August meeting, August festivals and Shagamu-Benin Road

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 24 Aug 2008

She had warned me never to mention her again on this page. Only someone who does not appreciate the power of women will dismiss that warning. But I’m compelled to mention my wife again because of some issues surrounding her preparation for this year’s August meeting. And her 24-hour journey from Lagos to the East.

She had asked for money to prepare for the meeting. Initially, I ignored her request. Apparently to soften my heart, she went to the market and bought a fine wedding ring for me. Though the ring was too tight, I forced it on my finger. But when I wanted to remove it, the thing refused to come out. I rubbed cream, soap and palm oil to ease the process of bringing it out. I even tried pliers, but the situation did not change. I later went to bed with a swollen finger.

The following morning, I thought of inviting a carpenter to rescue me with pincers. But I decided to try out my neighbour, Joe, first. He brought out a long knife that looks more like a saw. Just like a carpenter cutting a log of wood, he sawed and sawed. When we noticed that the knife had cut the ring to an extent, we used pliers to break it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

As you know, women will always have their way. I parted with some money eventually with which she prepared for her August meeting. I understand the essence of the meeting is to discuss how to move the society forward. Christian women in different parts of Igboland do this meeting once every year or two years as the case may be. The meeting can last for one week. The initial issue against it was that women used it as an avenue to show off. And in most cases, their husbands were the ones who bore the financial brunt. Today, many women groups now wear uniform such that there is no opportunity to show off. But there are still some ways by which they spend money.

By and large, August is a special month. It is the birth month of our President, Umaru Yar‘Adua, the initial mix-up of his actual birthday notwithstanding. It is a month many individuals and towns in Igboland hold one ceremony or the other. And like December, it is a month that records a mass return of Ndigbo to their ancestral homes.

For me, this August is also special because my younger sister, Ogochukwu, did her traditional marriage penultimate Saturday, 16 August. And so, I had genuine need to travel to the East. As I was not sure of the current state of the roads and the mood of armed robbers along the Ore-Benin Road, I asked my wife to travel earlier than me. The idea is that should anything bad happen, two of us would not be affected at the same time. She left on Thursday preceding the traditional wedding, while I left the following day. The vehicle she travelled in left Lagos about 8am. Ordinarily, by about 3pm, she should have been home. But when she called about 7pm and said they were still at Ore, I became very uncomfortable. At 9pm, I spoke with her again. “Daddy, we are now in Benin,” she fumed.

“The roads are terrible! There is gridlock everywhere. Everybody is at a standstill. I don’t really know when I will get home today. In fact, I leave this journey in the hands of God,” she lamented. She did not get home until the following morning. What this meant was that a journey of between six and seven hours took her 24 hours.

It was that Friday morning that I took off for my own travel. Some friends advised me to go by air. But I wanted to have a feel of this Shagamu-Benin Road. I boarded a luxury bus that took off about 7.30am from Lagos. The journey was smooth until we got to Ore. There was heavy confusion on the road. For hours, we were on one spot, as motorists had blocked the two sides of the pothole-ridden road. I looked for the officers and men of the Federal Road Safety Commission. I saw none. The whole situation was unbearable. I was even lucky to arrive my hometown at 11pm. My relations, who travelled in a private car the same day, slept over in Benin. They arrived at home the following morning.

In my moody countenance, I remembered that a woman was reportedly delivered of a baby last May while trapped on this road. I also recalled the harrowing experiences of many commuters, especially women, who were robbed and raped on this same road. I remembered my sister-in-law, Ebere, and others who died in auto accidents on this bad road.

My countenance changed to extreme bitterness when I remembered that in August last year, the Minister of Transport, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, visited this same road and reportedly shed tears. She expressed displeasure at the state of the road, apologised to Nigerians and ordered an immediate rehabilitation. Why this rehabilitation seems to be taking ages to effect is still a puzzle.

Now, they have come again with their promises. According to media reports last Friday, the Federal Government has unveiled a three-year plan to improve Nigerian roads. Alison-Madueke reportedly said the government intended to repair and construct major roads across the country, starting from this year to 2011. The FG intends to do this through Public-Private Partnership. The rail sector will also benefit from this new plan. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had similar good plans for the transport sector. His government even awarded billions of naira contract on road repairs. Today, most Nigerians know where that has left us.

Let’s continue to be optimistic. Let’s continue to have hope. And that is why I wish to end my piece today on a happy note. Some of the things that keep us happy in spite of our sorrowful conditions are parties, ceremonies, or festivals. I witnessed some of them in the village. Nanka, a neighbouring town, had its New Yam Festival that Saturday my sister wedded. It was fun, even as people temporarily forgot the erosion menace that is threatening to wipe out the town from history books.

Even my younger sister’s traditional wedding was fun too. I gulped a lot of palm wine. The only snag was the downpour that disturbed us that day. My father had assured me that it would not rain as he had engaged the services of a rain doctor. But when it started drizzling early in the morning, he, in anger, went to the man he had paid to stop the rain. “Give me four bottles of Gulder (beer) and leave the battle to me,” the rain doctor said. Quickly, we sent what he requested. But the man who went to drop the drinks had not come back when the main rain started. It continued unabated. But then, the rain doctor had made his money. Just like that!

Even on my way back to Lagos the following Monday, I saw more ingenious ways of making money. Inside the bus, mobile salesmen sold different items. Sundry mobile evangelists also preached and shared envelopes. People were expected to put their donations in the envelopes. A particular preacher, who said he was in the occult world before, made thousands of naira from cassettes and CDs he sold in the bus. He had said he didn’t come to ask for money. But by the time he finished his talk, people were rushing to buy his cassettes, which contain spiritual messages such as how to deal with the devil and conquer the spirit of fornication and masturbation.

This hilarious trip was almost truncated on Asaba-Agbor Road. We saw commuters who parked their vehicles. Soldiers and mobile policemen were emerging from the bush. It was later I learnt they were in hot pursuit of armed robbers. Yesterday, I was full of prayers that my wife, who left the village for Lagos after a weeklong August meeting, should not have any nasty experience again. As at 6pm before this piece went to bed, she told me their vehicle broke down at Shagamu. 

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