Our hearts are broken. We have no words. This is hard to bear. The news of the death of Professor Pius Adesanmi in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash on March 10, 2019, alongside more than 150 passengers and crew, continues to reverberate around the world. I was very close to Professor Adesanmi, whose family hosted me in their home in Ottawa just last month. It was quintessential Pius Adesanmi; He was at the airport to pick me up and we embraced warmly, the way you would with a dear friend and brother. Sitting on the floor of his living room, we commenced our analysis of multifarious issues that went well into the night. We discussed our respective book projects, plans, and aspirations, and he shared details about his career trajectory. Pius also talked about the ghastly road accident that nearly claimed his life in Nigeria in 2018. He showed me the scars from his left leg and narrated the arduous journey to recovery, describing how the accident changed his perspective about life by making him conscious of time.Professor Adesanmi was an outstanding and highly decorated scholar.
Pius spoke about how blessed he was to have his wife, Muyiwa. He was sure that very few marriages could survive his travel schedule and other demands of his career. He told me that his wife was his “polar opposite.” Unlike him, Muyiwa did not like to travel and was always keen to return home to “sleep in her bed.” This was fascinating to me as Muyiwa’s father had recently retired as a pilot. Adesanmi also took great delight in his daughter, Tise. He radiated such joy at her presence. We spoke about some of the ways Tise “tackled” her father. Many of Adesanmi’s followers on social media would be familiar with Tise. Tise and I had played a game of soccer in the family basement earlier in the evening; I told Pius how Tise won the game largely because she made the rules and changed them as the game progressed. It was hilarious!
He suggested we have a joint vacation in Cuba at the end of the year and I thought it was a great idea. He teased Muyiwa about her phobia for travel. Muyiwa responded with the type of look only spouses who were in love could understand. Pius Adesanmi was happy. He was a joy to spend time with. How do we process his death? I am at a loss to think that someone I spent time with a month ago has died. How do we comfort Muyiwa? What do we tell Tise? How about mama and other family members?
Pius received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Ilorin and his master’s from the University of Ibadan. He obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia, Canada He was on the faculty at Pennsylvania State University in the United States before leaving for Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He was, until his death, a professor of English and African literature, and the director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University.
Professor Adesanmi was an outstanding and highly decorated scholar. He was an Izaak Walton Killam scholar during his doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia—one of only five Killam universities in Canada (others are the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, and Dalhousie University). Adesanmi won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African writing in the non-fiction category in 2010. He also received the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award in 2017. He was in great demand as a distinguished public intellectual, speaker, columnist, satirist, and writer.He was a thorn in the flesh of Africa’s political class, especially the Nigerian political elite. Everyone who knew him was struck by his decency, humor, intellect, and capacity to connect with others.Professor Adesanmi was very much at the peak of his career and in the prime of his life. Remarks by top administrators at Carleton University speak to the texture of his scholarship and the quality of our loss. A statement by Benoit-Antoine Bacon, the president and vice-chancellor of Carleton, notes that “Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who knew and loved him, and with everyone who suffered a loss in the tragic crash in Ethiopia.” Pauline Rankin, Carleton’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, states that Professor Adesanmi “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 caliber who leaves a deep imprint on Carleton.”
Professor Adesanmi died in service to Africa. He was on his way to a meeting at the behest of the African Union when he died. His spectacularly broad and transnational followership made his articles and posts on social media part of the daily diet of many people around the world. He was a thorn in the flesh of Africa’s political class, especially the Nigerian political elite. Everyone who knew him was struck by his decency, humor, intellect, and capacity to connect with others.
Professor Pius Adesanmi’s final social media post is one for the ages. It was a quote from Psalm 139 verses 9 to 10: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” We will never know what went through his mind at that moment. What a world! What a life! Akoni ti lo (“a warrior is gone”). O daro o. Goodnight, Pius Adesanmi.
This essay was previously published in Premium Times.