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PIUS ADESANMI: What or who do I curse? The day? The plane? The makers of aircraft?

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•Ifowodo, Kadaria Ahmed, Molara Wood, Victor Ehikhamenor and Toni Kan pay tributes

By Chris Onuoha

Nigerian writers, scholars and journalists are shocked by the sudden passing of their colleague, Professor Pius Adesanmi, who was aboard the Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed on the morning of March 10, 2019 in Addis Ababa.

Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi

Lola Shoneyin, in a statement announcing the passage, said Adesanmi was en route Nairobi from Addis Ababa as a participant at the ECOSOCC meeting organised by the African Union.

The deceased was born in Isanlu, Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State.

He took a BA (First Class Honours) from the University of Ilorin in 1992, then a Master’s 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.

Adesanmi joined Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada in 2006 as a Professor of Literature and African Studies. He was previously 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.

A poet and essayist, the deceased, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, according to Shoneyin, was a public intellectual without peer. “He was active on social media where he flagellated the Nigerian ruling class with well thought out interventions, amassing a huge following in the process”, the statement said.

“For many years, Adesanmi maintained a regular newspaper column. His writings were often satirical, focusing on the absurd in the Nigerian social and political space. His targets often included politicians, pastors, and other relevant public figures. He spoke truth without fear or favour.

“In September 2015, his scathing piece on the decision of the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, to take a wife, said to underage, generated substantial conversation and even elicited a response from the Emir, who responded to Adesanmi by name.

“An award winning author, he was a highly sought after speaker and facilitator whose expertise and breadth of knowledge was a delight to all who had the pleasure of hearing him speak.

“In 2015, he gave a TED talk titled, ‘Africa Is The Forward That The World Needs To Face.’ His talk at the televised The Platform programme, held in Lagos, was a national sensation. Among his many endeavours in a prolific career as a public intellectual, Adesanmi maintained a column on the popular Nigeria Village Square website, and was a long-standing member of the editorial team. He was also a member of the Advisory Board of the Ake Arts & Book Festival.

“Many Nigerian writers had the privilege of knowing Pius Adesanmi for about 25 years, from the moment he burst onto the Ibadan/Lagos literary scene with his creativity, his wit, his love for literary criticism and his infectious laughter. Even then, it was clear that he was special. He was driven, politically astute and he would become one of the most gifted satirists of his generation.

“His awards include a 2017 Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award; Penguin Prize for African Writing in the Non-Fiction category for his book ‘You’re Not a Country, Africa’; and the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry prize for his poetry collection, ‘The Wayfarer and Other Poems.’” In a follow up tribute titled, ‘Pius, I am blessed to have known you’, Shoneyin, a writer and publisher, wrote: “Pius was an accomplished intellectual and a prolific writer but, as many will remember, he was full of mischief and fun. He had a nickname for just about everyone. Mine was ‘The Lolly Babe’ and he had a unique way of ‘singing’ it.

“I will remember Pius’s laughter. It’s in my head right now. Almost all our conversations started with faux passive aggression. If he hadn’t been in touch for a few weeks, he would initiate an exchange by accusing me of being a bad person. Ayi tete m’ole…

“But the laughter that followed! Even when it was a whatsapp audio call, I could imagine the torso-quaking, head-jerking, body-swinging that accompanied his signature contagious, high-pitched cackle.

“We shared a lot of secrets but we also shared love and laughter. I can only imagine how dull the last 25 years of my life would have been without Pius. I feel very blessed to have known him”.

Other writers who paid tributes are Dr Ogaga Ifowodo, Kadaria Ahmed, Molara Wood, Victor Ehikhamenor and Toni Kan.

PIUS ADESANMI, RIP? I can’t bring myself to say it!!! – Dr Ogaga Ifowodo

What or who do I curse? The day? The plane? The makers of the new technology-driven aircraft 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 marveled 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, State College, and Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, to that visit to Jersey City in 2007 when I was finishing my dissertation 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

  •     Ifowodo is a poet, writer and human rights activist.

My encounter with Adesanmi at Ake – Kadaria Ahmed

Many have written about Pius the poet, writer, essayist, academic and public intellectual. Undoubtedly, he was accomplished in all those fields but what made him special was his humanity.

It is a quality that was all the more precious because Pius not only understood but had seen and experienced first-hand the horridity of existence particularly in our country which has lost its moral compass and is largely driven by greed, avarice and deepening fault lines which exploit our weaknesses fully. But these things didn’t make Pius rigid or cynical. Despite his acerbic wit which he deployed fully in his satire, his writing didn’t come across as cruel. His humour and ability to find the funny in the tragedies unfolding across Nigeria, enabled many to engage with our most complex and often distressing problems. Pius, in my view, understood human fallibility and in Nigeria in particular he understood the structural problems that have created a citizenry that is less then exemplary in its conduct. This, in my view, enabled him to be critical of the failings in our society but remain fully focused on the issues and not personalities.

Perhaps it was this that also made him not only kind but a champion who encouraged others. He understood more than many, the difficulty in bucking trends and being truly independent in Nigeria

I first ‘ e met’ Pius when I was the Editor of NEXT and he was writing his brilliant column, Little Ends. Our handful of email exchanges were not enough for a friendship at that time but eventually, shortly after I left NEXT, we reconnected and Pius tried to persuade me to set up an online news portal.   This was to become the start of a relationship in which he regularly encouraged me. Pius believed in me more than I believed in myself. I have since come to understand that mentoring and nurturing came naturally to him. His humanity meant he cared deeply about people and wanted everyone to achieve their potential for themselves but also because he saw the   connection between our personal accomplishments and the salvaging of   the dream of Nigeria. In my view, he   understood that by   enabling an environment for personal growth, we   can build an eco-system that can eventually transform communities and the nation as long what we did was underpinned by values he held dear; accountability, democracy,   good governance etc.

The last time I saw Pius was at Ake in 2015. It didn’t seem that long because we chat on whatsapp and DM on twitter and occasionally spoke. It is only now in looking back that I realise 4 years have passed.

I regret the many missed appointments and opportunities.

I comfort myself with these words from Rumi

“I died as mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal,

I died as animal and I was human,

Why should I fear?

When was I less by dying?

Pius, my brother, you were truly a stellar human being.

  •     Kadaria Ahmed is a renown journalist

Pius Adesanmi was generous – Molara Wood

In May 2011 I taught a seminar at Carleton University, Ottawa, where Pius Adesanmi was a Professor of Literature and African Studies until that last flight from Addis Ababa. It was a class comprising a mix of PhDs, MAs and – in Pius’ words – “some very advanced fourth-year students.” The book I talked through with his students was Chinua Achebe’s ‘Arrow of God’. It was Pius’ idea; he was going to be away on that day and I was the visiting lecturer taking charge of his class. He had emailed ahead to say he would tell his students that an “alejo pataki” (a very important visitor) was coming. He believed that much in me. He was generous with his intellect and scholarship, and with his art and spirit. Thanks to his facilitation, encouragement and support, the class at Carleton was a resounding success, and I kept in touch with many of the students for a long time afterwards.

Pius was that rarest of persons, his heart was filled to bursting with love and affection for those around him. He was thoughtful and insightful, brimming with kindness and decency. Had that plane not dropped out of the sky, he would have gone on to become a juggernaut of African thought. I had no doubt about this. I already had a measure of his searing intellect, his intimidating achievements. Many have spoken of his love for God and Country. But Pius Adesanmi the human being – to get a glimpse of that was a special privilege indeed.

  •     Wood is a writer & journalist

Why Are You Quiet Pius? – Victor Ehikhamenor

Writing a befitting tribute for Pius (aka Ogbonge Payola) Adesanmi is not one of the easiest tasks for me, not necessarily because of the pain of his departure from Mother Earth, but of the many things he was to me and other people. Yes he was a close friend and confidant of more than two decades, he was a fellow writer, a co-mischief maker, one of the best brains of my generation, a lover of my art, a collaborator in projects…the list is endless. Now the wahala (as Pius would have said) is what area should one begin to extol the virtue of the brightest star that ever shone in the sky of my generation?

Pius was not flawless, that is why he was human not a stone.

The one important thing amongst many is that I would like to remember Pius for our many robust laughters. We never had any disagreement not because we didn’t have varied opinions on things, but we always laughed at our collective yeyeness. We celebrated each other to no end and I will continue to celebrate Professor Pius Adesanmi.

I am happy to have met him and called him a friend. His passing is a personal grief I will carry for the rest of my life and only hope time will soften the pain as I relish the great times we had together while he was around.

Ogbonge de Payola! Ogbonge de Ogbonges! Ogbonge de Payolus…you see yourself, you play too much…see as you throw all of us for confusion and you dey for heaven dey laugh…yeye boy like you. Anyway, enjoy yourself thoroughly as we dey here dey try to figure out how to handle this your journey wey you go so.

Meanwhile I am waiting for your publishers to send that email for the cover design of your new book we discussed on the phone two weeks ago. Yeye boy like you, you no even wait make the book come out before you head out. Na so dem dey do something? Ogbonge my ogbonge! Ogbonge de professor.

Payo, why are you quiet?

  •     Ehikhamenor is a writer/artist

I remember the first time I met Pius Adesanmi – Toni Kan

It was a Saturday and must have been 1997 or 98. It was in Surulere. We were all gathered for our monthly Association of Nigerian Authors meeting. We came together, one Saturday every month to read poems, share stories and talk shop.

Then meeting done, we inevitably gravitated to a watering hole.

Many times, Nduka Otiono or Maik Nwosu would offer to host us at their homes.

We were almost done when someone screamed – Payo and then a hubbub erupted as shouts of Payo rent the air.

Payo was dressed in a shirt, maybe cream or something. It was long sleeved but folded. Payo wore slightly faded blue jeans. Payo was carrying a ruck sack and Payo had on dusty shoes that told us he had come all the way from Ibadan, where he was an IFPRA fellow or something.

Payo had not come alone. In tow was the tomboyish young poet, Lola Shoneyin. Together they had journeyed from Ibadan intent on sharing our literary communion and our beer.

I knew Payo even though we had never met in the flesh. I knew him just like many did, from his writing and this was how it happened.

Nduka Otiono and Harry Garuba had started the Post Express Literary Series (PELS) at the defunct Post Express Newspaper. Pius and I quickly emerged their most regular contributors. He was in Ibadan and I was in Lagos. He had bagged a Masters degree from UI but had graduated with a First class earlier on from the University of Ilorin. The story was that he was so brilliant such that when he went back to Ilorin for his youth corps, he was assigned final year projects to supervise.

We were both young and in love with literary theory. We spoke the language of Foucault and Derrida. We were at home with post modernism, post structuralism, magical realism and all the other isms. PELS offered us a platform to theorise about Nigerian literature.

There was a particularly heated debate following a piece I did on post modernism and Nigerian literature. Ogaga Ifowodo and Odia Ofeimun had taken umbrage and attacked me for spouting post-isms. Ogaga in an immortal quip had said – “the only post I know is the post office.” That was before he repented and bagged a PhD.

Odia had written a devastating take down which I think he captioned “Post Modernism and Toni Kan’s Can of Intellectual Worms.”

I was deflated. Two great poets had reduced my intellectual exactions to nothing.

Then I looked up and a young knight in shining armour was galloping to my rescue. I was a damsel in distress and I was mighty glad to find help.

Pius, who was younger than me but had graduated earlier and made a name for himself as a scholar, took on Odia and Ogaga. There was another attempt to take us down when Odia published another piece in which he called us the “Clap trap Generation” but our combined fire power over about six weeks vanquished them both.

Back then we were paid, I think, N150, per piece and Pius had sent word from Ibadan that his stipend be paid to me and that I should buy myself a beer.

So, that evening when we met he had bounded towards me the moment someone pointed me out. We hugged and he said – “So na you be the ogbonge Toni Kan wey no dey fear Odia.”

Maybe it was not even at an ANA meeting. Maybe it was not even in Surulere. Maybe he didn’t even show up with Lola Shoneyin in tow. But that is how I remember our meeting and I miss the ogbonge man like crazy.

  • Toni Kan is a writer
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