Why I Gave My Child Islamic and Yoruba Names as an Igbo Man

Tuesday 25th July, 2017 was the day of my child’s christening. As expected, friends and well-wishers were around to felicitate with me and my family. It was a day of joy and gratitude to the Almighty for making the delivery of my son devoid of pre or post-natal disorders. One could visibly see the luminous faces of my guests relishing each moment with fun and laughter. It was indeed a red letter day. It is important to note that the occasion was a Christian ceremony organized by people of the Igbo extract. Nevertheless, those present were of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds across the spectrum of society. Name it, Christians, Muslims, Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Nupe, Igbira, among others.

Finally, the most anticipated moment came when the names of my child would be disclosed. The manner with which my guests tuned their ears in order to listen to the announcement of my child’s names was amazing. The imagery of that moment still remains evergreen. Then suddenly, I rose, walked to the center of the venue, cleared my throat, raised my head up with a somewhat mischievous smile on my face and said, “Good evening everyone, can I have your attention please?” Having found the needed composure, the words finally came out: “I’m glad to announce to you all that my son’s name is Arthur, Ejike’emuwa, Kolawole, and Nasrullah,” I revealed.

The attendant reception that greeted the disclosure was a mixture of joy on the one hand, and silent disapproval on the other. I didn’t need a soothsayer to reveal the passive contemplations of those whose facial expressions said it all. But for the sake of the occasion, those who seem to disapprove my action (some of my fellow Christian faithful) simply reserved their comments till such a time when it would be appropriate to talk me out of it.  To them, I have done the unthinkable, and perhaps, acted heretically to my faith. I quite understood their concerns but since the setting wasn’t convenient to engage in such discourse, I simply played along.

On the bright side however, I realized that my Muslim and non-Igbo guests seemed pleased with my action. To them, I had done what Napoleon could not do by acting out of the box. To be honest, they were astonished by my sense of nationalism. “How can an Igbo Christian go out of his way to give his child Islamic and Yoruba names?’ they queried delightfully. Though the choice of a Yoruba name was perceived as normal, the Islamic dimension however, was rather extreme as some had brooded. In spite of all these, I didn’t bother about a thing. After all, it’s said that you are what you believe in. As for me, I chose a path which I believe is critical to my sense of fulfillment and for the advancement of the nation. That path, is the path of nationalism, which I regard as the melting pot of a nation. The concept of nationalism can be likened to a delicious meal prepared with several spices to make it pleasant in the mouth. And that is the Nigeria of my dream and vision of our founding fathers.

There is common ground in the perception and significance of names in religious and cultural parlance, especially in Africa. Adopting Nigeria as a case study, it is evident that the preferred choice of name for a neonate is almost always determined by prevailing circumstances. Similarly, my child’s names were specially chosen based on prevailing circumstances. To begin with, I’m currently running a second degree in the University of Ilorin. My wife, on the other hand, is also a student of the same university. It was in this setting that my son was born. His delivery came a week before commencement of the second semester exams.

In addition to this, I come from a detribalized family background. My religious upbringing is somewhat liberal and accommodating. I have also traversed major parts of the country, hence I have firsthand experience of how people lead their lives in places other than mine. This became a very rich source of education for me as a Nigerian.

And therefore, after close consultations and deliberation, I ended up choosing the following names for my son: Arthur (English), means one who is as strong as a bear or a blue blood. Ejike’emuwa (Igbo), means you do not apply force to things of life, you allow things take a natural course. Kolawole (Yoruba), literarily means bring wealth home. While Nasrullah (Arabic), means God’s victory or help of God.

Now, if you juxtapose my son’s names with the circumstances surrounding his birth, you’ll realize his names are reflections of my belief system. Though his other names have been excluded for convenience of writing, the ones revealed above simply attest to my fervent belief in unity in diversity as nurtured by the doctrine of nationalism. It is about practicing what you preach and simply leading by example. As a Nigerian youth, this is my own way of taking a stand for the unity of our country, what about you?

But then, one might be tempted to probe the rationale behind this article especially at a time when the fabric of our country’s governance structure and system is being questioned. Well, I believe this write up is timely and significant to those who sincerely love Nigeria. As said earlier, I was socialized by my parents to lead a liberal life that allows for tolerance, accommodation, mutual respect and love for people who are not of my own stock. In fact, the hallmark of my religion (a new age Christian movement) is love. I believe it also applies to most religions in the world.

Consequently, I have come to see other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria as a complement of myself. This is the basis of the principle of complementarity – I am because you are, and because you are, I am. As for me, what matters most is your identity as a Nigerian and your elevated consciousness to respect the norms and values of other people. Being nationalistic and detribalized is not suggestive of identity loss. Rather, it is about acknowledging the differences that exist between the federating units in a federal system with a view to forging a common front towards achieving individual and collective goals.

This type of mindset is the magnet that pulls people from different ethnic nationalities towards me. It does not in any way suggest that I’m not proud of my own identity as an Igbo man. Let it be known that I am a proud son of Ndi-Igbo extraction. I love our cultural heritage – folklore, positive custom, values, attire, and above all, our native delicacies. If you’re in doubt of the assorted nature of Igbo delicacies, a visit to a nearby Igbo restaurant or better still, a tour around the South eastern region of Nigeria will convince you.

Perhaps, the major difference between Nigerians like me and ethnic chauvinists is that beyond our cultural heritage, we also admire and revere the culture of others. We strongly believe in the ancient maxim; variety is the spice of life. If I may ask, do we ever get tired of eating a variety of fruits on a regular basis? Of course not!

Why do nations, despite their vast wealth, engage in bilateral trade with other countries? The answer is simple: we live in a world of interdependence because a single tree cannot make a forest. The world has become globalized, and we must live with this reality.

The concept of Interdependence has social, economic, political and religious ramifications. For instance, the lives of Christians are shaped according to the tenets of the Bible. Most Christians in Africa do not even reckon with their native customs and traditions, with the latter being made to play second fiddle. Ironically, whenever the time for certain rites (such as marriage, interment etc.) are to be performed, recourse is almost always made to custom and tradition.

On the other hand, the worldview of Muslims is shaped by Shari’ah Law. Based on observation, most Nigerian Muslims have a tendency to uphold the Islamic culture over their own native custom and tradition. However, being a Nigerian Muslim does not neutralize one’s original cultural identity. This is one of the reasons certain cultural practices are usually displayed whenever an Emir makes a public appearance during Islamic festivals in Nigeria. This fact underscores the complementary relationship between culture and religion. In fact, some are of the view that it is difficult to distinguish between culture and religion in the Northern part of Nigeria. They believe both phenomena are mutually inclusive yet remain essentially distinctive. I consider this phenomenon the perfect model and bedrock of our sense of nationalism; though different in tribe yet similar in identity as Nigerians. Let’s simply call it Joseph’s coat of many colours.

Unfortunately, the political elite have bastardized this concept due largely to selfish gains. They often resort to ethnicity as a divide and rule tactic to entrench themselves in high places. Those in favour of this Machiavellian strategy believe there is nothing wrong with it. They call it politics. However, many innocent and unsuspecting lives have been lost as a result of this ungodly game of bloodshed and exploitation by politicians and religious bigots. How do they achieve this? A cursory look at the theories of ethnic identity may provide some answers. These include the schools of primordialism, instrumentalism and rational choice.

Proponents of the primordial school, view ethnic identity as the essence of being. It is clannish in nature. It is a feature that clearly identifies an individual as part of a clan defined by shared ancestry and common blood. To them, once a child is born, ethnic identity is conferred automatically. It can be simplified as the concept of “me, myself and I”. Or the ‘mine versus theirs’ consciousness. That’s when one can say he/she is Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Bini, Tiv, Junkun, and so on. By virtue of this, you don’t choose your ethnic identity, it is bestowed on you naturally.

The instrumentalist school however, sees ethnic identity as a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is manipulative in form and purpose, and dynamic in the face of man’s insatiable desires for socio-economic and political gains. It is simply a veritable tool in the hands of the political elite and traditional institutions designed to polarize the people in order to keep them under their firm grip. Evidence abound as regards this on a global scale with Nigeria as a case study. This is one of the causes of ethnic conflict in the nation.

The rational choice school is more or less existentialist in nature. Proponents of this school of thought believe that an individual is solely responsible for determining the type of ethnic identity he/she deems acceptable. In this sense, if you’re born Ijaw for example, you may choose to change your ethnic identity to American or Arabian if you like. It’s a somewhat renunciation of one’s original ethnic identity. This seldom occurs in Nigeria save for asylum seekers, religious bigots, and the likes.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the most potent source of ethnic identity is the primordial school. This is because we don’t choose where we are born, but we certainly can determine the kind of life we lead. After all, it is widely believed from a religious point of view that the human race emanated from Adam and Eve. Both Christians and Muslims are believed to have emanated from the lineage of Abraham. From the standpoint of science, humanity evolved from the apes as propounded by the school of Darwinism. The point is, why do we discriminate against one another, kill each other, and marginalize people if we all share a common ancestry?

After all, it is said in the Holy Qur’an that if Allah wanted a single religion to exist, He would have caused it to happen from the very beginning. For those who do not know, the Holy Prophet of Islam protected non-Muslims during the wars he and his followers fought. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, wined and dined with publicans, and spent the unaccounted years of his life in the Far East. Why then do we kill or marginalize in the name of religion and ethnicity? The instrumentalist school of ethnic identity provides the answer.

The call for secession by certain interest groups in Nigeria is not something new on the surface of the earth. Pioneers of secessionist movements often adopt the narrative of marginalization as one of the reasons for their struggle. Most of them cash in on the gullibility of their followers to advance their selfish ambitions. They simply climb on the shoulders of the people to the corridors of power. In fact, someone once said that when election time approaches, politicians come in to help us fix those problems they created in the first place.

There are copious examples of this political conspiracy in the annals of history especially on the African continent. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who is 74 years old, has been ruling since 1979 (37 years), he came to power by toppling his uncle in a military coup; Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, 74 years of age, rose to power in September 1979 upon the death of the previous president, and has been ruling for 37 years; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been in power for 36 years since April 1980, he is 92 years old; Paul Biya of Cameroon, 83 years old, has been in power since November 1982 (34 years); Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, 73 years old, has been ruling since 1979 (33 years) though was defeated in an election, he made a comeback in 1997; Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, 72 years of age, he rose to power from being a guerilla leader to president on January 1986 through ousting a military regime. Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/19/Africa/Africa-gambia-longest-serving-leaders/index.html

In fact, the former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh, ruled for more than 22 years. He lost his fifth term election bid yet refused to step down. It had to take the application of force by the ECOWAS Community to make him relinquish power. Due to political tension, his successor had to be sworn into office at a Gambian embassy, the first of its kind in Africa. Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashar has been the president of Sudan since 30th June, 1989. He is 73 years old, and under his watch, his country fought several civil wars, and are still fighting even after South Sudan seceded from it. What about the ousted President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak who ruled over his countrymen from 1981 to 2011? His dictatorship was dismantled by the popular Arab Spring that started in Tunisia and expanded in a similar fashion to Libya and Egypt respectively.

This is not the case in Nigeria. Despite the various era of military interregnum, no Nigerian leader has been able to rule the country for more than 12 years. Though former President Olusegun Obasanjo, having served a two-term of 8 years, attempted a third term bid but was thwarted by members of the National Assembly.

So, what is the guarantee that marginalization will cease through secession? Take for instance, the agenda of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, should the call for Biafra be realized today, will it bring an end to chauvinistic tendencies exhibited by constituents of the five south eastern states? Will marginalization be a thing of the past in the would-be Federal Republic of Biafra? Your guess is as good as mine.

A 2015 Study by McKinsey titled, ‘Diversity Matters,’ reveals that organizations with diverse workforce are more successful than those with homogenous workforce. One of the findings of the research is that “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.” Those on the bottom quartile however, “are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.” It is worthy to mention that the outcome of the McKinsey study was based on primary data collated from 366 public companies across various industries in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Latin America. For more details, consult the following link: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters . See also, ‘Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter’ by David Rock and Heidi Grant, published by Harvard Business Review, November 04, 216.

The above finding clearly shows the difference between America and other European countries. Between Channels Television and African Independent Television (AIT) in terms of diverse workforce. Sometimes, when searching for cogent answers, you needn’t go far, look within. Other examples abound. Thus, the success of companies with diverse racial and ethnic workforce can be likened to our dear country. I believe we are stronger together. I believe restructuring is long overdue. I believe good governance and exemplary leadership is the solution to tensions and ethnic strife in Nigeria, provided that Nigerians are sincere and committed to nation building. I align myself with the school of thought that Biafra is a state of being or consciousness. Secession is not the answer.

Meanwhile, parents and guardians have a role to play in the process of nation building. They should teach their children how to tolerate and accommodate people from different ethnic extract. We must remove the name tag and embrace ourselves as teammates working to achieve a common goal.

Finally, I must confess that my background is largely responsible for my stance on this subject matter. I was born in the South West, schooled in the South West, did my compulsory National Youth Service in Jigawa state (North West), currently schooling in the North Central region, and an aborigine of South East Nigeria. I have made life-long fraternities with people from these places, and there is nothing compared to being united in diversity. The moment most Nigerians begin to think nationalistic, it will have a multiplier effect in national life and governance structure. This is because united we stand, divided we fall, and that is why I gave my child Islamic and Yoruba names despite being an Igbo man.

Why I Gave My Child Islamic and Yoruba Names as an Igbo Man


Osuji Chima Francis