Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi, a celebrated scholar, literary critic and columnist, was among the 157 victims of the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that crashed some minutes after take-off at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019. The other Nigerian victim was Ambassador Abiodun Bashua.
Until his death, Adesanmi was the Director of the Institute of African Studies at the Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. His passage has elicited tributes from friends and colleagues eulogising his sterling qualities and mourning his painful exit. In his death, Nigeria, Africa and the world lost a great intellectual.
Born on February 27, 1972, in Isanlu in Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State, Nigeria, Pius Adesanmi attended the University of Ilorin where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French Language in 1992. He got his Master’s degree in French from the University of Ibadan in 1998, and a Ph.D. in French Studies from the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2002.
He worked as an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, USA, from 2002-2005. Later, he joined Carleton University as a Professor of Literature and African Studies. He was the director of the university’s institute of African Studies. For many years, Adesanmi was a regular columnist for Premium Times, Sahara Reporters and Nigerian Tribune. His satirical essays were critical of the nation’s socio-economic conditions.
In most of these essays, Adesanmi essentially interrogated the decrepit human conditions and lampooned the leadership deficit and decadence in Nigeria and Africa. In a lecture he delivered at The Platform in 2015, entitled “Hating Nigeria to greatness,” Professor Adesanmi admonished Nigerians to, among other things, “Develop a culture of contempt for the mediocrity because that shower head, ladies and gentlemen, the part that is blocked, will not work for a Christian and it will not work for a Moslem. It will not work for an Igbo man or a Yoruba man or an Ijaw man; it affects everybody equally across all of these differences that we don’t know how to use constructively and is blocking the progress of this country.”
He enjoined Nigerians to “transcend those differences to fix mediocrity, to develop a culture of contempt for mediocrity.” He was a man who could not hide his passion for Africa. Till his death, the deceased was worried about the enthronement of mediocrity in the country. The deceased was a Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) from 1993-1997, and of the French Institute of South Africa in 1998 and 2000.
He started life as a creative writer. He was too involved in the affairs of the country. He had passion for the youths. He hated disdain for scholarship and was too courageous for his age. Adesanmi had also authored some award-wining books. In 2001, The Wayfarer and Other Poems won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize while in 2010, You’re Not a Country, Africa, a collection of essays, won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing in the nonfiction category. In 2015, he published another book, Naija No Dey Carry Last.
The deceased might have had a premonition of early exit as accentuated by his last Facebook post taken from Psalm139:9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me,” and these lines from The Wayfarer and Other Poems, “As I took note of exit routes…/Earthlings, among you I’m a prisoner of war/Escape/Escape always on my mind.”
We urge the Federal Government to immortalise the deceased for his contributions to the country. We need great thinkers and philosophers like the deceased at this point of our national development. The government must strive to “develop a culture of contempt for mediocrity” as advised by Adesanmi.
We commiserate with his family, the literary world and the academic community on the great loss. May God grant his soul and the souls of other victims of the plane crash eternal rest.