors to acquire power. A story was told of how the dreaded Bakassi Boys killed a woman who was going to the August Meeting with charms to make the women follow her sheepishly. This may not be true. But it shows the extent some of our women can go to rule their fellow women. That is the August Meeting on the other side.

It must be noted that the August Meeting has helped the women in supporting the church in an appreciable way. The women task themselves and contribute to put up some structures in the church. That is why their much emphasis on money is sometimes ignored by the church authorities because no other group can do it the way they do. Some politicians find this as a great opportunity to come closer to the women by donating ‘generously’ to them in anticipation of their support in the next election. The women in turn give such politicians some bogus titles and awards. And money flows. But this does not mean that all the monies gathered are used for the exact purposes for which they were contributed. There is an allegation that in spite of the large sums expended on some of their projects, they remain unfinished for many years. It is also said that large sums are spent on the maintenance of the women leaders. This, they say, accounts for some manipulations during the elections and why some refuse to leave office.  However, some of the women leaders are role models and they are simply wonderful.

The August Meeting has become a great event among the womenfolk. As things stand now, it will not be surprising if it is flagged off by the president himself next year. It deserves such recognition and this is a serious warning signal to the men. My fear is that if God decides that the second-coming be in August, only the women may be taken up and the men may be left behind. The men must wake up to their duties in the church and organize themselves better. It is sad that many men do not even know the response to their slogan, “Ndi Nna Paapa!” and some of their uniforms are mere copies of the women’s.  Even at that, I know that the women cannot belong to their group without being wives and their husbands support them directly or indirectly. But what we talk of is active participation and the women are unequalled there.

Rev. Fr. Clement Muozoba


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