When, on returning home from my Sunday morning football game, an exercise I’m super regular in, on 10 March 2019, I surfed through the social media to see news of a crash involving a Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines plane in Addis Ababa, I did a Facebook post to the effect that I feared a Nigerian was in that plane. You don’t need any clairvoyant skill for that – it is hardly possible for a commercial plane carrying 149 passengers between two major African capitals not to have a Nigerian on board. Aside from the fact that one out of every six Africans is a Nigerian, Nigerians are known for traveling a lot. Yet, this was one instinct I hoped to be wrong on.
Few minutes later, international media started releasing the nationalities of the victims. My fear was confirmed – a Nigerian was reported to be on board. I went offline for few hours only to return online at around 6pm to see my inbox filled with messages from friends: “Jarus, please confirm that it is true that Professor Pius Adesanmi was on that ill-fated Ethiopian flight”. I raced to Google for latest news on the crash only to see what my friends had been seeing while I was offline – Professor Pius Adesanmi, a senior friend and benefactor, was involved in the crash. I suspected a Nigerian was going to be in that crash but I never for the life of me thought it would be someone I knew on a very personal level. I spent the rest of the evening in a very sad mood.
I came across his name about more than a decade ago through Nigerian Village Square (NVS), a discussion forum we were both contributors to. Before the liberalization of smart phones and internet data pricing made Twitter and Facebook the preferred assembly ground for Nigerians to discuss everything about Nigeria, especially politics, NVS was the major user-generated medium politically conscious Nigerians used to let out their opinions on various issues (and Nigerians have opinions on every issue). With his unique writing style, usually laced with Yoruba wisecracks, Professor Adesanmi towered high as one of the most consistent contributors to that forum. Around the same time, he was also contributing to Sahara Reporters and the now defunct NEXT newspaper.
I was in my mid-20s at the time, and, in my own way, learning the ropes in public commentary, with occasional contributions to the above outlets. I devoured anything written by Adesanmi and he soon ranked up there with my favourite Nigerian columnists. I never even knew he was also reading my own articles (probably pedestrian by his standard) until our lane crossed in late 2010 and he told me how he also read my articles.
When I floated my own blog in 2013, and I needed a big name to interview to drive attention to the site, Professor Adesanmi was the first person that came to my mind. I contacted him and he didn’t hesitate to accept my interview request. The interview was not only a hit to my blog, it was also used by Prof for his column in Sahara Reporters and Premium Times for that week. The no-holds-barred interview, which I captioned “Somebody once advised me to try and be like Reno Omokri, so I can also ‘make it’, instead of ‘making noise’ all the time – Pius Adesanmi” traveled very far with reactions from the media office of then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Professor Adesanmi did not stop at supporting my budding website (whose niche has now been narrowed down to career and education), he also introduced me to personalities like Segun Adeniyi, a former presidential spokesman, who also graciously accepted an interview request for my blog. Among other big names I got to know on fairly personal level through Professor Adesanmi was Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and presidential candidate in the just concluded presidential election.
When I later decided to expunge politics from the theme of my site and refocus it to less controversial subject (career mentoring for Nigerian youths), Professor Adesanmi even offered more support. In several speaking engagements, Prof, unsolicited, listed me and my works as part of the reasons he kept having hopes in Nigerian youths. I felt flattered.
In 2013, he offered me a “blank cheque” to use him guest speaker in any event I or my platform, JarusHub, wanted to organize. “Just give me adequate notice…anything to support you, anything”, he wrote to me. He was spending 6 month sabbatical in a Ghanaian university around the time, when he reminded me: “I’ll be one-hour flight away from you for the next 6 months, just let me know when you want to organize your event”
He was not going to collect a kobo appearance fee from me. I was not even going to be responsible for his flight and accommodation. Yet, he kept reminding me to utilize this permanent promise he made to me in 2013 almost every year. This was someone international organizations like African Union pay thousands of dollars to talk at their events. He died going to one of such events in Nairobi. He had a road accident last year going to catch a flight for another of such events in Dakar last year.
I thought of several ways of utilizing the “blank cheque”. How about formally launching my book, The Road to Victoria Island, and inviting him as guest speaker? How about organizing “An Evening with Pius Adesanmi” for my social media followers? For 6 years, I never really decided what to do with his permanent promise to support me in any event.
However, an idea started coming to my head in the past few months, “Jarus, you will be 40 in less than 4 years. How about writing a book, an autobiography, and launching it on your 40th birthday with Pius Adesanmi delivering a public lecture at an elaborate event in Lagos?” I had not told him (of course, too early to tell him, 3 years still far and not even sure one will get to 40 ), but I was already conceiving the topic for his lecture. I never got to cash his “cheque”!
These are just few of the ways this man had been of support to me and my works, there are others too numerous to mention. I know several other people he had assisted in one way or the other. In fact, he was like the go-to person for many Nigerian youths seeking educational sojourn in North America. He was such a selfless man.
Professor Adesanmi graduated with first class honour from the University of Ilorin at the age of 20, and bagged his PhD at 30 in a Canadian university. He became a full professor before his 40thbirthday. Despite having such intimidating credentials, he never looked down upon on other people.
Behind that unsparing critic of Nigerian political leadership was a man with a good heart, a man that did his best to support Nigerian youths beyond just criticizing government. I was one of the people he invited to mentor young graduates at an event his social group, Circle of Friends, organized in 2015. He always gave back to Nigerian society despite having lived in Europe and North America for over 20 years and, indeed, holding Canadian citizenship.
Adesanmi played his part, my benefactor played his part in making Africa a better place in his 47 years sojourn on earth. That he had a young family in Canada and an aged mother in his native Isanlu, Kogi state, made this exit even more painful. May God almighty comfort the family he left behind.
Suraj Jarus Oyewale
Oyewale, a chartered accountant and blogger, lives in Lagos