He appeared like a dew in the grass of my morning and evaporated at the rise of the sun. He knew, yes he knew. We were created with an expiration date. God gave us hope so we can live. Otherwise we would sit and wait to die in despondency. Pius knew, he just was not certain and he could not have been. He was, a mere mortal. He did everything in a hurry and lived quickly.
Most people know Professor Pius Adesanmi, the University teacher, author, writer, public commentator, activist etc. I know Pius, just Pius. I know Pius, the loving and dutiful only son of Mama Louis Olufunke Adesanmi. The favourite nephew and son of Mama Oyelude. I know Pius, the wonderful and dotting father of two daughters; ten year old Damilare from his first marriage and six year old Tise from his second marriage. I know Pius the husband of Muyiwa, the brother of Iyabo and Tinuke.
To know Pius is to love him. A few years ago, he gave a lecture at Lagos State University (LASU). While at the podium, he noticed one of the people involved in making the event a successful one, looked like his primary school classmate. He gave his lecture, at the same time, he kept eye on the man wherever he was in the hall. After the event, he sought the man out, they embraced and exchanged phone numbers before he was peeled away by his professorial cycle. When he got to where he was lodged, he called his classmate and invited him over. The man told Pius he lived somewhere in the ravines of Okokomaiko. Pius wanted communion and more time with his long lost classmate. He followed him to his apartment in Okokomaiko. They ate, drank beer, and talked about the rascally little ones they once were. By the time he realised the day was far spent, he could not get back to where he was lodged. He slept at his classmate’s one bedroom apartment. At 6:30 a.m., the driver assigned to him called to remind him of a breakfast meeting; that was when Pius’ wàhálà started. He rushed out to hail a taxicab, he found none. Taxicabs are a rarity there, because his friend’s house was in the farthest interior. Without further ado, he perched on an Okada and sneaked into his room pretending to have slept in the accommodation provided by LASU.
Pius was effortlessly ordinary. He fraternised with mechanics, “vulcanisers”, students and peasants with remarkable ease and joked around speaking “Ojulowo” (native) Yoruba without affectation, like he had never been to school. Behind the fiery notes and the wickedly humorous updates was a very simple man who loved the simplicity and survivalist life of the streets. He often dwelt there to have a feel of what it held for many without privilege. He was ordinary in a world where people invest in hopeless complexity, bought themselves airs and lost their originality.
Pius Adebola Adesanmi was a proud Isanlu son. His voice reverberated in Yoruba cultural rediviva. He was a pride to Nigeria and a scholarly beacon on the Africa literary scene. He lived and died working towards improving Africa’s higher education and cultural renaissance. He wore the indigo plumes of Agbe (Greater Blue-eyed Glossy Starling – lamprotonis chalybaus). If you know Agbe, mourn with me the lack of indigo in my dyeing pit. He wore the carmine plumes of Àlùkò (Carmine Bee-eater – merops nubicus). If you know Àlùkò, mourn with me the loss of osùn in my jar. He wore the crimson plumes of Odíderé (Africa Grey Parrot – psittacus erithacus)’s tail feathers. If you know Odídẹrẹ́, mourn with me, over the broken pieces of my prized jar of palm oil. He wore the unstained white plumes of Lékelèké (Cow Egret – areola ibis). If you know Lékeléke, mourn with me the rending of my white garment. Pius wore these colours without contradictions, as symbolised by the many lives he touched, in many different and unique ways.
“You killed the academic, do not kill the author”, he told me in my living room in Michigan in 2012. That sentence began my journey into public intelection. His birth lent him to me, and his existence and friendship showed myself to me. Sometimes, as we journey through life’s meandering courses, we meet that person who completes a part we never thought missing and we become kin with them. Then, you grow up together, year on year, sharing life’s triumphs and frustrations. That is when you realise the bond of kinship, the conviviality of sprit and a sense of security in each other’s company. He was my friend at play and my comrade in arms. The only one I tap when I get to E. T. C – End of Thinking Capacity. Pius Adesanmi tended the shriveled cotyledons of my late literary sprout, guiding it towards light and it blossomed. One day in May of 2014, he told Musikilu Mojeed of PREMIUM TIMES, “I have a writer for you”. After telling him, he gave me an hour to send him my first column. I muttered: ‘column!’ ‘One hour!’ It was 8 p.m. in Nigeria. I went to work. When he gave orders, I obeyed; and when I gave orders, he obeyed. With him I understood the psychology of a positive mutually reinforcing relationship. I penned “For The Love Of Country” as my first column in the PREMIUM TIMES within an hour. He read it and exclaimed! “Bamidele, o mọ iyì ara ẹ!” (Bamidele you don’t know your worth). That is Pius the enabler and promoter of latent or unrecognised talent! I considered my introductory article the best I have written and adopted the title for my book. His total belief in me made all the difference in my contribution to Nigeria’s public intellection. With me, he extended the frontiers of friendship and remade genetics. We completed each other’s sentences and predicted each other with alarming accuracy. To me, he was the face of loyalty. His loyalty to me was unquestionable!
He never hid his frustrations about the Nigerian project. In almost every Facebook update, columns, lectures, keynotes, he mused with a bitter shrug, the sad perplexity and the terrible uncomprehending surrounding Nigeria. He often wondered if our dreams of a great Nigeria will ever be realised. He preached the gospel of change with tenacious commitment by shaping the discourse on the demands of leadership and the responsibilities of followership, in a narcissistic and shallow country lacking in realism. Pius was a courageous apostle of our anachronistic values and an unsparing critic of our contemporary society. He was refreshingly honest, open and real. Since he died, many who did not know him but were touched by his writing, have been celebrating him because he had a commanding passion. He was outraged by oppression, corruption, stealing, conversion, impunity, cronyism, deplorable education, fatalistic health systems, and every dangerous adjectives of “-isms”, “-sions” and “-tions” plaguing Nigeria.
My very dear friend was very visceral, and humane. He believed everyone matters, that we all are unique and entitled to a simple life of dignity, freedom, happiness and such inalienable rights ordained by God. He paid attention to small things, knowing small things lead to big things and small evils lead to bigger evils. He spoke and wrote against evil and worked against evil when it was fashionable to embrace evil. He was the pillar in many people’s fence, the irrigator of many brains, the holder of many hands, the shoulder many leaned on, the enablers of many dreams, a committed and relentless cheerleader of his many teams and a promoter of upcoming talent.
Pius Mi Ọ̀wọ́n (Dear Pius), that was how I addressed you in my numerous email. Your high pitch cackle has been ringing in my ears since you departed this world. I have recalled every joke, every jest, every encouragement. You knew me so well as to ask: “Bamidele, isn’t that eyelash grey?” Ah! It is grey oh! I don’t understand this atúni l’àṣírí irun ojú o! I can’t recall calling you prof. Except in jest like, irú professor jákujàku wo ni ẹ́? (What manner of yeye professor is this?) Ẹ wo bata professor? (See professor’s shoes? These can only be worn by a professor). Ẹ wo okùn ṣòkòtò professor ni gbangba! We were so much ourselves when we spoke or when alone. I cannot recall a specific instance we spoke in English. I recall celebrating your appointment as the director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University from the perspective that you will now be forced to call meetings, be in meetings and stay glued to one place for an hour or more, play host to visiting dignitaries and be on campus daily in a strict regimen. I know regimens are a punishment you desire only for “enimis”. We know ourselves so well and we can laugh with each other and at each other without a care. We even lash out at each other and still continue the conversation. I was waiting to see you use those pesky reading glasses we thought only our village cathechist used when we were young? How I often ask if and when that nuisance was going to hang on the bridge of your nose? How I silently wanted to see greys in your hair because you cheated me so much in height and I wanted an edge. I taunted you, that grey hair and reading glasses are professorial bonafides you must acquire fast in addition to your Obesere and Rapala street creds. Oh God! How I love that guttural “Bamidele, ìwọ lọ mọ̀” (Bamidele, that is your problem), whenever I asked if you breathed for five minutes prior to taking your pictures as it was obvious you tried too hard to suck your tummy in; when I reminded you that your gym membership was more like a charitable donation, asking when last you were there?
We all are fleeting shadows. Pius, you knew it and I know too. When your plane stalled three hours before landing in Accra in 2016, you were shaken. I tried to dismiss it as turbulence but you told me oxygen masks deployed and that events of your life flashed in your face. You told me; “Bamidele, ó dà bí plane crash lọ má pá mi”. (Bamidele, it seems I will die in a plane crash). I rebuked it. Since that day, no two weeks passed without you telling me to take care of Damilare and Tise, should you die. You asked me to make sure they become united as sisters. You told me to make sure they have education befitting the daughters of a professor. You were so convinced you would die young. Pius Mi Ọ̀wọ́n, were you an emèrè? I took your casual warnings seriously. I prayed. Although, I did not tell mama about your constant warnings; I asked her to pray. We held joint night vigils. My mother and sister joined. March 24 last year, you called me to warn Mama to stop fasting. You said she had emanciated due to excessive fasting. I did! She promised to fast less but she said she cannot stop as long as she is alive. Your death was your mother’s biggest fear. Sadly, it has come to pass. Surely, God is All-Knowing. When you had that accident along Ogbomoso/Oyo road, I felt that was it! I felt we had triumphed! I had no idea my song of victory was premature. You struggled with recovery. You lived in trepidation. It took a lot of effort to nurse you back to public life. Was that the clue I missed? I don’t know.
You came back on your own terms. You became zestful. You wrote and wrote. You started “Injury Time With Pius Adesanmi” in the Nigerian Tribune. You pursued with renewed vigour many ideas to uplift the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University. Every Summer, nothing competes with University of Ghana Pan-African Doctoral Academy where you sat on the faculty as Carnegie’s African Diasporan Fellow. We were so excited about the African higher education summit you would have anchored later this year. We thought about proposing knowledge hubs to governors in the South-West. You championed African Institute of Governance and created African Doctoral Lounge to mentor emerging scholars on the continent. In hindsight, everything you touched worked! Could that have been a clue?
It is a week since the crash that took you from me, from us. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. The stream still flows forward not backwards. Your death shook Nigeria, Africa, Canada and the world. You were a change maker in life and in death. Because you died, many will now be spared the horror of death in Boeing 737 Max 8. They say time heals all wounds. True, this wound will heal but it will leave a disfiguring scar. Why? Can I just thank you in this tribute? All through our friendship, you retained that fundamental grounding. Thank you because you did not get dense when I needed you to be smart, you did not close when I needed you to open up, you did not pretend to snore when I knocked on the door, you did not disconnect when a pertinent call is in progress pretending the network was busy, you did not hide in altars or the mansions of Abuja feeding fat on people’s ignorance. You had a rich and full relationship with me and many of us your friends and family. Thank you for living a life of meaning, for fighting important fights, for being true to yourself.
I was true to you in life, I will be true to you in death. You loved your two daughters equally. I will be there for Damilare. You never mentioned her. Many did not know her until your death. You left me to do that. To set the records straight. I thank God I pressured you to bring her to spend time with us in 2016. Now I am grateful you did. She bonded with Opeyemi, my daughter and I. I took this picture of her clinging to you in my farm in 2016. Only two weeks ago, I asked you to send me her Canadian passport so she could spend this Summer with us. You promised to renew it upon your return from Nairobi and asked me how to go about it, with her not with you in Canada. I will miss our Saturday video chat rendezvous with Tiṣe. By God, your daughters will be united as sisters. They will have good education. They will excel more than your hopes and aspirations. I will ensure that.
Okun, Pius Mi Owon! Aṣọ àrán tí mo ń wọ̀ láàárín àwùjọ lo jẹ́. Ikú rẹ gba aṣo yí ní ara mi. Ṣùgbọ́n, ká kú l’ọ́mọdé kó yẹ’ni, ó sàn ju ká d’àgbà la’i l’ádìyẹ ìrànà.
May God rest your loving and gentle soul. May he make your death a rest from all evils.
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo