Monday, March 18, 2019 3:19 pm
Nigerians and those in the diaspora honour Professor Pius Adesanmi who died in the recent Ethiopian Airlines plane crash
He arrived on the scene like a shooting star. He rose and shined brilliantly, his refections reaching the four cardianl points of Africa and the Americas. All of a sudden, he flickered out of the firmament like damp squib. Pius Adesanmi, son of a school principal, and a mother who taught Christian Religious Knowledge and marked same papers with the West African Examinations Council, hailed from the sleepy Yoruba town of Isanlu in Kogi State and, at the peak of his academic career, rose to become a Professor of Literature and African Studies at the Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. A cerebral personality and social entrepreneur who did not stand fools in high places gladly, Adesanmi successfully combined the town and the gown, putting leaders in Nigeria and the developing world on their toes with his consistent commentaries and advocacies in the media.
As an altruistic lecturer, Adesanmi did not stay put in his comfort zone in North America; he criss-crossed many African countries, as if 24 hours should not be enough for a day, trying to mentor young academics to also, like him, become global in their pursuits. It was in the course of doing this that disaster struck, dropping the jaws of his countrymen and the citizens of the world who had, one way or the other, been touched by his activities.
He was among those that died on Sunday 10 March 2019 on the Ethiopia airline plane that crashed around Bishoftu in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. He was on his way to attend a meeting of the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) committee meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. This is an advisory body of the African Union (AU) designed to give Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) a voice within the AU institutions and decision-making processes.
According to Mireille Tushiminina, a Congolese and the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA): “The Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) of the African Union Commission has an ECOSOCC meeting organized in Nairobi. Although all AU staff and most participants are safe we have lost two participants coming from the diaspora. Prof Pius Adesanmi, Carlton University in Canada. One of the few professors who taught about the AU and Agenda 2063; and Mr Karim Safi, one of the most active Diaspora youth in Europe and one of the founders of African Diaspora Youth in Europe (ADYFE). We pray for their souls and for their loved ones at this time.”
As if he had a premonition of the mode of his death like Jim Reeves, Adesanmi’s last post was from Psalm 139:9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
For hours that Sunday morning, that a Nigerian was aboard that flight was trending. Since Adesanmi was traveling on his Canadian passport, none pinned his name to the tragedy.
Worse still, a high profile Nigerian, Ambassador Abiodun Bashua was also in that crash. He was the former UN and AU Deputy Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Sudan.
Professor Okey Ndibe wrote: “ I’m near-speechless, nothing short of devastated to learn that the ever-ebullient, effervescent, larger-than-life scholar, gadfly and kindred spirit, Pius Adesanmi died in the Ethiopian Airline jet that crashed shortly after take-off in Addis Ababa. I’ve been inundated with phone calls since news started swirling that the guy numerous friends and I called Payo was on the doomed flight. Only last year, Pius survived a horrific automobile accident in Nigeria. And now, the stilling of a voice that was vibrant and tough and irrepressible, a voice needed in our world, now more than ever. There’s no bottom to the shock, no window out of the grief. May his spirit find eternal rest, and may his wife and young daughter count on all the many hearts that celebrated and now mourn this too-soon-departed wordsmith.”
Ogaga Ifowodo, also submitted: “What or who do I curse? The day? The plane? The makers of the new technology-driven plane on which my friend and my brother was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi? Ah, death! And the stealth and many ways it comes! But it should never ever have set its sights on Pius, again, having tried and failed last year. Ah, Pius, you survived that road accident, and marvelled that you did: “I still don’t know how and why I survived,” you wrote to me. And death shamed that you had proved stronger than it on the road stalked you in the air. Ah, Pius, Pius, my brother Pius . . . From the campus of the University of Ibadan, to the campuses of Penn State University, College Station, and Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and that visit to Jersey City in 2007 when I was finishing my dissertation (here’s the photo of us together on the Hudson River Walk), and all the places too many where we were together alone or with mutual friends . . . I can’t bring myself to say rest in peace and yet I must wish your restless, fecund, passionate and patriotic (how much you ached and wrote to save Nigeria!) soul eternal rest. Well, then, rest. You did more in your short life than many can living the fullness of their days. Rest in peace, my friend, my brother.”
In July 2018, Adesanmi was involved in an accident along Oyo-Ogbomosho road. He was on his way to Lagos from Ilorin to board a flight to Dakar for a meeting.
Pius Adesanmi is a Nigerian-born Canadian professor, writer and literary critic, satirist, and columnist. He is the author of Naija No Dey Carry Last, a collection of satirical essays.
Adesanmi was born in Isanlu, in Yagba East Local Government area of Kogi State, Nigeria. He had a BA (first class honours) from the University of Ilorin in 1992, a Masters in French from the University of Ibadan in 1998, and a PhD in French Studies from the University of British Columbia in 2002. From 2002 to 2005, he was Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, USA. In 2006, he joined Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada as a Professor of Literature and African studies. He has also been a Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) from 1993 to 1997, as well as of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in 1998 and 2000.
For many years, Adesanmi was a regular columnist for Premium Times and Sahara Reporters and TheNEWS. His writings are, as a writer puts it, often satiric, focusing on the absurd in the Nigerian social and political system. His targets often include politicians, pastors, and other relevant public figures. In 2015, he gave a TED talk titled “Africa is the forward that the world needs to face”.
To honour him, friends and well wishers held a Candlelight gathering in his honour at the Unity Fountain, Abuja in the evening of Wednesday 13 March. It featured tributes, book reading, poetry rendition and musicThe same evening, there was a procession from the University of Ibadan main gate to the Faculty of Arts, then to the Institute of African Studies courtyard. On Thursday 14 March, in Lagos, there was an “Evening of Reminiscences” for him at Ouida Dosunmu Street, Off Isaac John Street, Opposite Old Protea Hotel, GRA, Ikeja. Another event was organised for Adesanmi at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota in Lagos on Saturday, March 16th. By 1 pm on the same day, a service was organised in his honour at the Metropolitan Bible Church, 2176 Prince of Wales Drive, Napean, Ontario, Canada.
Carleton University where he lectured, described Adesanmi’s death as shocking and devastating. “Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy,” said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, president and vice-chancellor. “The contributions of Pius Adesanmi to Carleton are immeasurable,” said Pauline Rankin, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The university continued in the statement, “He worked tirelessly to build the Institute of African Studies, to share his boundless passion for African Literature and to connect with and support students. He was a scholar and teacher of the highest calibre who leaves a deep imprint on Carleton. It was so disturbing. One of the most important minds of the African diaspora, he inspired his Carleton colleagues with his brilliance and cemented his close ties to faculty, staff and students with his kindness, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and unforgettable laugh.”
On Monday colleagues, students and friends of Pius Adesanmi gathered at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies Monday to share stories and weep for the Nigerian-born professor and writer who headed the institute. Nduka Otiono, an assistant professor at the Institute of African Studies, who has known Adesanmi since they were graduate students at the University of Ibadan, said the book of condolences had become a gathering place for those mourning his death. “We set up a small shrine here to invoke his spirit,” said Otiono. “We are happy we have been able to do this because it has become like a hub. It lights up the hallway as you come in.”
Decky Kobongi, who teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, visited the Institute of African Studies, saying, “As a friend and a colleague, it is very tough.” Chuks Imahiagbe, who heads the Nigerian Canadian Association, called Adesanmi’s death “a colossal loss for our community. He is a shining star in our community.”
Otiono said his friend’s final Facebook posting, with a picture of him sitting in the airport and quoting Psalm 139 had upset many “because it looked as if he had a premonition of what was going to happen.
What was “truly amazing,” said former Faculty of Arts and social sciences dean John Osborne, was the impact he had on Africa. “Through his writing and blogging, he reached an audience … in the millions in his native Nigeria and beyond, becoming one of the most avidly read commentators on contemporary life and politics on the continent.”
His books include The Wayfarer and Other Poems published by Oracle Books, Lagos in 2001, You’re Not a Country, Africa by Penguin Books in 2011 and Naija No Dey Carry Last by Parrésia Publishers in 2015. In 2001, Adesanmi’s first book, The Wayfarer and Other Poems, won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Poetry Prize. In 2010, his book You’re not a Country, Africa, a collection of essays, won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing in the nonfiction category. In 2017, Adesanmi was a recipient of Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award.