-by Nduka Otiono
Chapter I: Birth, Circumstances, and Names
I was born in the morning hours of Sunday, February 6, 1966, at the then Queen Elizabeth Specialist Hospital, Umuahia, to Mr. Dennis and Mrs. Eileen Chukwuma. I am the fifth in a family of seven, comprising three girls and four boys. I was first given an Igbo name at birth: Chukwuemeka. As was customary in the Anglican Church, The English name came about three months after, during baptism.
The name, Chukwuemeka, means “God has done well”. You need to understand my family history to appreciate the import of the name.
My father was married for about twenty years to his first wife, Ihuchi, without a child. And not for want of trying. The [fact] is that they had seven miscarriages and on the last one was advised not to try again. In the face of the prospects of a childless marriage, which was a taboo in Igbo tradition at the time, the first wife pestered him to take a second wife, arguing that she would not be alive and see him die without children of his own. As the story goes, he reluctantly agreed to marry, and married a 17-year-old girl by the name, Eileen Onyenze, my mother!
As if by providence, my mother came in and had seven children, the exact number of miscarriages that my father’s first wife suffered. Given that he waited for two decades before the children started coming, my father named his first child Isaac, drawing from the biblical story about Abraham’s first child. He named the second child, Samuel, again drawing from the bible. The third child he named Chinyere, meaning God’s gift. By the time I came as the fifth child, it was as if his gratitude to God knew no bounds and hence the name, Chukwuemeka. My birth was the capping of prayers by my parents.
My English name, Innocent, which came during my baptism on April 3rd, 1966, also has a rich story behind it. 1966 was a turbulent year in the political history of Nigeria. To many people, it marked the beginning of trouble in the country as two bloody military coups took place that year. The first was the January 15th coup, carried out by a group of young and idealist soldiers, who within a blink of an eye wiped out leading political figures mainly from northern and western regions of the country.
A countercoup that was even more bloody in its planning and execution, took place on July 15th and targeted officers and civilians from the Eastern part of the country given that the first coup was alleged to have been an “Igbo coup.” Being born and baptised in-between these bloody episodes that precipitated the Nigerian civil war in 1967 compelled my mother to give me the name “Innocent” since I didn’t ask to be born at the time. By that stroke, I was absolved from blame for all the challenges of my mother carrying a pregnancy and having a child at such a turbulent period.