Dear Pius Adesanmi,
Last Wednesday, 3 days after you took wings and flew to the great beyond, as you’re aware, your family met in Abuja at Unity Fountain to celebrate your life and times, and the great impact you have on us all and generations yet unborn. These memorials have been held and are going on in various cities in Nigeria and across the world, I was privileged to attend the very first one, in Abuja, even though another held same day in Ibadan at your alma mater.
The event didn’t go on without the usual hitches. The police the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo deployed to Unity Fountain in 2017 to prevent citizens from freely exercising their civic rights to clamp down on and stifle our civic space are still there, they insisted that the memorial couldn’t hold. This particular candlelight event was themed ‘The Power of Civic Space’, this worst police force in the world as usual blind to irony missed the point, as expected. We were gathering to celebrate a patriot who preached (and preaches) about the sanctity of our civic spaces and why we must pay whatever price to keep them so, and not dominated by jackboots as the intention is. Here they were with their jackboots. Well, needless to say, our event held, and was very successful.
The organisers had earmarked speakers on various aspects of your stewardship. For instance, with regard to your being a writer we had various persons speaking about the various genres you deployed: poetry, satire, nonfiction, etc. Your kinsmen were present including your paramount-ruler-elect, and classmates from Titcombe, and just everyone from all walks of life. Nigeria united. Someone said, and I heard, that ‘only Pius could’ve done this, uniting everyone.’
As the tributes were going on Aisha Yesufu, one of the organisers on their behalf, asked if I could speak on you and good governance. That was a tall one, because in my view that’s the centre of all your life endeavours (aside from your devotion to family), how was it possible to do this in 3 minutes and make any meaning, also noting that I was to do it extemporaneously? I didn’t want to fail you by turning it down nor to do a shoddy job either, I understood the gravity but I agreed to do it. It remains a singular honour to be called.
After 1 or 2 speakers it was my turn. Here’s what I said in 3 minutes or less (because no one reminded me that that my time will soon be up, I was able to say it in a few sentences, and leave):
‘Pius Adesanmi whom we’ve all gathered here to honour has been described as a man of many parts, he remains a writer, teacher, humorist, satirist, pan-Africanist, post-colonial Africa scholar, literary giant, and all that but aside from his family life he was over and above all a social and good governance advocate. Everything he ever said or did was aimed at creating for us a modern, just, and equitable society that works for all, this was his singular ambition. He wasn’t a poet, writer, scholar, and so forth for its sake. He wanted Nigeria and Africa to be where the rest of the world is, and saw no reason why we aren’t and no even on that path. That was what gave him sleepless nights.
‘In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote “The Trouble with Nigeria” wherein he theorises that Nigeria’s first and singular problem is leadership, bad leadership. This is found in the very sentence in the book. Adesanmi however stretched this further, that the trouble with Nigeria (and indeed Africa) is governance, bad governance. What’s the difference? Governance has two parts: the leaders and the led, the demand and supply sides, the officials and those whom they serve, or are supposed to serve. So whereas he never spared the one-percenters his famous koboko, which they so deserve, his other koboko was for the rest of us, the citizens who tolerate and enable bad governance by not demanding good governance, but rather enabling impunity, mediocrity, and incompetencbe. Some even worship the people in authority, instead of the other way round, if it comes to that. Remember it’s demand and supply. No demand (of good governance) no supply. Low demand, low supply. High demand, high supply. That’s how it works. The problem however is we don’t even know what good governance is, what it looks like and how it should be. It’s been so for generations. So he used humour, satire, drama, poems, songs, imagery, different forms of pedagogic styles and tools drawing examples from Europe, the US and Canada to teach how life is lived, how normal humans function. He regretted that we were uninformed, misinformed, disinformed, and deliberately, so. So he taught us on topics of citizenship, the rights, responsilities, and role of citizens are; civics, how society functions with active citizen participation, on not giving up our civic spaces to be dominated by those who so hoped; to an aversion for mediocrity; of actions and consequences, and so forth.
It appears we all haven’t been listening, he got fed up. We moved from one low to another. He was in an abusive relationship with Nigeria and Nigerians, it was a struggle loving her/them even though they both clearly aren’t deserving and ready, but was unable to let go. In his very last article on Saturday, 9 March of his weekly opinion piece ‘Injury Time’, in the ‘Tribune’ he expressed frustration at all of us saying (that’s when I read from the phone in my hand):
“…A thousand years from now, archeologists 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 writings survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves…”
‘That wasn’t the first time he said this. However, these were his last wprds in his last op-ed. He ran his race. He did his part. The best way we can truly celebrate the life, times, and legacy of Pius Adesanmi is to attain what he strove for but never got in his lifetime: a Nigeria that works for us all in our lifetime. Please repeat after me, “Nigeria must work in my lifetime.” Again. Again. Let’s be committed to this, all of us. We mustn’t all be geniuses and as talented as he was. We don’t have to. Whatever we do, let’s be the best we can at it, and deploy it in playing our role as citizens o make Nigeria work. Let’s all make Nigeria work in our lifetime.’
Dear Pius, so much happened, so much happened. Your friend Omo Baba Oloye showed up. You won’t believe, but the senate president, Bukola Saraki was in his very best behaviour. He spoke for the 2 minutes allotted him, and no more. He used a few sentences and that was it. He made a lot of meaning. He said he never heard about you until your passing. He saw the eulogies everywhere and kept wondering who you were to have mobilised so much grief across the entire spectrum. He said he was there to honour a ‘great Nigerian’ and very talented, that you deserved it. He said on his way there he was told you were very scathing of him, but well, it didn’t matter, those were your views and beliefs, they in no way take away from your greatness, talent and love for Nigeria.
Your senator, Dino sang 2 songs in English and ‘Yoyoba’. He said he may have been the worst victim of your koboko but both of you interacted well whenever you met, on phone and inbox. You were a good older brother to him. I don’t doubt him, I know it’s something you’d do. Recall ours that day, after your lighthearted, effervescent, fond and rather endless discussion with Mrs Fayemi, when I reminded you of ‘Gulag Ekitilago’ and other ferocious koboko whipping on she and her husband as wife and governor of Ekito, and so forth. You said but it was nothing personal, even she and her husband know it. That you’d do same today if the need arose. We laughed, but that was true. Same way I know you could demolish Dino, based on principles, but still be fine with him, or anyone for that matter, because there’s no bitterness or anything personal in this business. So I believed him. He said the criticism helped him. For him, it generally curtails his excesses, and used the opportunity to tell us Nigerians that we fear too much. As long as we can’t look at Muhammadu Buhari in the face and tell him he’s wrong, look at Dino Melaye and tell him he’s wrong, we will remain in the wilderness. So much more happened that day.
It was a very touching evening. When we were through with the tributes as it got dark we had a candlelight procession round the fountain, came back, respectfully laid our candles and closed for the day. No one who was present was the same.
NB: Before I go, one little detail you may like. After everyone left few others stayed back to clean up and clear the venue of water bottles, candles, small chops packs, polythene bags, etc. Some said the cleaners would clean up the next morning, but it wasn’t a good idea to honour you and leave the venue filthy and disorganised. Rest in perfect peace. We who are yet here will continue with the legacy and pass it on for generations. You live forever in our hearts.