Carleton University Community mourned Pius Adesanmi
Colleagues, students and friends of Pius Adesanmi gathered at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies Monday to share stories and weep for the Nigerian-born professor and writer who headed the institute.
On Monday, students and colleagues streamed into the institute to sign a book of condolences and to comfort each other. Beside the book was a photo of Adesanmi with his seemingly prescient final Facebook post, written at the airport while he waited to board the flight to Nairobi.
The post quoted Psalm 139:9-10: “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.”
Nduka Otiono, an assistant professor at the Institute of African Studies, who has known Adesanmi since they were graduate students at Ibadan University in Nigeria, said the book of condolences had become a gathering place for those mourning his death.
“Pius was a personality that you couldn’t encounter and forget,” said Otiono.
Adesanmi was a specialist in African literature and had a PhD in French studies.
“He was a wordsmith and he deployed his resources in the various communities where he operated,” said Otiono. “For him, it wasn’t enough to be holed up in the library in an ivory tower.”
Adesanmi was a longtime columnist for Nigerian newspapers. His often satirical columns sometimes targeted Nigerian politicians and public figures. He was a sought-after speaker and a widely followed public intellectual.
He wrote frequently on social media and had a large following.
Decky Kobongi, who teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, visited the Institute of African Studies on Monday.
“As a friend and a colleague, it is very tough,” he said. “I have been crying since yesterday. I couldn’t not go to my work today because it is just difficult. I came here to be with other members of the Carleton community through this time and to share memories of Pius.
“Student have been coming here. Most of them are in tears because it is just a big loss, not only for them, but for all of the Carleton community.”
Chuks Imahiagbe, who heads the Nigerian Canadian Association, called Adesanmi’s death “a colossal loss for our community. He is a shining star in our community.”
About a year ago, Adesanmi had survived a fatal car crash in Nigeria.
Otiono said his friend’s final Facebook posting, with a picture of him sitting in the airport and quoting Psalm 139 had upset many “because it looked as if he had a premonition of what was going to happen. It was so disturbing.”
“One of the most important minds of the African diaspora, he inspired his Carleton colleagues with his brilliance and cemented his close ties to faculty, staff and students with his kindness, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and unforgettable laugh,” Carleton posted on its website.
“Adesanmi, a member of the Department of English Language and Literature, joined Carleton in 2006 after rejecting offers from Princeton and a number of other American universities. He quickly made his mark on the campus and was an integral part of the groundswell that led to founding the Institute of African Studies.
What was “truly amazing,” said former Faculty of Arts and social sciences dean John Osborne, was the impact he had on Africa.
“Through his writing and blogging, he reached an audience … in the millions in his native Nigeria and beyond, becoming one of the most avidly read commentators on contemporary life and politics on the continent.”
Adesanmi won numerous literary awards, including the Association of Nigerian Authors prize for poetry for his 2001 book Wayfarer and Other Poems. His 2010 book, You’re Not a Country Africa, won the Penguin Prize for African Literature.
Flags were lowered to half-staff on Monday. Arrangements were being made for a memorial service on campus.