A 39-year-old civil servant from Esit-Eket, Akwa Ibom State, Innocent Ntia, who got married on December 9, 2023, 10 years after he sustained a spine injury in an accident in 2013, tells GODFREY GEORGE how he met his wife and his hopes of walking again
What is your educational qualification?
I have a bachelor of science degree in Policy and Administration from the University of Calabar, Cross River. I graduated in 2007.
What do you do at the moment?
I am a civil servant with the Akwa Ibom State government.
How did you sustain the injury that left you with a disability?
I wasn’t born this way. I became physically paralysed on April 3, 2013. At that time, I had already graduated and was working with a firm, Shelter Afrique, in Uyo. I worked in the maintenance sector where we worked with ExxonMobil.
That year, we had a church programme in Ekpoma, Edo State, and I was required to travel from Uyo to the venue since I was a chorister and would be representing my Catholic chapel alongside other members of the choir.
We used two 18-seater buses which belonged to the church. Even the driver of the bus was a chorister as well. After the programme, on our way back, we had a fatal accident along Benin-Sapele Expressway. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury on one of the buses that had the accident.
How bad was the situation?
It was really bad. It was a fatal accident; many persons died and several others sustained life-threatening injuries. However, I am the only one who is presently in a wheelchair as a result of the injuries I sustained that day.
What was the nature of your injury?
It was a spine injury. It still feels like a dream that I cannot walk again. I remember that that very day at the scene of the accident, I was still conscious of my environment. The car had somersaulted several times as a result of speeding but somehow I had managed to still be with my senses. I saw people bleeding and the rescuers carrying several people to the hospital but they left me because my injury did not look like it was a physical one. I had no physical injuries like others so the first respondents left me and were attending to others. I also felt I was fine until I went back to the rescue van and started shouting. I couldn’t feel my waist. In a matter of minutes, I just found out that I could no longer sit. There was a terrible sensation around my waist area. It was a painful experience.
When we got to the first hospital, a general hospital, around Benin-Lagos Expressway, the pain worsened. I was just screaming and they had to take me in for an emergency check. It was at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin City, Edo State, that I was told I had sustained a spine injury. From that moment until around 2016, I could not sit. It took three whole years for me to sit again.
How was life for you for those three years?
Those were the worst years of my life. I didn’t step out for three years. I didn’t see any sunlight except the one coming in from my window for three whole years. I was simply bedridden and depended on people to do everything for me. It was so frustrating for someone who was already working.
I didn’t even know I was going to live again. This was because I lost my job three months after the accident. I was just at home when they brought a letter that I had been fired. I became suicidal. I kept hearing a voice telling me to end it all. It was so difficult for me. I became bitter. All I was able to gather as a young man then went into treatment. I was in between life and death. It surprises me how far I have come.
At what point did you start using the wheelchair?
That would be after those first terrible three years. I went for an MRI scan that showed that some healing had taken place and that I could now sit. I also realised that my waist had straightened; I was just like a stick. People began to massage my waist till it became better.
How did you meet your wife whom you married on December 9?
I met my wife in 2021. We met on Facebook. We belonged to a group. Someone made a post, asking when the last members of the group kissed another person. I commented and wrote that it had been a long time. She saw my comment and responded, saying that I had not been truthful. I told her clearly that it was the truth. She was amazed and began to ask so many questions. She said, “As handsome as you are, do you want to tell me you don’t have anyone?” I told her that I was single and she was surprised. After two weeks, we scheduled to meet and that was how our relationship began.
When did you tell her you had a disability?
The very day we started chatting, I told her that I had a disability and even sent her photos. One thing about me is that I don’t know how to pretend. I told her very clearly and she simply smiled and told me she was already aware. She simply said, “This is nothing.” She also insisted that she would love to see me. She was in the Eket LGA of the state while I was in Uyo but she did not mind.
We fixed a day and she came over to meet me. She also saw me in a wheelchair. Most ladies, when they see me in a wheelchair, they would think I am disguising myself as a person with a disability just to get something or someone. Even when my wife, Emem, saw me in my state, she did not flinch. She hugged me and sat down like she saw nothing. To date, it has never deterred her. She is always proud of me. She has been lovely and accommodating towards me. Each time I raised the issue of my disability when we were courting, she would tell me to relax and not mention it at all, stressing that it was not a problem at all.
When did you propose?
I proposed to her on her birthday, on May 1, this year. It was a private proposal, just both of us. So, when I asked her if she would marry me, she did not hesitate to say yes. She was so happy that she embraced me and took the engagement ring.
What was the reaction of your family when you took her to them?
(Laughs) When I took her to my family after the proposal to show them that I had found a wife, my mother asked her very well if she was sure she wanted to marry me. She even told her (Emem) to go back and return after one month when she would have been really sure. I remember my mother kept asking her if she was really sure she wanted to marry a man in a wheelchair and what her friends thought of the idea. My wife did not even flinch. She was affirmative throughout.
After the one-month ultimatum, she came back and told my mother that she was really serious and that she wanted us to get married. Everyone in my family was very happy. They celebrated the union.
Were her parents pleased when she brought you home to meet them?
Her family is kind one. When I met them (her relatives), they were very kind. It was clear she came from a very good home. No one asked me any weird questions. They welcomed me with open arms. I had even prepared myself that they wouldn’t accept me but I was shocked.
Her parents only asked her if she was sure of her choice and she was affirmative. They simply gave their blessings and asked us to continue with the marriage plans.
It’s been one week of living with your wife as a married man. How are you enjoying your honeymoon?
Yes, it is exactly one week. Saturday, December 9, made it one week. It has been a dream come through. That wedding day made me very happy. I invited a lot of people but I didn’t know people would show up. I just wanted my wife to be happy and God did it. To our greatest surprise, as big as our cathedral is, the church was filled to the brim. I was really glad God honoured us with the presence of dignitaries. People really celebrated us. Many people supported us financially and with moral support.
For some days, I haven’t been online since I have been enjoying my honeymoon. When I came online and saw the love from the online community, I was very happy. My life has become beautiful since Emem came. I can’t be happier. I just want to love her with all of my being and make sure I give her all she ever wanted in this life.
Do you still have hope that you are going to walk again?
Absolutely! I know that one day I will walk again. Even my wife has told me that she has seen me in numerous dreams and I was not in a wheelchair. I know that God will perfect what he has started and I will walk again. I have not given up. I still sing in the choir, holding God strongly. I will not relent till God does it for me.
My husband’s disability made me love him more – A’Ibom graduate
A 34-year-old graduate of Business Administration from Heritage Polytechnic, Eket, Akwa Ibom, Emem Ntia, who recently got married Innocent Ntia, a civil servant in a wheelchair, tells GODFREY GEORGE why she made that decision and how she is dealing with comments from social media users since her post went viral
You recently got married to Innocent. How would you describe your experience so far?
It feels very good. I am very happy. It is a dream come true for me to be with the man I love and share my life with him.
Did you ever believe you would find love on social media?
Honestly, this is a good question. When I read people’s comments about where they met their spouses, I always tell myself that I want to experience love. The way I met my husband just shows that one can find love anywhere. That is why I always preach that everyone must try to always be kind wherever they find themselves, even online. I have always believed in social media connection.
Before you met him, were there other relationships?
Of course, there were. When I met him, I was around 33 years old already. I was in a relationship a few months before I met him. The relationship did not work out and I was not really looking to jump into another but God had other plans for me. I have always believed in God for true love. God is the one who is responsible for this.
What was your honest first reaction the first day you saw him in a wheelchair?
To be honest, I felt nothing. Before leaving Eket to go see him in Uyo, I knew that he was in a wheelchair. I went through his Facebook page and he also sent pictures so I already knew what to expect, and it was not my priority. When I saw his comment on the group (page), I quickly went to his profile picture and I felt a connection.
The first day we met, he was a bit shy. But, after a while, he loosened up. I know that a man’s legs do not define him. The only thing that defines a man is his brain. I don’t even think of him as someone with a disability. The disability is an even better reason to love him more. He was just a victim of circumstance. It could have been anybody.
Did you show his pictures to your friends before you left Eket?
I told my friends about the relationship. They saw his pictures and they were very supportive. I choose my friends; I don’t let them choose me. All my friends are very mature, so they had no problem with us being together. None of them discouraged me at all.
Did you know that the relationship was going to lead to marriage?
Honestly, yes. That very time, immediately after I saw his picture online, there was a tingling in my spirit and I told myself, “This is my husband”. When we were dating, one day, I just told him, “I will be your wife.” He just laughed it away but he didn’t know I was serious. So, I was expecting him to propose. I was not looking at the disability one bit.
Some people said you married him for money. What is your reaction to that?
(Laughs) If you see some comments on social media, you will be shocked. The ones that said I went because of money are really funny. My husband is a civil servant. Some of them said another person would be ‘servicing’ me. Let them wait till they see me with my baby. I am a very strong woman. There is nothing one will do that people won’t talk about. I have very tough skin. Some people are sent to spoil my mind but there is nothing anybody can do or say that will make me leave him.
But, did you, at any point, have any concerns about intimacy?
(Laughs) Not really, to be honest. I was not bothered. I am still not bothered. My husband is very fine and active. That is all I will say at this point.