I know of no death in Nigeria in recent time that has dominated social media conversations and inspired a welter of sustained lamentations with as much undying persistence as Pius Adesanmi’s heartrendingly sudden death in an air crash last week.
He was no politician. He was no wealthy man. He was no king or prince. He was no pop culture celebrity. He was only a scholar and a social critic who railed against incompetence and malfeasance in government and who fired our collective imagination about our unrealized but realizable potential as a nation. Yet he was mourned—and is still being mourned—by an unbelievably vast swath of humanity.
Shakespeare said, “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Pius was no prince, yet the heavens are blazing forth his death. Why has his death detained our imagination and united us in grief? Was it because when he lived he radiated so much communicable warmth and love? Was it because he inspired tremendous, transmissiblemirth wherever he was? Was it because he exuded life like no one?Was it because he shared love and built bridges across traditional fissures like no one in his generation? Well, it was all these things and more.
Pius lived his life publicly on social media. He shared his prodigious intellect with a massive, engaged social media audience. His biting wit, his sharp repartees, his homespun witticisms, and his equal-opportunity rhetorical “kobokos” (as he liked to call public censures) on Nigeria’s decadent and shortsighted political and cultural elites, animated social media chatter and inspired hundreds of thousands of Nigerians.
He was an open book who shared the joys, the thrills, and the challenges of parenting with his friends and followers on social media. Everyone who followed him knew of his 7-year-old daughter Tise— and of her precocious questions to and conversations with him. He shared details of his travels with his friends and followers and even invited them to partake in his anxieties in things as quotidian as the gastronomic choices he had to make in grand, glitzy, Western-style African hotels that marginalize African culinary delicacies.
He let anyone who knew him to take a peep into his deep, vast,phenomenal mind and see the angst that troubled him. People who cared to look saw a man who was deeply concerned about the present and the future of Africa. They saw the mind of a man who was impatient with the snail-pace progress of his native Nigeria. They saw a mind thatwas gripped by the fear of the judgment of history. The saw a man who was prepared to risk being unpopular rather than bend or sugarcoat the truth.
In short, in Pius Adesanmi, people saw a complaisant, brilliant, fearless, patriotic yet modest hero in whom they had become intellectually and emotionally dependent. That was why his death felt like—and actually is— the death of a piece of us.
I first met Pius in 2004 when I started publishing my articles in the Nigerian Village Square, a website set up by a Chicago-based Nigerian by the name of Philip Adekunle, where Pius also published. It was the go-to electronic marketplace for Cyberians, as I like to call Nigerians on the Internet, before the profusion of social media. In time, we discovered that we had more in common than our viewpoints about Nigeria: I found out that my late wife, Zainab, and he shared the same hometown. They were both from Isanlu in Kogi State. After this discovery, we started to call each other “my in-law.” Until his death, every communication we had—emails, phone calls, texts—was preceded by “my in-law.”
It was through him I got to know that my wife’s grandparents—or great grandparents—were the first Okun people to accept Islam in Isanlu and that a prominent Muslim secondary school in Isanlu, known as Oluyori Muslim Comprehensive High School, is named after my late wife’s grandfather (or perhaps great-grandfather).
When my wife died in a car crash in Nigeria in June 2010, Pius was distraught and was among the friends who rallied Nigerians in the diaspora to lend me emotional and financial support.In spite of his “sister’s” death and my remarriage four years later, we still called each other “my in-law.” When his wife gave birth to their daughter,Tise, more than a year after my late wife’s death, I was one of the first people he informed. “My in-law, Muyiwa delivered a beautiful baby girl this morning. Mother and daughter are doing great!” he wrote to me on Facebook on November 22, 2011.
Pius kept up with and lubricated his vast network of friends through dutiful outreach and relational nourishment. If a milestone happened in his life and you didn’t write or call to congratulate him, Pius would send you an email or a text to chastise you—often employing his trademark satirical raillery. He did the same if something momentous happened to you and he got to hear of it from others. But he was quicker to forgive than he was to take offense.
That is why a whole lot of people who knew him are distressed beyond comforting by the gut-wrenching news of his death. I personally don’t think I will ever come to terms with his death.
A mutual friend of Pius’ and mine by the name ofBamidele Ademola-Olateju moved to the Atlanta area from Michigan about a year ago. She told me Pius kept reminding her to call me so we could visit each other. She finally called me about two weeks ago, and my family visited her family on February 9. In the nearly five hours we spent at her home, as you would expect, we talked about Pius. Bamidele’s husband had fun things to say about Pius, especially about his travels to Ghana where Bamidele’s husband grew up. Their lovely daughter, Imani, took photos of our visit, which Bamidele said she would share with Pius the following day.
Bamidele’s call woke me up the following morning. I thought she called to tell me that Pius had seen our photos and videos and got a good laugh from my 2-year-old daughter’s clowning. Instead, she told me Pius had died in an air crash! Because I was still in bed and not quite awake when I answered her call, I thought I was having a nightmare from which I would wake up. So I called her back a couple of hours later to confirm if she did actually call to tell me Pius had died. I was hoping against hope that it wasn’t true. She said I wasn’t dreaming.
In many ways, Pius reminds us all of the intrinsic impermanence of our very humanity and of the imperative to always be self-conscious of our mortality. In many discussions with friends, Pius often said he had a foreboding that he wouldn’t live long enough to see his daughters grow to adulthood. That was why he lived every day as if it was his last.He always knew and said that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. That was why he always stood on the side of truth, justice, and fairplay.More than anything, it was Pius’ commitment to these ideals that earned him universal admiration and why we have a hard time accepting that he is physically gone from us for good.But he lives in the millions of lives he inspired and in the ideals he passionately espoused. May his soul rest in peace and his family be comforted.