My name, my identity, my country!
It took me time to accept my name – Hope – as a male name, a name for me. Reason was that the name made me a butt of jokes in school. ‘Hope’ they said was a feminine name. It didn’t help matters when one or two girls showed up in the class or in the school bearing the same name. We were used to having traditional names in unisex. ‘Onome’, or ‘Oghenemine’ were and are names for male and female we were familiar with. Some said I would permanently be hoping, mark you, hoping, not hopeful. There is a difference. A man who kept on hoping never achieved his goal.
At a point in deep confusion I named myself ‘Hopes’, though my dad never knew about my turmoil and sporadic youthful peregrinations into the politics and challenges of naming and being named. I reasoned that my hopes were numerous. Why a single ‘Hope? In the university some hopeless friends from the UI and Unife axis veered into ‘hopeless hope’; as if something I said or did at a time showed there was no hope for Hope! Proved them wrong anyway! While in the U.S. on a programme, I fell into friendship with a Tom who assured me we were in same company of name-joke-butts. ‘Hope and Tom! And after the 2012 kidnap, somebody here in the University of Lagos developed a refrain: any hope for the kidnappers?
It was in that frame of mind that I encountered literature on naming as a cultural dynamic in the Urhobo, therefore African worldview. I came to associate the name ‘Pam’ with Plateau State after my four-year stay in Jos; just as my stint in Port Harcourt etched ‘Tonye’ as a Rivers State name in my conscious mind. By then I was already familiar through the ubiquitous mass media and national political discourse, with Bayo for the South West, Emeka for the South East and Adamu for the North. I interrogated my middle name ‘Oghenerukevbe’, and wanted to know why I was so named. It was exciting to know as a little boy that any other person who bore ‘Oghenerukevbe’ was kith and kin in a broader sense. So each time I saw that name in The Nigeria Observer in those impressionable days, I underlined the name. As for Hope, I was assured by my parents, my mother in particular that I was so named because after the birth of my elder sister there was a five-year unplanned hiatus, an interregnum of sorts before I came busting into the world. For my parents therefore there was hope that more children would come. I was Child Three; six others came into the world later. It was in the days when our very fertile and hardworking mothers brought nine or ten babies into the world! Not the soft-laden spoilt women these days who hang their boots after laying only one egg!
So, back to ‘Hope’ as a name, as a given, imposed brand. It became my identity, it became me. While for some who read my essays thought I was female, others were ambivalent. Indeed, I once encountered a celebration of female prowess-in-writing in a female discussion group on social media, when they celebrated one of essays! Sadly one of them perforated their balloon with the bad news that I was of the opposite gender!
In time, Hope became a metaphor for a pebble dropped into a stream that created subtle waves. As my religious consciousness grew, I got exhorted on the fundamentality of hope in Christian theology. I was slightly confused though when I read the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 verse 24 “For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all”. So, as a seen Hope, was I not hope? It took me a long time to understand the nuances. As my social conscience grew hope was transferred to the socio-political realm of my environment. The military rulers gave us hope, the hope that their military discipline would change the country. Soldiers were sent to secondary schools to discipline students who did not want to conform. Soon some soldiers had teachers flogged too, made them do frog jump as a form of restoration. And I kept hoping. You know, hope is a futuristic thing; it gives you cause to believe, to live. So I kept hoping, and hoping. Not hoping against hope; that came later.
As the hope became a distant blur I started searching for the names of my kith and kin on the pages of national newspapers. Each time ministers were appointed I hopefully searched for an Onome or Akpore or Emuejevoke. I found none. In the days of military discipline, we were told that it did not matter if your ethnic inscription was not on the national management team. So it did not matter whether or not that there was no Urhobo name on the Supreme Military Council list. Even when the Urhobo names appeared, like Ejoor, Dumuje and Obada, these men of honour made it clear to us that the military was for all. The soldiers were on a military assignment; no unnecessary fuss about ethnic origins. We hopefully believed. But gradually hope started fading; we started hoping against hope. We found that the people whose names regularly appeared on the national register had their roads constructed or repaired. They had more names mentioned on Federal Boards. They even made ambassadorial lists. The Ijaw names that appeared were token in spite of their population; the Calabar, the Efik the Benin names too. The Itsekiri names were a token if ever the Almighty Federal Government remembered them.
The name of citizens then began to have another meaning, to remind us that our names were the password to the national patrimony which came largely from our soil. So these days, I am more reminded of difference, of the Other; that person whose name evokes the regional differences in my country, each time a federal cabinet is appointed or when Board members pay a working visit to a project site. I am reminded that the name of the Other automatically confers on them more access to national patrimony.
So hope deferred has become a constant in the national equation. Hoping against hope has become a familiar face, just as ‘hopeless hope’ has taken on a new poignant meaning. This is why Hope will continue to bounce hope off the national table tennis board, playing ping pong with ideas with patriotic zeal calling attention to the attrition in my home land to the tears to the image of a baby sucking milk off the breast of its dead mother who lies prostrate in the open oil fields of the Niger Delta. Perhaps, the meaning of hope would make meaning to some dwellers of the House of Hope in the deceptively hopeless beauty of the hopeful masquerades of Abuja!