Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Eulogy for Jonathan from Bunmi

Dear Friends:

The terrible news of Engineer Jonathan La'ah Tinat's untimely death came as a complete shock to us. We are shocked to the marrow of our bones. It has taken me 2 days to digest this, and now I accept that this isn't just a nightmare I'll wake up from. This is reality.

Jonathan was a wonderful man. Hard-working, honest, he had a vision and a dream and a mission to uplift Deaf Nigerians and in doing so, uplift his own country through the contributions Deaf people, given opportunities that they deserve by virtue of their abilities, can make. This is the epitome of patriotism, and Jonathan was prime among the unsung patriots. He may be unsung, but his legacy and his memory will be honored not only in Nigeria but also in places as far afield as Ghana, India, the UK and the USA.

I first met Jonathan in 1985 on arrival day during the Special Olympics which were held at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. Every state of the Federation of Nigeria was represented, so all the pieces of the Nigerian puzzle were there to participate in a variety of sports, from track to soccer to field to table tennis; and we were housed in the Games Village, Surulere. I was player-coach for the old Ondo state's soccer team, Jonathan was 15, going on 16, a very good football player for Plateau state. He was clearly very intelligent, had his own mind, and we talked for 5 minutes about "his" ball, which he didn't want to share!

Thereafter, Jonathan drifted in and out of my orbit. He studied Engineering at The Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti; we met briefly during that time, me a lawyer, himself an aspiring Mining Engineer; but I never heard of him again until 2000.

In his brief lifetime, this wonderful yong man accomplished many things. Of more importance to me however is his raft of accomplishments as twice in a row democratically elected volunteer President of a struggling, undermanned but brave voluntary organization dedicated to the social, legal and political betterment of Deaf Nigerians, the Nigeria National Association of the Deaf (NNAD). His Presidency saw unprecedented strides that must bring smiles to the faces of progressive-minded people everywhere. His achievements include:

1. International Deaf Leadership Training institute in December 2005, organized and delivered by Gallaudet University;
2. Seminar delivered by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Matters (NAPTIP) in December 2005;
3. Leadership Training Program delivered to 6 Deaf Nigerian leaders from each of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory by the Citizenship and Leadership Training Center in the Nigerian Presidency at Shere Hills, Jos in 2005;
4. Leading of a NNAD delegation to the International Rotary Youth Leadership Awards-The Deaf Way conference in India in 2006. (see http://www.sddeaf.blogspot.com/);
5. Establishment of Presidential-level relations with the Ghana National Association of the deaf (GNAD);
6. Ongoing work towards developing a coalition of Anglophone West African NADs;
7. Ongoing plans to jointly hold a Leadership Training institute for Deaf Anglophone west Africans with GNAD;
8. Amendment of the NNAD constitution to extend elected officers' terms from 2 to 4 years;
9. Comprehensive process for identifying and engaging NNAD's various stakeholders;
10. Ongoing, steady and strategic work towards creating the NNAD's first ever strategic plan document;
11. Through his recognized dynamism, increased membership of, and interest in, the NNAD;
12. securing of a permanent office for the NNAD's national headquarters in Nigeria's Federal Capital, Abuja;
13. tours of various Deaf organizations in India with a view to replicating their models in Nigeria;
14. and many more.

In addition, Jonathan was in the running for the position of West Africa regional representative on the Board of the WFD during the forthcoming elections to be held in July 2007. See http://www.laahtinat.com/.

Unprecedented strides, remarkable accomplishments. Jonathan was productive. Jonathan was driven. Jonathan accomplished and planned to accomplish all these things as the volunteer national president of a voluntary, membership-driven organization. In his day job, he was a school teacher at the Plateau School for the Deaf, his alma mater. On his teacher's income, he supported his beloved wife Andwa, their 2 small children, his aged mother, who lived with him, and father, and 2 young cousins, whose schooling he funded until his untimely death. And as the oldest son, with 4 younger brothers and 3 younger sisters, he had responsibility for their upbringing. He now leaves behind, a young widow, 2 orphans, bereaved siblings, a bereaved mother and father whose hope it was for Jonathan to bury them, and 2 cousins whose education is in jeopardy.

So much work still to do, so many plans still to finalize, so much still to implement. No more time. Jonathan has heeded the timeless saying of the griots of all the ages to leave the field when the ovation is loudest, and now that the ovation is at its peak, he is no longer with us. We will all miss him. Only the good die young.

And so the task Jonathan La'ah Tinat leaves you, the inheritors of his mantle, is enormous. I can describe it in simple words: you have to carry on his work at the same level of vision, integrity, inclusiveness, ambition, drive and commitment. Who among you will step forward to continue Jonathan's sterling work?

Jonathan, you've fought the good fight, lived a good life. Now rest in the Risen Christ's perfect peace.

Bunmi
Director of the Office of International Programs and Services
Gallaudet University

Bunmi Aina, Advisory Committee Member, received a Honors degree in Law from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria in 1990, and completed his legal education at the Nigerian Law School the following year. After 3 years legal work including time as a senior editor with the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, he entered the Social Work program at Gallaudet University in the Fall of 1994, and graduated with an MSW in 1996. He was an ESL instructor at ELI between 1995 and 1999 when he left for SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf (SWCID) of Howard College in Big Spring Texas where he was the founding Director of the Diagnostic Center. In June 2003, Bunmi moved from this position to Gallaudet University as Director of the Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS)


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