I never met erudite scholar and celebrated essayist Pius Adesanmi in life, but in death I feel a part me died with him. As one of his admirers and much as I loved to, I didn’t make any effort to meet with him physically because he was an institution whose impact I felt as though I was enveloped by his vision for a working Nigeria. I cherish his works and contribution to national discourse and consider them necessarily required blocks for successful nation-building. His scholarly exploits and patriotic prosaic expressions filled me with a certain optimism that Nigeria was not a hopeless case after all, as there were eminent Nigerians like Pius who were committed to speaking uncomfortable truths to power about the sorry state of our dear father land. Pius was an intellectually upright man of the first order.
From his works, I could tell Pius loved Nigeria with a passion that was discernably the major driving force behind his cerebral literary interventions in Nigeria’s socio-political sphere. As a professor of Literature and African Studies at Ottawa’s Carlton University, Canada, Pius was as far away as he was close, because he maintained an unbroken bond with Nigeria, his country of origin, down to his ethnic Okun roots in Isanlu town of Kogi State. He was in touch with home while fully abreast with international affairs. He was as local as he was global. Despite his strong ties to his roots, Pius was neither provincial nor clannish. He was a pan-Nigerian to the core. In Pius there was a seamless convergence of international best practices and traditional African morality. As a soldier of truth, he was a strong advocate of good governance, citizenship and the morality of the rule of law.
Most significantly, Pius’s literary genius was his ability to pen down complex socio-political issues in the most simple and intelligible language for easy comprehension by many. A combination of his amazingly simple style of writing and his dedicated social media engagements resulted in an unintended mass re-orientation of thousands of Nigerians, mostly youths, through direct mentoring on duties of government as well as citizen obligation to the state. Pius was passionately dedicated to efforts at making Nigeria a successful socio-political reality comparable to any other country in the world. Unlike many others in his category, Pius was not drowned in the vanities of the greener pastures of the diaspora; rather, he drew useful lessons from his first world experiences to stimulate a new though process, through his incisively deep literary works, among his third world country folks to set up conditions preceding the much-needed African renaissance.
The outpouring of love and appreciation for a brief but well spent life, Pius’s after-life indicates a similitude between him and patron saints of religious orders. The same way saints are beatified and venerated for their righteous living but underappreciated lives after life, so has Pius become globally celebrated as a courageous soldier of truth; a very rare attribute in our clime. Like St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th Century Italian Catholic mystic whose enormous theological works became only fully appreciated in his life after life, culminating in his proclamation by Pope John Paul II in 1980 as the patron saint of ecologists, Pius has fully become a literary revelation to the world in death. The world took notice of the fact that Pius was “beloved” by his countrymen; an unprecedented honorific for a man of letters in recent history. As St. Francis become globally known outside his native Assisi in the years after his death, Pius has become known outside his immediate cycle of readers and mentees in death. Such is the stuff saints and patriots are made off. Pius and his kind never really die, as the good works in their lifetime have their names embellished far beyond their immediate environment for good in perpetual immortality.
From the reactions to the ill-fated Boeing 737 Max 8 Ethiopian air liner, which claimed the life of our beloved compatriot, as well the lives of many other citizens of the world, it has become clear that in both life and after-life, Pius impacted our world positively. The grounding of the now accident-prone Boeing 737 Max 8 aeroplanes to prevent further loss of lives is a clear indication that just as Pius lived in order for others to live a more meaningful life, he also died for others to live. As Pius saved many lives from ignorance in his lifetime, so has the outrage over his untimely death in the unfortunate air mishap generated sufficient pressure on most nations of the world to ground a killer aeroplane with potential to kill many more.
As we gathered at the unity fountain in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja for a candle light memorial procession for the departed pen warrior, I could not help but ponder on the now diminishing clan of pen warriors in my dear country Nigeria. Men and women, who, like Pius, are courageous enough to rise above pecuniary interests and primordial sentiments to communicate uncomfortable truth to power in the overriding public interest of the nation of Nigeria.
Beyond the oratory tributes of obsequies, the greatest tribute to the memory of our beloved Pius will be for Nigeria’s clan of pen warriors to continue his struggle for a better Nigeria through the upholding of the tenets of citizens obligation to the state, duties of the state to the citizens and universal principles of best governance practices guided by the culture of African morality.