In The Memory Of Professor Pius Adesanmi -By ‘Tope Oriola

Filed under: Life And People |

Our hearts are broken. We have no words. This is hard to bear. The news of the death of Professor Pius Adesanmi in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash on March 10, alongside all the passengers and crew, continues to reverberate around the world. I was very close to Professor Pius Adesanmi. His family hosted me in their home in Ottawa just in February. It was quintessential Pius Adesanmi. He was at the airport to pick me up. We embraced warmly the way you would a dear friend and brother. We commenced analysis of multifarious issues well into the night. We sat on the floor of his living room and discussed our respective book projects, plans, and aspirations. He shared details of his career trajectory. He talked about the ghastly road accident that nearly claimed his life in Nigeria in 2018. He showed me the scars from his left leg and narrated the arduous journey to recovery. He said the accident changed his perspective about life. The accident made him conscious of time.

He mentioned how blessed he was to have his wife, Muyiwa. He was sure that very few marriages could survive his travel schedule and other demands of his career. He told me that his wife was his “polar opposite”. Unlike him, Muyiwa did not like to travel and was always keen to return home to “sleep in her bed”. This was fascinating to me as Muyiwa’s father had just recently retired as a pilot. Adesanmi also took great delight in his daughter, Tise. He radiated such joy at her presence. We spoke about some of the ways Tise “tackled” her father. Many of Adesanmi’s followers on social media would be familiar with Tise. Tise and I had played a game of soccer in the family basement earlier in the evening. I told Pius how Tise won the game largely because she made the rules and changed them as the game progressed. It was hilarious!

Tope Oriola

He suggested we have a joint vacation in Cuba at the end of the year and I thought it was a great idea. He teased Muyiwa about her phobia for travel. Muyiwa responded with the type of look only spouses who were in love could understand. Pius Adesanmi was happy. He was a joy to spend time with. How do we process his death? I am at a loss to think that someone I spent time with a month ago has died. How do we comfort Muyiwa? What do we tell Tise? How about mama and other family members?

Pius Adesanmi received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Ilorin and his master’s from the University of Ibadan. He obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He was on the faculty at Pennsylvania State University, United States. He left Penn State for Carleton University, Canada. He was until his death a Professor of English and African Literature and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University.

Professor Adesanmi was an outstanding and highly decorated scholar. He was an Izaak Walton Killam Scholar during his doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia — one of only five Killam universities in Canada (others are the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University and Dalhousie University). Adesanmi won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African writing in the non-fiction category in 2010. He also received the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award in 2017. Adesanmi was in great demand as a distinguished public intellectual, speaker, columnist, satirist and writer.

Professor Adesanmi was very much at the peak of his career and the prime of his life. Statements from top administration of Carleton University, Ottawa speak to the texture of his scholarship and the quality of our loss. A statement by Benoit-Antoine Bacon, the president and vice-chancellor of Carleton University notes that “Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who knew and loved him, and with everyone who suffered a loss in the tragic crash in Ethiopia”. Carleton’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Pauline Rankin also states that Professor Adesanmi “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.”

Professor Adesanmi died in the service to Africa. He was on his way to a meeting at the behest of the African Union when he died. He enjoyed spectacularly broad and transnational followership. His articles and posts on social media were part of the daily diet of many people around the world. He was a thorn in the flesh of Africa’s political class, especially the Nigerian political elite. Everyone who knew him was struck by his decency, humour, intellect, and capacity to connect with others.

Professor Pius Adesanmi’s final social media post is one for the ages. It was a quote from Psalm 139 verses 9 to 10 (the English Standard Version): “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.” We will never know what went through his mind in that moment. What a world! What a life! Akoni ti lo (a warrior is gone). O daro o. Goodnight, Pius Adesanmi.

Follow ‘Tope Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola

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