• Determined to continue galvanizing community projects
• Pandemic provides new opportunities to explore —woman leader
• We will hold it in line with NCDC protocol —Clergy’s wife
• Not holding meeting is like stopping the world from moving on —Ozo Anakwe
By Anayo Okoli, Peter Okutu, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinonso Alozie & Ikechukwu Odu – Enugu
August is here again, a very important month in the life of every Igbo man, particularly the womenfolk. It is the month that is officially recognized in Igbo land for the annual return of Igbo women from cities in Nigeria and from the Diaspora; a period they gather to lend helping hands in developing the rural communities by embarking in one project or the other, including provision of healthcare outreaches and enlightenments in relevant aspects of lives.
August Meeting is what every woman in every Igbo community looks forward to every year. It was originally geared towards rural community development but in recent times, it has also delved into conflict management, peacebuilding and human development and even politics.
However, the outbreak of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on this year’s programmes. In spite of that, the women are determined to go ahead, even on a low scale no matter how little impact they will make on the rural women.
Women to continue galvanizing community projects
According to a prominent woman leader, the COVID-19 period has even provided the women with a novel area to educate the rural women; that is, giving them talks on COVID-19 as information on it emerges.
But the women and some offices of the wives of the governors that usually coordinate the meeting agrees that there would be a lot of moderation and loss of the usual fanfare in the rural areas. Already, some people have fixed dates for the meetings.
In Abia State, for example, the meeting will hold very soon.
It will be a virtual meeting. There will be no usual community activities such as exhibition of products from the rural women and other fanfare.
According to the Press Secretary to the wife of Abia State, Chika Ojiegbe, the 2020 edition of the Abia Women August Delegates Conference, AWADEC, organized annually by the First lady of Abia State, Mrs Nkechi Ikpeazu will hold on Thursday 6th of August 2020.
According to him, the conference would hold virtually from 1.30 to 3.00 pm, through approved major radio stations in the state on the chosen theme of “Women and the challenge of COVID-19: living the new normal”.
From the schedule, the governor’s wife will deliver the opening address, while guest lecturers, including the World President of International Medical Women Association, Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, who will chair the occasion and Professor Roseline Ndimele, professor of Linguistics at the Abia State University Uturu, will deliver the keynote address, perhaps in native language to benefit the rural women.
The statement said that the issues selected to be discussed during the conference will include how women can promote community development in virtual world space of social distancing; the need for women to adjust their businesses and entrepreneurship to meet the new realities of Covid-19; how to utilize information and communication technology to access education for children and adult; and how women can play greater roles in keeping their families healthier and safe from Covid-19.
Other areas to look at include how to engage information and communication technology in sustaining relationships between family and friends with emphasis on agriculture as a way of providing food in a shrinking economy; and how to confront the hydra-headed monster of sexual and gender-based violence which has been on the increase because of the lockdown.
Women groups such as the NCWS, FIDA, wives of Transition committee Chairmen, Ndi Ugo Eze (monarchs’ wives), NAWOJ, leaders of church women and organizations and community based groups have been invited to participate in the conference.
Former President General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, Chief Ozoh Anaekwe, said there is no doubt that COVID-19 pandemic will affect this year’s annual women meeting in the southeast, popularly known as August Meeting.
In Anambra State, some Churches and women groups have also scheduled their meetings and have assured that they would hold them in strict compliance to NCDC COVID-19 prevention protocols.
In fact, some of them said, the 2020 meeting would turn out to be the best as it would afford them opportunity to know more on the novel coronavirus as they have lined up people in the medical field knowledgeable in the pandemic.
Some Igbo leaders who spoke were in support of allowing the annual conference to hold but observing the stipulated protocol while the President General of all the town unions in the South East, ASETU, Chief Emeka Diwe suggested that they hold the meeting using delegate system.
They all agreed that the meeting would afford them opportunities to have new knowledge on the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would be unreasonable to stop the meeting —Ozo Anakwe
According to a prominent community leader in the state, Chief Ozo Anaekwe, it would be very unreasonable for any government in the southeast to cancel the yearly meeting because of its importance and benefits to the rural people even with the presence of coronavirus.
“Any government in the southeast states that tries to prevent the women from having their all-important meeting does not know what leadership is all about. Any government that prevents the women from having that meeting is like telling the people to stand still and never to move forward.
“While we accept the fact of the presence of the disease in the country, it is not supposed to stop the progress of the communities in the southeast, whose women are noted for having the annual women meeting in Nigeria.
“This is because that is where the women discuss the progress and development of the communities, therefore, the meeting is supposed to be organized in such a way that there will be physical and social distancing.
“Holding the meeting even in this period of coronavirus pandemic will give the women the opportunity to educate themselves, since the educated ones will lecture the not too educated ones on the way to stay safe and other health issues like they have been doing in the past.
“It is also important for the meeting because women also help the government in developing the communities. Instead of government cancelling the meeting, they should assist them during their meeting because their meeting brings peace in the families, progress in the communities and they use it to enumerate where the government has not done well. For these reasons, the meeting should not be cancelled.
ALSO READ: The NDDC and the tragedy of a nation
“It will be counter-productive for the government to stop people, particularly women from having their meeting which improves the lives of the people and brings development to the communities because nobody knows when it will end. Since nobody knows when coronavirus will end; people should not be prevented from engaging in activities that impact their lives. They should be guided”, Anakwe said.
However, indications from the commercial city of Onitsha in Anambra State and its environs showed that the Onitsha branch of Otu Ifunanya Women Organization, Lokpaukkwu Umuchieze in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State has shelved their annual August meeting for this year as a result of the pandemic.
However, the women of St. Philips Anglican Church, Ogidi, have already scheduled their meeting for August 15. Leader of the group, Mrs Nkiruka Akudolu has announced and assured that they would observe all necessary COVID-19 protocol.
Mrs Akudolu who is also the wife of Rev. Cannon Linus Akudolu, a serving priest at St. Philips Church, Ogidi, further explained that in deference to COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting would be held on delegate basis and in strict compliance to NCDC COVID-19 preventive protocols.
However, it is not known if the office of the wife of Anambra State governor or the state government is involved in planning the meetings.
From Nsukka, Enugu State, the woman leader of St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish, Imufu, in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, Dame Augustina Omeh, confirmed that the annual women August Meeting would not hold due to lack of preparations occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dame Omeh, who is also the President of Catholic Women Organization, CWO, St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, explained that the women executives from home and abroad could not meet from June through August this year to harmonize their preparations for the event due to the lockdown and the attendant economic hardship introduced by the virus.
While bemoaning the development gap which the situation would create in her parish and the community at large, she disclosed that the Diocesan president of CWO in Nsukka Catholic Diocese has directed all Catholic women organizations to collect their development levies and send to their different parishes for development projects.
“This is the period we used to fix so many issues in our parishes. We counsel women to be good wives and we reach out to the local vulnerable, which we spice-up with medical outreach most times.
“We equally visit the elders in the villages with gifts, religious background notwithstanding, and settle community skirmishes, but all these would not happen this year. If you have been following the news, domestic violence is on the increase now and this would have been a good opportunity to settle some of them.
“It was during one of the August meetings that we raised money to buy tools and materials which were used to start our parish house. Even in the village, we also visited the aged ones to encourage them.
“However, the diocesan president has advised all Catholic women organizations to try and collect their levies for development projects in different parishes, because Nsukka Catholic Diocese knows the importance of these women organizations.
“It would be difficult to hold it this year because of the impossibility of adhering to the safety protocols issued by NCDC towards the control of the spread of this virus”, Mrs Omeh said.
But the wife of the Anglican Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Mrs Ngozi Agbo, said that the women August Meeting in the diocese would hold but will be low key due to the coronavirus pandemic ravaging different countries of the world.
We will hold it in line with NCDC protocol —Clergy’s wife
According to her, the diocese has directed the women associations returning for the August meetings to minimize the number of attendees and equally adhere to the safety protocols geared towards controlling the spread of the virus.
“We have asked them to wear face masks and observe social distancing during the August meetings. Because of the fear of the virus, we may not engage in our annual outreach programmes as we used to do.
“However, since the meeting holds in the villages, we would find a way to enlighten the locals most of whom do not believe in the existence of this virus so that they can take precautions.
“Some said it is a sickness for the rich only which is not true. We would try to correct all these misconceptions during the meeting.
“It used to be a week-long activity, running from Monday to Sunday, but most people crashed their own to be a two-day event; from Saturday to Sunday. It would really be low key.
“It used to be a time of communion and merriment for the women but that would not be because of the pandemic. This year, most churches will not even cook at all.
“The church committees are not expecting anything out of the world from this year’s August meeting because of the situation we find ourselves,” she said.
In Imo and Ebonyi States, there is no sign of any meeting holding, at least from the governments’ sides.
Vanguard South East Voice (SEV) notes that in Imo State, for now, there is no plan at the moment especially from the office of the Wife of the Imo State governor, Mrs Chioma Uzodinma that there is preparation going on for this year’s August meeting.
A close source from the first lady’s office in Owerri, who would not want her name mentioned said that “the first lady will not hold this year’s August meeting because of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the first lady is avoiding any situation that will lead to community spread of the virus.
“If not, usually as it has been their practice by now, the sensitization train from the office of governor’s wife would have since started with the people touring the councils to sensitize the rural people and remind women of the importance of the August meeting as well as radio jingles on the need to initiate community development projects.
“Not only that, but a time-table would also have been released informing different local governments on the visit of the governor’s wife, including other empowerment programmes that would have been rolled out by now. But as many of these signs have not been seen even in the month of August, you can conclude that this year’s August meeting will not hold”.
SEV also learned that many Imo communities have also suspended their annual August meeting on account of the pandemic more so when they have not got any signal from the government on the matter as used to be.
A medical practitioner, the ImoState Chairman of Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Kyrian Duruewuru, believed that any such meeting that would be counterproductive to the efforts put in place by states and federal governments in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted human activities and destroyed lives and any gathering at this time will not be encouraging no matter what the benefit could be. You can see now that meetings are done virtually.
“No matter what they want to do, you can agree with me that the negative impact is far more than the positive impact. No matter how the positive impact of the meeting will have; know that the virus has no barrier.
“There might be a place this virus has not gotten to and with this kind of meeting, it will be dangerous to our people”, Duruewuru said.