CLOSE friends, kinsmen, as well as admirers who had no physical contact with him before his passing, sang the praises of Pius Adesanmi on Wednesday evening at the candlelight gathering organised in his honour.
Moderated by Aisha Yesufu, co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls Group, the gathering took place at the Unity Fountain Park, Abuja, and saw the attendance of various literary icons, political leaders, and civil society actors. It was themed: ‘Memorialising Pius Adesanmi: Power of the Civic Space’.
Okunade Samuel, who attended the same secondary school as Adesanmi and is from his hometown, Isanlu, said his late friend was someone who would “settle for nothing less than excellence” and who wanted a Nigeria comparable to the developed world.
“It’s unfortunate that the incident happened, but his legacy moves on,” he added, urging those present to sustain that legacy by not settling for anything less than the excellent country he fought for.
Toba Adebayo, another mate of Adesanmi at Titcombe College, Egbe, described him as a genius and someone everyone respected back at school. He said he was pained that he died at a time when he ought to use the immense knowledge he has gathered for the benefit of himself and society.
Also, a schoolmate of the late professor and the paramount ruler of Isanlu, Oba Moses, said “brother Pius” spoke the truth at all times, made a huge impact, and lived a fulfilled life.
Omowunmi E.O, Adesanmi’s cousin, also spoke at the event and narrated how his frank intervention advanced her career prospects.
“In 1994, I was feeling a bit challenged. Everybody lost hope in me and thought I could not amount to anything in the future,” she said. “But when he came from Ibadan—he was at the University of Ibadan then—he said, ‘Wunmi mi, you disappointed me. So you don’t want to take after my footsteps. I’m disappointed in you’.”
“To the glory of God, in 2016 I went home for empowerment, when he saw me he said, ‘Yes, I am proud of you now. It is now that you are my sister’. It pains me so much that my brother cannot witness the empowerment of 2019 again in my…,” she said as she broke down into tears.
Amina Miango Usman, one of Adesanmi’s followers on Facebook, described his page as a “big classroom” always with something to learn from. She said she was always eagerly waiting for his contributions to national discourses.
“It is heartbreaking that he won’t be there to write on issues anymore,” she said. “The general claim is that you don’t lay ownership to any human being. [But] this feels personal because it feels like a part of us is gone. Who says we can’t lay ownership to this person that touched so many lives. A lot of people have not met Professor Adesanmi; but because of how he wrote about Nigeria, how can you not lay claim to such a person that loved this country so much, that was willing to mentor every single young person he came across?”
Bukola Saraki, who joined the gathering mid-way, said he didn’t have the honour to meet Adesanmi or read his write-ups, but he was moved by the widespread tributes that followed his death.
He recounted: “As I was leaving my house, somebody said, ‘But sir, do you know that he was very critical of you?’ And I said, ‘He was talented. Those were his views. We are not enemies. We share different views, and we must appreciate his talent.”
“Many of those who are as talented as him, please carry on,” the Senate president added. “It is through you that we will make all of us better.”
Speaking immediately after Saraki, Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West senatorial district where Adesanmi hailed from, described Adesanmi as his brother.
“The last time I met him, we were both panellists and discussants at a programme in Lagos, and we’ve been keeping very close tabs. But that did not immune me from his criticisms on social media. Anytime he feels critical about anything, he will write even against me, his own brother. And that is to tell you the kind of person Pius is,” he said.
“No man is perfect. It is this criticism that helps us to check ourselves,” he continued. “I respect my brother, Pius, for that. I describe him as one Nigerian with multiple competencies, highly intellectually sagacious, fearless, and bold.
“If we want all the write-ups, all the admonitions of Pius to come to past, we must come out of our cocoons. We must ask our leaders, myself inclusive, questions. You should be bold to call Muhammadu Buhari by name: Muhammadu Buhari, you are wrong. You should be able to call Dino Melaye by name and say, ‘Dino Melaye, you are wrong.’ Except we do that, we will continue to have a militarised election, we will continue to have the kind ineptitude we have in this country today. Remember that in an unjust society, silence is a crime.”
Melaye also assured organisers of the event of his intention to sponsor annual public lectures to honour the late professor.
Others who paid tributes to Adesanmi were Sam Amadi, former Chairman of the National Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC); Tope Fasua, 2019 presidential candidate of the ANRP; rights activist Deji Adeyanju; BBOG campaigner Maurine Kabrik; Hamzat Lawal, founder of Connected Development; and Abdul Mahmud, lawyer, and poet.
Yesufu read a tribute from Oby Ezekwesili, who she said was out of the country at the time and could not be present.
The attendees filled a condolence register made available at the venue, participated in a short candlelight procession, and prayed for the family of the deceased scholar. At the same time as the Abuja event, another candlelight vigil was held to honour Adesanmi at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State.
He died on Sunday morning following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft. None of the 149 passengers and eight crew members on the flight survived.