I have been devasted since the news of Professor Pius Adesanmi’s heart-rending death in the Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airline which crashed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa on March 10th, 2019. While he was alive, I never constructed a particularly close relationship with Pius for a simple reason: I realised I did not have to be close to him to know him, as he had such an open and infectious spirit that naturally brought him close to me more than I could have imagined. In other words, you do not need to know Pius to know Pius!
Pius was a native of Isanlu Makutu of Kogi State, Nigeria. He earned a bachelor’s degree with First Class honours in French Studies from the University of Ilorin at age 20, in 1992. He also earned a master’s degree in French Studies from the University of Ibadan in 1998. Pius earned a PhD from the University British Columbia, Canada, in 2002 for a thesis entitled “Constructions of Subalternity in African Women’s Writing in French.” After his PhD, Pius was employed as Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, USA, until 2005. In 2006 he moved to Canada’s Carleton University in Ottawa where he was Professor of English and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University. Pius had written op-ed and opinion essays on Nigeria in various print and online media outlets, and he was also a popular voice in the Nigerian social media space. Initially, while Pius wrote essays with the utmost thirst for the realisation of a better society, subsequently, he noted that he wrote basically for the purposes of archaeology. According to Pius, a thousand years from now, archaeologists would be interested in how some people called Nigerians lived in the 20th and 21st centuries. “If they did and excavate, I am hoping that fragments of my writing survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves of the most irresponsible rulers of their era.”
In the paragraphs that follow, I reproduce a moving tribute on Pius Adesanmi written by my friend and mentor, Moses Ochonu; a Nigerian academic, historian, author and Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. Here you go:
I have just returned from a trip to Nigeria. The last 24 hours have been one of the most traumatic of my life because of the sudden, tragic passing of my dear friend and brother, Pius Adesanmi. Pius was more than a friend to me; he was family. That is why people who wanted to find information about him would reach out to me, and vice versa. I am devastated, confused, and depressed. I do not even know how to mourn my brother. I do not know how he would want me to mourn him. I was preparing for my trip out of Nigeria yesterday when an email came in from Professor Toyin Falola saying that unless Pius missed his flight, he had died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. My heart sank upon reading that email. I immediately replied asking for more specifics. In particular, how did he know Pius was scheduled to fly on that flight. Falola got back to say Pius had told him of the trip to attend an AU Scholars Forum in Nairobi and had called him from the Addis Ababa Airport, a call Falola had missed. As I packed and prepared for my trip, I was not myself. I tried to hide my distress but I could not. I kept hoping it was not true, but deep down I knew that my brother was probably gone. Even so, I looked for distractions. I avoided taking calls from people who were obviously calling to either tell me the news or to confirm from me, knowing how close Pius and I were. Finally, as I was being driven to the airport, I answered a call from my friend and brother, Aliyu Ma’aji. I thought he was calling for something else, but he told me that the news was on Sahara Reporters.
I do not have words to describe what I felt and still feel. On the plane all I could see was Pius’ image and all I could think of was conversations we had, his visit to us in Nashville, our time together in KWASU Ilorin where I met his family, etc. No, Pius, you cannot be gone, I told myself. Pius was a model public intellectual, who taught us that you do not have to sacrifice scholarly rigor to operate in the public intellectual space. Pius was a committed patriot and pan-Africanist. His passion was education, particularly higher education. He saw quality education and an elevated life of the mind as Africa’s salvation, and he put his brains where his passion lay. He was a mentor to many young scholars across Africa and its diaspora. His zeal for reforming Africa’s higher education sector was infectious.
He coopted me into the Abiola Irele Seminar at KWASU and tried to get me involved with the Pan-African Doctoral Academy (PADA), which he led annually in Ghana. He gave himself to Nigeria and Africa even at his own expense and even when Nigeria and Africa repaid him with scorn and indifference. Pius lived life robustly and on his own terms. He was a devoted family man. He was generous socially and academically. He was quick-witted and humorous. No conversation with Pius was ever boring. He was a factory of ideas, a rare productive thinker.
Lately, our conversations occasionally drifted to mortality and we would discuss how young people were dying, including family members whose families we were now taking care of. I had no inkling that he, too, would become part of that grim statistic. Pius, thank you for teaching us so much about life, about fulfilling our mission on earth, and about sacrificing for something bigger than ourselves. Africa will miss you. Nigeria will miss you. We, your friends and kindred spirits, will miss you. Your wife, your two lovely daughters, your mom and your siblings will miss you even more. But you gave us a legacy rich enough for two lifetimes to cherish, protect, and promote, and that is what we will do in your absence. Thank you, my brother, and rest well.