Pius Adesanmi, Torchbearer

by:

People

We should remember Professor Pius Adesanmi.

In the morning of Sunday, the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi faltered and crashed six minutes after takeoff. None of the 8 crew members or 149 passengers survived. The immediate aftermath of the tragedy was an explosion of analysis of its possible causes. This was a second crash in under 5 months involving a Boeing 737 Max 8. Inevitably, tributes began pouring from around the world; President Muhammadu Buhari’s twitter handlers sent out a general condolence.

It would become particular when Ambassador Abiodun Bashua became identified as the passenger registered by a Nigerian passport aboard the ill-fated aircraft. Also, one of Nigeria’s best bearing a Canadian passport was among the 149. To the extent that online conversation diverted slightly from monitoring gubernatorial elections results, this was one big loss.

Pius Adesanmi was humorous but methodical. A serious intellectual. Intellectual Royalty of first class.

Friends, students, colleagues, mentees, cheering and jeering observers of thoughts he shared in columns and on social media grieved. Tade Aina, a Nairobi-based professor of Sociology and friend, had scheduled lunch for 2pm. The writer Elnathan John wished he had spent more time with him. Journalist Eromo Egbejule should have had a conversation with him last month. Ake festival founder Lola Shoneyin recalled the vows they made in their early twenties. Kadaria Ahmed was in tears.

As far as evidence of a life of purpose goes, tributes to Adesanmi underscore a distinct value to Nigerian public discourse.

An unrelenting scourge of politicians. An unflinching believer in the democratization of education. The most ardent of anti-mediocrity evangelists on the Nigerian interweb, Adesanmi constantly battled the normalization of a cynical brand of ‘muddling through’ in Nigeria. As Director of African Studies at Carleton University, he was a modern voice putting Africa on the map but was unsparing in his insistence that his home nation get it right without special treatment. Those closest to him attest to a deep love for the continent and, contrary to his frequent ‘attacks’ on the state of affairs, confess him the most Nigeria-philic person you met.

Young people should remember him. He sought to mingle with them, extending fellowship and mentorship. Always on message, the ethos of his apostolate – excellence – was colloquially captured – for all time – in Parable of the Shower Head:

“Every time you agree that a shower head is working well because only five of its holes are blocked, you are killing Nigeria softly. Every time you see only about five or six pot holes in a 7-kilometre stretch of road and continue to scream ah, dat road good o, dat Governor try well well, you’re killing Nigeria softly for if there is even one pothole on it, the road ain’t good and you should scream for it to be fixed as if your life depended on it”

Back in July 2018, he almost lost his life plying a Nigerian road. He survived that crash in which two persons had died, returning to online commentary in November to the relief of followers who missed his unique smoothie of conviviality and wisdom. In the five months since, he remained the same Adesanmi, intervening wittily and weightily as the farce that eventually became the 2019 elections drew close and played out. His final tweet was a warning to voters about tweeting aright. His last post on Facebook was a prayer of abandonment to Divine Providence.

The professor of literature, if poetically, declined to die in Nigeria, the visibly failing country in which he was born, or in Canada where his dear family lives. Symbolic of one asserting an uncolonized magisterial authority, Pius Adesanmi ended his watch on an expanse of Ethiopian soil. His advocacy for public excellence, like a seed resistant to a difficult terrain, deserved that he be around to tend it to flowering and beyond. May it bloom where planted.

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