It is impossible for light (enlightenment) not to get noticed, especially in the dark…

What immediately strikes you about this enigma is an imposing physique and presence. But then, you soon get to realize that beneath the impressiveness of sheer size lies an even bigger mind – well forged in the flames of enlightenment and learning.

Further down, you find a robust intellect capable of huge amounts of retention and recall. He still has fixed there the very last words he heard before he became totally deaf at the tender age of seven… It was an emotion laden recollection:

 “I was taken to Professor Oshuntokun — one of the most famous Christ’s School alumnus at University College Hospital, Ibadan. This was where I heard my last words to this day. We were on the 3rd floor balcony waiting to be called. Three floors down, a security man was scolding a driver in Yoruba: “Mo ti so fún é tipé tipe pe ko ma parki sibi mo, sugbon o gbo.” (I have told you many times you can’t park here! And you’re still parking here). The words came through loud and clear.

What an eerie power of recall!

But it does not take long for anyone meeting this ”walking encyclopedia” of a human to be bowled over by his spontaneous display of brilliance, articulateness and versatility across vast fields of knowledge. And the big lawyer is unapologetic about it because he knows this deep truth:

knowing others is wisdom and knowing oneself is enlightenment”.

Clearly, in Barrister Bunmi Gbenga Aina, our Disability Champion number 07 in the series, we see a man whose essence sends a crushing blow to preconceived notions of small minded stereotypes on Deafness and Deaf persons. We see, too, the triumph of mind over matter – the conquering of Disability with an enlightened mindset.

Indeed, “those who are enlightened never stop forging themselves”.

Having personally sensed it from afar, I wasn’t surprised when an older colleague of this intellectual giant (at Christ’s school) eulogized his all-out personality in words of gold:

Bunmi was very friendly, smart and intelligent. There were no dull moments around him and fellow students were fond of him. He participated in activities without betraying any disability challenge. Not until you moved close to him did you notice his hearing issues”.

So here’s the gist in one sentence: “Bunmi simply shatters stereotypic notions of Persons With Disability”. In a society darkened by the discrimination and prejudice of small minded stereotypes toward Persons with Disability, he’s a light that is impossible to go unnoticed.

On a light note, I think Christ must have had this big, deaf lawyer in mind when He dropped the sage wisdom: “A city set on a hill cannot be hid”.


Born in Ile-Ife, Osun State of Nigeria, in the then old Western region into a family of Seventh Day Adventists, Bunmi, the fourth of five children recalls having a rich and eventful childhood in a loving home and among great friends. He was very fortunate to have educationally inclined parents which turned out a strong foundational factor in his colorful journey in the halls of learning.

At the local Seventh Day Adventists Primary school where he began his education as a hearing kid, Bunmi’s dad was the headmaster (later to win a post graduate scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the United States) and his mum a teacher.

Below, he gives some insight into what family meant to him in the course of trumping Disability:

I was fortunate to be born into a very loving family. My parents were never hesitant about supporting my aspirations. My older brothers were powerful allies and guides, and our youngest sister, Ronke was my muse. Beyond that, there was this fabulous extended family on both sides that always made me feel ten feet tall. I was part and parcel of a large family with commensurate rights and a voice. I enjoyed being at home and being with my family – and this is important because, due to integration and communication issues, the organic family of affinity (deaf friends) sometimes bond stronger and better than the blood family in deaf culture”.

This, alongside rich friendships and experiences afforded by that idyllic environment served the young boy a great head start for the broad, cosmopolitan mind he would eventually possess as an adult.

Then deafness struck!

Nugget 1: Every child’s first chance at a meaningful life is coloured by family influence. Endeavor to make it a positive influence.


When a bout with the dreaded meningitis left him deaf sometime in 1971, Bunmi was about 7 years of age and in Primary 2.

At that time, Deaf education in Nigeria was still in its fledgling state . The young boy had to drop out of school for awhile. However, that was for a brief while. Parental love and concern propelled by a strong belief in education wouldn’t let the academic hiatus linger longer than necessary. The Ainas were ready to give all it takes to ensure deafness didn’t rob their son a chance at getting a full education and a living a meaningful life. Meanwhile the search for a panacea continued.


The older Aina having left for the United States earlier (same year Bunmi  became deaf, before deafness) requested that the boy be flown over to join him in Wisconsin, Madison where he could access better special education opportunities for the deaf.

That one choice proved most vital, for it was during those three eventful years in Madison that the first seeds of enlightenment that would prove so definitive in the making of a cosmopolitan with a broad and versatile outlook on life despite deafness were sown.

Madison was super rich in many ways as the big lawyer himself tells us in a thrilling flashback narrative where he displayed his trademark uncanny power of recall:

“We arrived in Madison, Wisconsin in the winter of 1971.

My first school in Madison (capital of the State of Wisconsin) was a fine place called Frank Allis Elementary School on Buckeye Road, Madison. It was a regular school with separate classes for deaf children. The approach to pedagogy was oralist, that is, teachers and pupils voiced to each other. This however posed a challenge, for, not being an English speaker at the time, everything was lost on me and I was making no progress at all.


“A good teacher is like a candle—it consumes itself to light the way for others.” –Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Fortunately for Bunmi, there was this teacher at Frank Allis named Barbara Glander who recognized the problem and recommended to his parents that he should be transferred to a different school where Sign language was used. Glendale School.

Nugget 2: A teacher’s duties go over and beyond the classroom for only then can she touch eternity. Be that teacher.

At Glendale (now Dr. Virginia Henderson Elementary School), the young boy had his first exposures to sign language and Deaf teachers. So for the first time Bunmi met a deaf teacher. Her name was Iva Eklof. All the deaf kids looked up to her as an inspiration and she was clearly respected by the staff.

Barbara Glander visited my family twice a week to teach us American Sign Language (ASL), with a twofold effect: it helped accelerate my integration at Glendale, and enabled communication with my parents and younger sister on more meaning terms.

It was also at Glendale under the tutelage of great teachers that young Bunmi began to love reading. Years later, when he was asked why he choosed to study law, he instantly connects the dots:

“I chose law from having read too many Perry Mason novels as a boy in Wisconsin. I fell into reading very early on to fill that new, soundless void. I thought law was a way to make a difference on a macrocosmic level. You use the instrumentality of law as a vehicle to drive change, and in my case, I wanted to see change in our environment with regard to its impact on deaf populations in Nigeria”.

Bunmi’s emphasis on the influence and impact of dedicated teachers in his story is a long drawn one. It didn’t stop at Glendale. With ardor, he remembers the great teachers under whose tutelage he sat at the famed Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti. He calls those teachers (many now gone to their eternal reward) “a dedicated crop of masters and mistresses who struck a fine balance between high expectations and allowing us to be teenagers”.

At the old University of Ife where he studied Law, Bunmi retains evergreen memories of two rare academicians – Mrs E. K. Balogun of Health Science and Dr ‘Dipo Fashina (Jingo), both, he recalls, went out of their way to help him cushion the drawbacks of deafness as he struggled to blend into campus life and the rigours of academics.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” – Henry B. Adams.

So much for the eternity touching potentials of dedicated and committed teachers/educators.


So was it easy adapting to deafness? Asked this question, the “Hard man” as Bunmi is known within close circles is very frank in his response. He minces no words talking about the hurts and toughness involved.

In his words, “It’s never a walk in the park. I can tell you that losing any sensory ability is traumatic. Getting over it and accepting one’s deafness is the work of decades”.

I was about 26 or 27 when I finally came to accept my deafness wholly, wholeheartedly and completely. Imagine that for a dude who became Deaf at age 7.

Nugget 3: “The process takes time; nevertheless with the right attitude and support system the possibilities are enormous for Persons living with Disabilities”.

The “Hard man” further enlightens: “You see, Deafness introduces one to a different world, a different community, a different culture.

To have started out hearing, then be abruptly thrust by fate into a world of silence, you have options: “you can go in there kicking and screaming or you can take it in in resigned depression. You can also chose to soldier on with stoic fortitude or a generous blend of each – and some more”. “Each choice has outcomes”, he reminds.

Also learning sign language was helpful during the period. “I realized I had a means of communication, I was learning, and learning 2 new languages at same time. Those realizations helped me accept the Deaf part of my identity”.

Another helpful factor to adapting was hearing friends taking this deaf dude to their hearts; they too, learnt sign language to ease communication. They included him in social and recreational circles. As a young boy, Bunmi featured prominently in the football team at his Alma matter – the famous Christ School, Ado-Ekiti. There he made a name for himself: “Bunmi Aina of Christ School fame”. Thanks to his outgoing nature which endeared him to fellow students.

He wraps up thus: “the point I am making is a simple one: being included by hearing family and friends helped me cope with the trauma and eventually adjust”.

Which takes us to Nugget 4: “Remember your connection with the Cosmos”.

You see, too many us PWDs, because of disability tend to shrink into our shells or limit our circle of influence to the various Disability clusters. The example of this Disability Champion teaches us otherwise. It tells us that:

When we open up to the universe the universe invariably opens up to us”


Yes, we will all experience it at one point or another. It doesn’t matter how good, talented, or exceptional we are. The hard fact is, as long as there’s a devil to incite people with small minds, disability discrimination will never cease to be. Perhaps the best one can do is:

be himself while accepting that being different is a blessing and not a curse”

In an apt summary of society’s tendency to discrimination against persons with disabilities, Bunmi quips with resignation: The base part of human nature is wired to exploit or avoid people who are different. I have faced discrimination everywhere. And he still faces it.

So does it hurt? Sure. Not even his “Hard man” toga could stop Bunmi from freely admitting that his lowest moments as a Deaf person were: “those times when someone has tried to exclude me from a programme, activity or responsibility because “he is deaf”.

Surely, it hurts! But how does he manage it? Bunmi responds with a touch of the philosophical: “I manage these 1,000 small cuts with large doses of patience, mainly because there is no value in antagonizing or embarrassing others. Everyone can be an ally”, he concludes – re-echoing Martin Luther King Jr:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Nugget 5: We must learn to maintain dignity and restraint in the face of discrimination


Enlightened souls have learned to see the bright linings in a dark maze and to capitalize on them. Bunmi believes that deafness actually gave him some advantages in his eventual mastery of at least three different sign languages (Nigerian, American, South African) and the English language.

Besides, this Deaf identity has afforded the legal practitioner a wide range of opportunities, privileges and friendships across international boundaries where he employs his law background effectively in promoting Deaf-centric causes.

Today, Barrister Bunmi is living his childhood dream of making a difference on a macrocosmic level by using the instrumentality of law to make impact on Deaf denizens across the globe.

He is founding President, Strategies To Advance And Network Deaf Africans for Ubuntu, Inc (STAND-U), Vice President, Global Deaf Aid Foundation, Inc – both registered Non-profit organizations in the United States and dedicated to advocating for Deaf persons in Africa and beyond.

In Nigeria, Bunmi serves on the board of Deaf-centric Education Advocacy Foundation, Inc.

The Disability Champions Series, a collaborative project with Madam Joy Bolarin, Executive Director, Jibore Foundation, is anchored by Ogheneruemu Alexander (Disability issues blogger).

Special acknowledgement to T.O.L.A Foundation for constant back up supports.

Published March 11, 2023

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