Carleton University, art community, others mourn Adesanmi
Tributes have continued to pour in for the late Professor Pius Adesanmi, who was aboard the Ethiopian Airlines Airbus 737 MAX 8 that crashed in the morning of March 10, 2019 in Addis Ababa. He was en route Nairobi as a participant at the ECOSOCC meeting organised by the African Union.
Born in Isanlu, Yagba East Council of Kogi State, Adesanmi bagged a first class honours degree 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.
In a special tribute, the Carleton University said, “it is devastated by the sudden death of Prof. Pius Adesanmi, director of our Institute of African Studies and a remarkable writer, poet and political commentator who was celebrated for his eloquence and fearlessness in speaking truth to power.”
The school said one of the most important minds of the African diaspora; he inspired his Carleton colleagues with his brilliance and cemented his close ties to faculty, staff and students with his kindness, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and unforgettable laugh.
“Pius Adesanmi was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy,” said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, president and vice-chancellor. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who knew and loved him, and with everyone who suffered loss in the tragic crash in Ethiopia.”
“The contributions of Pius Adesanmi to Carleton are immeasurable,” said Pauline Rankin, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
“He 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.”
Rankin told FASS colleagues that Carleton would hold tributes “to chronicle his pivotal role in building African Studies, his reputation as a global public intellectual, his celebrated scholarship and his mentorship of students.
“Today, however, I’m remembering his warmth and friendliness, his booming laugh, his enthusiasm for his work and his deep dedication to Carleton. He is irreplaceable in our faculty and in our hearts.”
Already, Carleton community members will have an opportunity to sign a condolence book, which will be located in the Tory Building lobby on the third floor.
The English Department is equally inviting people to pay their respects through an online comment box.
Former FASS dean, John Osborne, said: “But what was truly amazing was the impact he had in Africa.”
Osborne continued, “through his writing and blogging, he reached an audience . . . in the millions in his native Nigeria and beyond, becoming one of the most avidly read commentators on contemporary life and politics on the continent.”
His first book, Wayfarer and Other Poems published in 2001, won the Association of Nigerian Authors prize for poetry. His 2010 book, You’re Not a Country Africa, won the Penguin Prize for African Literature. The remarkable collection of essays tried to unravel what Africa meant to him as an African and pulls apart the enigma that is the continent.
A subsequent celebrated book of essays on Nigerian politics and culture, Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress, was in Channels Book Club’s prestigious list of the best 15 Nigerian books of 2015.
Adesanmi’s work concentrated on the hope for a Pan-African future.
At Carleton, he felt he had a mandate to facilitate strategic links between Canadian institutions organising Africa-focused initiatives and to shift narratives. And while he grappled with being part of the African diaspora, he argued that social media engagement has blurred boundaries, shrinking distances between people on the continent and around the word.
“One thing that remains with you after talking to Pius Adesanmi for any period of time is his optimism,” wrote Justin Villamil and Yossie Olaleye.
“Throughout the interview, and while reading Adesanmi’s books, I sense a real undercurrent of hope. He recognizes the Nigerian—and wider African—problems, but through it all, he sees things changing, however small.”
Lola Shoneyin, the Festival Director, Ake Book and Art Festival, in her tribute, said the poet and essayist, Prof. Adesanmi, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, “was a public intellectual without peer.”
She said, “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.”
Shoneyin added, “for many years, Adesanmi maintained a regular column for Premium Times and Sahara Reporters. 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.”
She also said, “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.”
In September 2015, his scathing piece on the decision of the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, to take an underaged wife 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.
Nduka Otiono, Adesanmi’s colleague at Carleton, said, ‘the bleeding truth is that this truth doesn’t look like the truth; the tragedy is too surreal it takes a while to process reality. Twenty-five years of friendship, brotherhood, and collegiality extinguished mid-air just like that? Adieu the great Payo!”
The poet Ogaga Ifowodo, in his tribute, asked, “Pius Adesanmi, RIP?”
He continued, ‘I can’t bring myself to say it. What or who do I curse? The day? The plane? The makers of the new technology-driven plane 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 marvelled 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, College Station and Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and 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.
For Denja Abdullahi, “the news is devastating to all those that have heard it. Pius Adesanmi was a very cerebral, innovative, delightful and public-spirited intellectual who was at ease and profound in any discourse he handled or was involved. His intellectual energy and ability to follow every thing or person of remarkable interest was awesome.”
The Association of Nigerian Authors president stressed, “this exit is beyond the threshold of pain and can unhinged many things. The literati, the academia, the African public sphere, your numerous followers across Africa, the world, your family and many more … will miss you. Adieu, kindred spirit.”
The playwright Biyi Bandele wondered what a day it was. He prayed that the families of all those who died in the crash “have the strength and fortitude to bear this monumental tragedy. Pius Adesanmi, great scholar, truth teller, irrepressible soul, was apparently on flight ET302. Rest in peace, Pius.”
The writer Amatoritsero Ede also prayed that the family left behind will have the strength and fortitude to bear the tragic loss.
He said, “goodnight, Pius Adesanmi, friend, brother, father, husband; scholar, writer! I am still numb and in shock at your sudden departure on that crashed Ethiopian airline.”
For Pa Ikhide, “I understand now why men go out drinking and pay for warmth in strange places. Because if we cry, the elders fine us. Oh Pius, It is taboo to mourn you; I was supposed to go first. Son, where is my drink? I can’t do this sober. Onugo of my ancestors, what have we done?”
He continued, “but here you are, Pius, here you are, saying, Fuck you, Africa, I am out of here. Why, Pius, why? Goodnight you, we fought, threw mean words at each other and learnt too late that even for wordsmiths, mean words are powerful. I will always love you. Oh God, I am so sorry, warrior, I am so sorry…
Good night, Pius, good night…”
Going pholosophical, Afam Akeh said, “you learn, every painful death, that you are mere custodian not the owner of your life. Keep yours well my friends. Condolences to his family, and to the many others mourning the passing of Professor Pius Adesanmi, lately of The Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada. I understand he was one of those taken by the Ethiopian plane crash. You could disagree with Payo, as I sometimes did, but you were never in doubt about the power of his intellect. He was also a happy life-long learner, willing to correct himself as appropriate.”