Dr Joseph Udondata: Life and times of a great teacher
There is no night without a dawning
No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing
For those who leave us for a while
Have only gone away
Out of a restless, care worn world
Into a brighter day.
– Helen Steiner Rice
Dr. Joseph Philip Udondata was born into a Catholic Christian home to Patron Philip Udondata and Madam Julia Philip in lkot Uko Etor village, Okon Clan, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa lbom State, Nigeria on 22nd February, 1953. He was baptized by Rev. Fr. Hanify at St. Brigid Parish, Urua Akpan and given the Hebrew name Joseph meaning Yahweh increases.
He was of the Bantu-Speaking stock and his immediate ancestors, some of whom were Udo Ndata, Ndata, Ukpabio, Uru, Echeghe, Ikputu and Ututu Eke were great warriors and hunters who settled in Okon in the 14th Century AD and started the Echeghe group of villages.
He began his primary school education at St. Joseph School, Ikot Ocho, Okon and completed at St. Anne, Ifuho. He was admitted at St. Augustine Secondary School, Urua Inyang in 1966 but on the advice of his father’s friend, Rev. Fr. Leo Flyn, he began his secondary education at St. Theresa Preparatory Seminary, Nko in 1966. In 1967 he was promoted to Queen of Apostles Seminary, Afaha Obong. The Nigeria/Biafra war disrupted his education and he was cut off in Biafra where he was conscripted many times into Army training in spite of his age.
Between 1969 and 1973 he completed his secondary education at Queen of Apostles Seminary, Afaha Obong where he was recognized and appointed by Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Etok as Chief Sacristan and Senior Prefect of the School. He came out tops in the 1973 West African School Certificate Examination with distinctions in English and Religious Studies. He taught briefly at Comprehensive Secondary School, Atai Otoro in 1974.
Between 1975 and 1978 he studied at College of Education, Uyo where he distinguished himself as an actor in different plays, the best graduating student in English Department and the Secretary of The Religious Studies Students’ Association.
He served under the National Youth Service Corps Scheme at Government College, Lapai in Niger State between 1978 and 1979. He taught briefly at Holy Family College, Oku Abak in 1980. Between 1980 and 1982 he read for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and English at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He worked under the employ of the Akwa lbom State Secondary Education Board and between 1991 and 1994 he read for a Master’s Degree in English at the University of Uyo. Between 1995 and 2001 he read and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree in English from the University of Uyo, thereby being the first popular researcher into Annang Language.
Apart from his services as a secondary school teacher culminating in his promotion to the rank of a school principal in 1998 at Community Secondary School, Nkek, Ukanafun, he has taught English at the University of Uyo and Obong University where he was the Director of Academic Planning and at Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene where he was Acting Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Acting Head of Department, Department of Languages/Literary Studies till his untimely demise.
He has published many pioneer works on Annang Language and Culture. He is the author of A Grammar of Annang Language and Annang Traditional Literature. He is the founder and editor of the series, Annang Cultural Development. Two of its volumes have been published.
He co-authored the Orthography of Annang Language with Dr (Mrs.) Unyierie ldem of Edinburgh University. He co-authored The Annang People of Nigeria: History and Culture with Rev. Dr. John-Bosco Ekanem and published in Houston, USA by Nto Annang Foundation. He took much interest in digging into the Annang past, researched and published exciting articles on the lyong, Utim and Ekang societies in Okon. He has a number of books and articles to his credit.
Udondata has a chain of honours and awards. He has been recognized by the British Council for Communication Skill; National Association of Annang Students, University of Uyo for “Contribution to the Promotion of Human and Community Development in Annang Nation”; The Jesus Film Project in Nigeria and West Africa for participation in the production of The “Jesus” Film in Annang Language; The Vice Chancellor, Senate, Staff and Students of Obong University, Obong Ntak with “Certificate of Recognition for Service to Obong University”.
He was a member of many cultural and professional organizations such as The Annang Heritage Foundation, USA; Afe Annang, Mboho Nto Okon, Nigeria Union of Teachers and All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools.
He was married to Mrs. Ekaette Udondata, an economist and renowned but retired School administrator. The marriage yielded four children and with them grandchildren all of whom but one are alive to bid him farewell.
Friday 5th of February, 2021 was just like any ordinary day with great hopes and promise but didn’t end quite as expected for Dr. Joseph Udondata as he succumbed to the cold hands of death leaving family, friends and colleagues in tears.
We are grateful for the life he lived, and pray that he rests in peace. Until we meet again, may God hold him in the palm of His hand.
Fare thee well Great Teacher!