Pius Adebola Adesanmi (1972 – 2019)

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The Verdit By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

Fading away like the stars of the morning,
Losing their light in the glorious sun-
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.

Shall we be missed though by others succeeded,
Reaping the fields we in springtime have sown?
No, for the sowers may pass from their labors,
Only remembered by what they have done.

Only the truth that in life we have spoken,
Only the seed that on earth we have sown;
These shall pass onward when we are forgotten,
Fruits of the harvest and what we have done.

—Horatius Bonar with music by Ira D. Sankey, 1891

Pius Adebola Adesanmi had countless plans. Death was not one of them. Yet, shortly before he boarded what turned out to be his last flight in Addis Ababa on Sunday morning, he had the presence of mind and the alertness of spirit to surrender himself to the comfort offered in Psalm 139, verses 9 and 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.”

As painful as his death may be, friends of Adesanmi must rejoice in the years we had him with us. After all, as President George Bush said in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in the United States, “Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.”

Adesanmi was a brilliant scholar committed to nurturing young minds, a Nigerian patriot regardless of the passport he held on his last trip, and above all, my friend. In recent years, we communicated almost daily and I have cherished memories of my last August visit to Ottawa, Canada, where he teaches. I will never forget the hospitality of his wife, Muyiwa during the four days I spent with them nor the experience of the ten-hour return road trip to Montreal to see my younger brother, Niyi, with our mutual friend and journalist, Tunde Asaju at the wheel. Asaju must remember those conversations about our country as we loftily sang along with Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Kollington Ayinla, the two artistes whose music we listened to throughout the day.

I spoke to Asaju on Monday through Mrs Adesanmi’s mobile phone and I thank God for friends like him at a time like this. I called her on Sunday afternoon when I first heard that her husband might have been on the ill-fated flight. She confirmed that he was indeed on his way to Nairobi and had not been able to reach him. We prayed together, hoping against hope. With her at the time, I would later learn, were Wumi Asobiaro-Dada and her husband, Fela as well as Bayo and Mariama Aregbesola and a few other members of the Nigerian (and African) community in Ottawa who had gone to join her in the forlorn hope for a miracle. Not long after, the tragedy was confirmed on social media. Muyiwa is now left with memories of a loving husband and father. I will always remember a great friend who lived a short but impactful life.

Named the recipient of the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education (CIBE) Leadership Award in September 2017, Adesanmi was until his death a professor of English Language and Literature at Carleton University, Canada and head of the university’s Institute of African Studies. A profound mind, Adesanmi earned a 1992 First Class Bachelor’s Degree in French from the University of Ilorin and a Master’s Degree (with distinction) in the same discipline from the University of Ibadan before bagging his doctorate, also in French Studies, from the University of British Columbia, Canada.

To understand the writings that earned Adesanmi renown at home and among Diaspora Nigerians, we can borrow from what the late American author, Brian Doyle wrote in “The Adventures of John Carson.” There is a story in everything, “and every being, and every moment, were we alert to catch it, were we ready with our tender nets; indeed, there are a hundred, a thousand stories, uncountable stories…”

Adesanmi looked for everyday stories to interpret the reality of our existence in Nigeria. He found lessons embedded in every experience, no matter how mundane. In the video clip now circulating on social media, Adesanmi used the story of the broken showerhead in a posh Abuja hotel in which he once lodged to drive home his point about how we accept mediocrity as a culture in Nigeria.

Adesanmi’s metaphor of the showerhead was not different from the late literary giant, Chinua Achebe’s May 1989 interview with Charles Rowell, where he told the story of the snake and toad to illustrate the tragedy of a nation held down for decades due to the celebration of mediocrity at all levels. What agitated Adesanmi is whether this society, or any society for that matter, can advance when the leadership appears unconcerned about what constitutes a good society and discounts the little things that matter.

I am happy that friends like Lola Shoneyin, Kadaria Ahmed and others are rising up in memory of Adesanmi. We will hear more about this in the coming days and weeks. However, as it happens when we lose cherished writers, quotes are being circulated without context. For example: “I write basically these days for the purposes of archaeology. A thousand years from now, archaeologists would be interested in how some people called Nigerians lived in the 20th and 21st centuries. If they dig and excavate, I am hoping that fragments of my writing survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves of the most irresponsible rulers of their era.”

While those were Adesanmi’s words in his column last Saturday titled ‘An Archaeology of Nigeria’, I do not want him to be misunderstood. Despite the frustrations that could be glimpsed from his writings, Adesanmi neither gave up on Nigeria nor surrendered to pessimism about a country he loved. He was planning to come back home when his term as Director of the Institute of African Studies ends in 2021 and had already identified a particular university where he believed he could make a difference. In fact, in recent conversations, he said he had the option to take the last year of his term as sabbatical with his full entitlements so he could return home soon.

Meanwhile, I was impressed yesterday as hundreds of Nigerians, including some political leaders who were at the wrong end of Adesanmi’s writings, gathered at the Unity Fountain in Abuja to honour his passage at an evening of tributes. Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Senator representing Kogi West where Adesanmi hailed from, Dino Melaye as well as Senators Shehu Sani and Babafemi Ojudu were all there. And so were Mr Babatunde Irukera, Mr Michael Oluwagbemi, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim (oga Jibo), Mr Ogaga Ifowodo and several important personalities in both the private and public sectors. The event was put together by people from the arts and civil society: Abdul Mahmud, Raphael Adebayo, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, Deji Adeyanju, Sam Amadi, Lady Florence, the irrepressible Aisha Yesufu and many other people who confessed they never met Adesanmi but were impacted by his writings.

At 47, Adesanmi was too young to die. But as the saying goes, “it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” In the decades to come, as he rightly predicted, many will read his work. Adesanmi has earned that for himself. My hope, however, is that his writings will be read not as lamentation of what might have been but rather as testimony to a Nigeria that works. In the fullness of time, when we are all but fragments of history, future generations will appreciate Adesanmi who, in his refusal to submit to mediocrity, joined other compatriots to plant the seed of a new Nigeria.

May God comfort his mother, wife and the two daughters he left behind.

A Word for Ihedioha

Ever since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Emeka Ihedioha winner of the Imo State gubernatorial election on Monday evening, I have been receiving calls and text messages from people who congratulate me on “your friend’s success”. That has placed an uncomfortable burden on me. If Ihedioha succeeds in Imo State, as I pray he does, nobody is going to credit me with anything. But should Ihedioha fail, God forbid, I am going to share in the blame because not a few people will remind me of our friendship. In fact, there will be those who could even find excuses in such failure in the fact that he has a Yoruba friend like me!

Ihedioha has been a close friend and confidant for almost 30 years. Ever since he started running for elective office in 2003, I have been part of his campaign. The only time I was not in Imo State with him was during the 2011 general election when I was in the United States. Even then, he forced me to leave my family behind and come back home after my programme ended at the end of May 2011. On the night preceding his election as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives on 6th June 2011, it was in my house that he slept, at the insistence of his wife, Ebere who has also been my friend right from the time they were courting. And it was from my house Ihedioha left, dressed in Babariga as a disguise, to the chambers of the House.

In 2015, Ihedioha contested the governorship of Imo and failed, although he insists he was rigged out. But when I went last month to join the last lap of his campaign, I sensed that events were conspiring in his favour this time. And I wrote as much in a piece I titled, “In Imo, Ihedioha Confronts Iberiberism’: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2019/02/27/in-imo-ihedioha-confronts-iberiberism/.

In the course of that visit, a fund raising dinner was organised for Ihedioha at the residence of Chief Charles Ugwu, a former commerce and industry minister and past president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). As we drove out of Ugwu’s residence after the event at about 1am, Ihedioha suddenly remarked, “Segun, you said yesterday that you would like to see the statues erected by Rochas (Okorocha) before you leave. Since your flight is very early and I promised to take you to see them, let’s go there before we go home.” He asked the driver to stop and turn in a different direction from where we were headed and that caused commotion as other drivers in the convoy had to change course. For the next 30 minutes at a very ungodly hour, we drove around Owerri as he showed me not only the statues but also the so-called ‘underground tunnel’ built by the governor.

But the message came at the point where Ihedioha asked the driver to turn so that he could show me the statues. A mutual friend from the state who was also in the vehicle with us commented: “Segun, that is Emeka for you. He keeps his promise.” I found the comment disturbingly patronising, but I nonetheless liked the message. For Ihedioha, what he did for me in the wee hour of that morning just about four weeks ago is what the people of Imo State have now elected him to do for them. He made a number of promises and they have vested their trust in him. Now is the time to keep those promises.

In all circumstances, Ihedioha must put the interest of Imo people above any other consideration. May God help him to succeed.

Elections and the Military

All the factors that make politics so ugly in our country were on full display during the 2019 general election that cannot be said to be over. The violence which claimed several lives, including a House of Representatives member; snatching and burning of ballot papers; use of money to buy votes, compromise of electoral officers and security agents etc. Now, with undecided, suspended and inconclusive gubernatorial elections and the upturning of senatorial results declared under the barrel of the gun, the battle may have just started in a few states across the country.

As I said last week, I am interrogating all the issues associated with the 2019 general election and I don’t want to draw hasty conclusions but we must acknowledge that there have been interesting outcomes. Indeed, one fact has come out quite clearly: The opposition has perhaps done better in the gubernatorial elections than at any time under the current dispensation which started in 1999. For instance, in open-seat elections in Oyo, Kwara, Lagos, Gombe and Imo, the ruling party in the states lost with two going for the PDP and three for the APC. Even the open-seat election in Ogun State is a defeat for the outgoing governor who backed another candidate. But the real story is in the six states where the elections have been declared inconclusive. The PDP is leading in Kano, Bauchi and Adamawa states that are currently controlled by the ruling APC and had been considered their traditional strongholds. PDP is also making a play for Plateau and will likely retain Benue and Sokoto States.

While the foregoing speaks to the increasing power of the ballots, there is a serious concern about the manner in which the military dominated the elections in the South-South, including the invasion of private homes (and kitchens) of targeted politicians. There were also video images of people dressed in military uniforms aiding ballot snatchers in some other states. To worsen matters, reports from the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission Nigeria 2019, the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other foreign election monitors have been very damning of the role played by the military in the course of the elections.

Whatever may be our attitude to ‘foreign interference’ we cannot dismiss their views because they were invited by INEC to monitor the polls. “These actions and the impunity with which some electoral actors conducted themselves, including some polling agents and members of the military, undermine citizen confidence in elections and threaten the legitimacy of Nigeria’s democracy,” according to one of the foreign reports. That summation is not much different from the conclusions drawn by the local observers.

While I intend to interrogate some of these issues in the coming weeks for a book project, it is in the enlightened interest of President Muhammadu Buhari to conduct a serious inquiry into the role played by the military in the course of these elections. The survival of our democracy may depend on it.