Obit: Pius Adesanmi, Scholar, Writer, Activist, dead in Ethiopian Airlines disaster – Tola Adenle



Professor Adesanmi [Credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]


As Professor Pius Adesanmi, scholar, writer, activist is being mourned on multiple continents, especially in Nigerian – country of his birth – and Canada, his adopted homeland, those of us who knew him only through his many writings/contributions to political discourse in Nigeria do feel a great sense of loss at his sudden and early death. These literary contributions came in forms of essays and poetry in newspapers, online sites and multiple books. Adesanmi was Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University at Ottawa.

Even though he lived until his sudden death, first in the USA, and then Canada for about 20 years after his first and second degrees at the Universities of Ilorin and Ibadan, many of Professor Adesanmi’s writings were always peppered with Yoruba Language idioms, proverbs and colloquialisms as well as Nigerian pidgin English either in the titles or contents that not only show his versatility with languages – a First Class first degree & Masters degree in French as well as a U. British Columbia doctorate in French Studies – but a good depth of Yoruba, his mother tongue. A book with a title that proclaims that “Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress”, for example, announces to the reader, especially Nigerian –  Adesanmi’s wit and humor (first part) and (perhaps) Peter Enahoro-type (Peter Pan) satire on things great and small about The Nigerian Character (in the second part); he was noted in satire as part of his literary repertoire.

Naija No Dey Carry Last…” is Nigerian pidgin for Nigerians always strive for excellence, for firsts in all things but the five words, in the order written/spoken, translate in Yoruba as would be done by Yorubas raised speaking more English than Yoruba: Naija/Nigerians kò kì ngb’ẹ̀yin or something close to that! Of course, those raised with more English than Yoruba would be translating from Yoruba to English which is how the verb “carry”  gets introduced into this Nigerian colloquialism/pidgin of something having nothing to do with carrying. The ngb’ is abbreviated form of (n)gbé which is the Yoruba word for carry; but the ‘n’ added, shows the continuous tense – carrying’ – of the verb. I referred to the “Yoruba-Abroad”(!) colloquialism in an essay here long ago in a Dear niece’s description of Nigerians’ tendency to burden others with carrying packages from the US to relatives back home: Auntie, ṣé ẹ mọ̀ pé àwa Nigerians like lati má a rán ẹrù! – Auntie, you know that we Nigerians like to send packages which has the Yoruba object, ‘sent’ [sort of] being personified … as the sentence’s subject got the very mangled translation in her attempt to translate the English word for word as spoken into Yoruba.

The Nigerian social and political scenes were ripe fields that Adesanmi mined for his literary creations, especially politicians and Nigerian breed of church ministers, aka “pastors”, perhaps the most important creatures in many Nigerian Xtians’ lives today: a “pastor” warns his flock of coming bad happenings (though not how to avoid them), family members to  distance themselves from (though not the reason why) …

You did not need to have met Adesanmi to realize the scholarship, the wit and the depth of a young man who was destined for even greater literary achievements. I got to know his writings first on (SR) during the Obasanjo presidency, a period that made SR, the award-winning, equally-feared and despised (by Nigerian looters) website it has become; it was during the beginning of its earned fame for its reliable and investigative reports on Nigeria’s politics and politicians.

Professor Adesanmi authored many books and was a prolific contributor to political and social discourse on Nigeria, works that won him numerous literary awards, including the 2010 Inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing for You’re Not a Country, Africa and the Poetry prize for The Wayfarer and Other Poems by the Association of Nigerian authors. He was also a recipient of Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award in 2017.

After his doctorate program at U. BC in 2002, Adesanmi taught Comparative Literature at Penn State in the US before moving back to Carleton University at Ottawa in Canada in 2006. At his death, he held the dual citizenships of Nigeria and Canada, and from both countries and beyond have been outpouring of grief since the announcement of his demise.

The Isanlu Ìsin-born Professor Pius Adesanmi is from what used to be Yoruba part of Northern Nigeria in present-day Kogi State, a very fertile ground that ranks among the states with most educated Nigerians – male and females.  The University of Ilorin in Kwara State where he received a First Class Degree at graduation, is almost next door to Kogi while the University of Ibadan (Nigeria’s premier university) from where he received his Masters Degree lies a few hours’ drive from Kogi and Kwara. Adesanmi would later discover many parts of the world during trips for scholarly workshops, symposia, conferences and meetings from his home in Canada, a country that not only showed its appreciation of his scholarship in his lifetime with the 2017 award but there are announcements of his tragic end on news sites, including the national broadcasting station, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and newspapers such as Ottawa Citizen. 

A recent post on his Twitter feed

I was born in a hospital run by Canadian missionaries. I attended schools run by Canadians. I grew up in Naija knowing 1st World institutions run by Oyinbo folks. Then Nigeria happened to d institutions. If evil happens to u, u can overcome evil. May Nigeria never happen to u.


He came but not before leaving giant footprints on Africa’s literary scene and a legacy of community involvement in his adopted homeland.

May his soul find eternal rest with the Lord.

MONDAY, MARCH 11, 2019. 8:56 P.M. [GMT]



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