August is etched in Igbo calendar as a period, set aside for women of Igbo extraction to talk about things that concern them and their immediate communities. It is a season of homecoming for Igbo women with various activities staged including in the churches.
Just as this year’s August meeting was about to kick-off, prominent Igbo leaders were led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to the second re-union of and fund raising gala of Class of ’76 of Anglican Girls Grammar School, Awkunanaw, Enugu. Dignitaries at the event were former governor, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, who delivered the keynote speech.
Chairman at the occasion, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Archbishop of Enugu Ecclessitical Province, Most Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, former Secretary to the Government of Enugu State, Chief Onyemuche Nnamani and members of the National Assembly from the state. Ngige urged the old girls who are now established in their various endeavours to galvanise their members in positions and those with means to pull resources and turn around the school.
He noted that such move by the old boys of his alma mater, St John’s Secondary School, Alor, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State saw instant transformation of the school, to the point that last year, students from the school came third in the world in a science competition held in Turkey.
President of the Class of 76, Mrs Bridget Oduah Ebonwu, said they decided to come together after 43 years they left the school to give back to the school that nurtured them into adulthood: “We agreed to contribute our quota towards lifting up our alma mater. We are working towards achieving this purpose. We visited the school earlier in the day to see things for ourselves and we all agreed that there is a lot we can do to make a difference.”
Nnamani challenged women of Igbo extraction to be enterprising both in business and in politics, urging them to emulate prominent Igbo women of old who excelled in politics and in businesses. He added that Ndigbo are known for their industrious nature, and as such, it should be maintained by all and sundry as a mark of identity.
He also harped on the Igbo character content and spirit. According to him, even in the grim periods in history, Ndigbo have held on to the dominant values and character traits, which elevated those forebears of the people who thought (echiche), sojourned (njepu), worked (oru) and accomplished (ntozu). Their accomplishment, he said, showed in the glamorous Bight of Biafra culture seen by the Portuguese and the Spanish:
“Till date, the modern Igbo explore to the fullest those attributes which are identified as the trinity of Igbo character trait and process of personality. Every Igbo man employs his. The same Igbo sojourn, home and abroad and at the same time act, work and create wealth. We all know that sojourning is a great industry of the Igbo, which is achieved with the proper deployment of one of the greatest Igbo media of actualization – Ukwu n’ije.”
He said the Class of ’76 had journeyed and accomplished; hence, they should celebrate the accomplishment. That is Odenigbo – the universal applause for fame. Despite that the “heartbeat of Igbo nation is outside the Igboland,” he encouraged Igbo women to be aggressive in their pursuit of any endeavour, citing prominent Igbo women that had made Ndigbo proud in the past such as late Margaret Ekpo, who made a mark in politics to the extent that an a airport in Calabar, Cross River State, was named after her.
He named other Igbo women of substance that made their mark to include, Ahebi Ugbabe; Nwanyeruwa of Aba women riot of 1929 fame; Nkpolo Nwagwudu-Elele; Flora Nwapa; Oyibo Odinamadu among others. Nnamani recalled that in 1929 at Aba, Abia State, South-East Nigeria, how a woman known as Nwanyeuwa led mass protest of women in what is known as the Aba women riot that stopped the imposition of tax on women and the abrogation of warrant chiefs because of their autocratic tendencies.
Applauding Ugbabe’s exploits, Nnamani, recalled that she was a woman who ran away from her kindred when she was about to be dedicated to an idol at Enugu Ezike in Enugu State: “She fled to neighbouring Igalaland in present Kogi State at 14; and became influential to the extent that she was made a warrant chief in the colonial era which was the preserve of men.
“Ahebi Ugbabe rose from the status of a local girl to that of a village headman, warrant chief and a king. With the help of Atta Igala whose influence extended to Northern Igboland, Ahebi Ugbabe became king of Enugu-Ezike; therefore upsetting the female gender excluding politics in virtually all Igbo communities.
“As king, she out-performed and superseded all existing male political hierarchy and authority. However, when she attempted to assume full manhood by introducing her own masquerade, a deed performed only by men fully initiated into the masquerade cult; she met serious resistance from which she never recovered.
“For fear that her society might not accord her a befitting burial; Ahebi performed her own funeral in her lifetime. When she eventually died in 1948, she had a very quiet send-off as she had anticipated. Notwithstanding, she became a deity and goddess in her mother’s hometown, and is remembered in many Enugu-Ezike songs, folklore, parables and stories.
“In the case of Flora Nwapa, she was an author of many books and later university administrator, later held political positions.”
He charged the old girls to use their good positions in society to better the lot of their alma mater, which is suffering infrastructural decay at the moment.
Paying tribute to the old girls, he said: “In the post Biafra Nigeria civil war era that this 1976 set belongs to, it will be necessary to look back at these young girls; some had lost their parents in the last war, some not even sure of what they had embarked upon, played on the patched field and studied in the improvised classrooms. It would be good to appreciate their individual motivations, confusions, dazes and hopes before they arrived today as these glamorous, upwardly mobile ladies of feats and honours.
“The lanky ladies of those years, the hushed voices of that era, the bashful gazers of the unfolding world and even the timid meanders of the lawns, have today become great women delivering efficiently in their chosen departments of life.
“Please permit me to join and celebrate you as we would celebrate future generations of achievers. Of course, I am not in any way saying that achievement is limited to attaining social glamour and recognition. For me, it is more of keeping the head above waters and never considering sinking or sailing with the tide.”