Private Innocent was at the battle front when his wife gave birth to their son and he had great plans for his naming and dedication ceremonies whenever he could get a pass to visit his family back in Lagos.
His wife, Comfort, had sent him photographs of the new born baby and Private Innocent had named the baby, Chukwuebuka, meaning ‘God is mighty,’ and looked forward to when he would see his new bundle of joy and cradle him in his arms.
But that joy and anticipation was truncated if not out rightly denied when he and other soldiers were rounded up and charged for mutiny because they refused to go into battle because their superiors did not provide the adequate weapons for them to fight the insurgents.
The soldiers felt their commanders sent them to their deaths with inferior weapons against the rebels who had superior firepower and had continued to kill Nigerian soldiers and civilians with reckless abandon.
Now, five years after and with no hope of a respite, Private Innocent managed to send this passionate and heart wrenching letter to his son on the occasion of his fifth birthday.
“My dear son, Chukwuebuka,
I know you will get to read this letter when you come of age. I also know that one day, you will get answers to questions about your father who paid the supreme price for the unity of Nigeria.
You may not get to see me or know me but what I want you to know is that I love you with every beat of my heart. I dream about you every night and I see your face every minute of the day.
I have not had the joy of seeing you, watching you grow, carrying you in my arms, seeing you take your baby steps, carrying you on my neck for a walk on the beach, or giving you the love a father should give to his son.
I have not had the opportunity of seeing you grow your first set of teeth, witnessing you utter your first words or hear you call me daddy.
I have not had the pleasure of playing horse and rider with you or teaching you the lessons of life or telling you the history of your family but you should know that I did not deliberately deny you these little pleasures.
The country I pledged to serve with all my might denied me this opportunity but I know you will grow into a strong man and know that I did what I did for the unity of this great nation that has failed me.
My son, you will remain my pride, my joy and my happiness and I know you will be proud of me and what I did when you become a man.
I did what I did because we were being sent to our deaths by our superior officers who hid sophisticated weapons from us but gave us outdated arms to battle a sect that had the latest in weaponry.
We had to tell then that enough was enough and we had to let them know we were not sacrificial lambs.
But what did we get in the end? Betrayal, treachery, deceit and disloyalty from the men who were meant to protect us. Men who were meant to stand up for our rights turned against us and set us up to be killed so that we would not leak their secrets.
We were treated like dregs of the earth and we now hear that the same people we fought to dislodge from Nigerian territories are being rehabilitated, given a good life and released back into the society while we sit in our cells waiting for our fates.
I am currently on death row and I do not know if any reprieve will come my way and those of my colleagues but as a soldier, I am not in any way bitter. I am a soldier and I have always been a soldier and our mantra is to be prepared at all times.
You will grow up to be a man and even if you want to become a soldier in future, I give you the permission to be whatever you want to be.
Chukwuebuka, your name means ‘God is Mighty’ and I hold strongly to that belief that He alone is mighty. Not even the power of the gun or the hangman’s noose can take that away.
You are my pride, the first seed from my loins, the one who will carry on our family name and I know you will do this with your shoulders raised high.
We are a proud people and I know you will not let us down. Promise me that you will protect your mother, that you will love her and give her security.
If she decides to get married and have other children, I want you to take them as your siblings, love and care for them as the older brother and give them everything you have.
Chukwuebuka, my son, I cannot write a very long letter because of the conditions I am facing here. I have a lot in my heart to tell you but for now, this should be enough.
Chukwuebuka, please, as you read this letter, I forbid you to cry because you are a man and men are not supposed to cry. Yes, you are a man and I see you as one. Be strong for me and your mother and if God says I will come out of this place, even if it takes 20 years, I will still give you back your childhood.
Be strong boy and be a good son who will make your daddy and mummy proud.
Your beloved daddy,
Private Innocent Okafor.”