By Gov. Yahaya Bello.
On Sunday, March 10, 2019, Kogi State lost a leading light to dark and untimely death. Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi and all 157 persons on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi died when the plane crashed 6 minutes after takeoff.
I do not know why, but when news of his tragic passing reached me, it was the opening lines from W.H Davies’ famous poem, Leisure, which immediately sprang to mind:
‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’
In contemplating why Prof Adesanmi should die at this time and why his death should evoke these lines to me, I came to realise that the interplay of inscrutable Divine Timing and what we can now, with hindsight, refer to as Pius’ own race against time came together to craft a man who will evoke such poignancy for a long time to come. Prof’s prodigious output as a writer, teacher, speaker, life coach and literary critic conjures the image of a man in a hurry to cram life full of unforgettable impact before moving on. Almost as if he knew his time would be short, the man lived like a shooting star rather than an orbital planetoid. He brought his brightest shine to the game very quickly and at highest intensity.
Prof hailed from Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State and until his death took deep interest in not just his natal solum Isanlu, but Kogi as a State and Nigeria at large. He took it upon himself to be the monitoring conscience of Nigeria and his avid penmanship relentlessly harried both his countrymen and government at all levels to behave better, and to aspire higher. He wielded his quill like an old school headmaster wields his switch – with mastery. It cut and coaxed at once, fierce against follies while encouraging honest effort.
His perspectives were often controversial and I personally did not always agree with him every time he wrote about our government. His intentions were always noble though, and thus I felt pain rather than anger or disappointment whenever I thought he had misunderstood, and therefore mischaracterised, what my administration was trying to accomplish in our beloved Kogi State.
It was a measure of our high regards for him always that we never joined issues with him at any time. In fact, we were glad to have him as a Resource Person at a retreat for all political office holders, including me. Moreover, when you are government and he is Pius Adesanmi, you do not join issues with him in the media or public opinion. In either place, he was a train thundering downhill, and you do not attempt to wedge it. You got well away from its tracks and hope that it goes on its way sooner than later.
My media team was categorical about non-confrontation and I am now glad I agreed with them. A former member of my media team who was quite close to him believed that one on ones to explain our policies, outcomes and targets would work better with him than any media push back. In the end, she appeared to be right, for he wrote less and less about us and when he did, there were fewer knocks.
Shortly after his death, I came across one of his articles in Sahara Reporters titled An Open Letter To Osita Chidoka. Prof had penned it to his friend, a relatively youthful gubernatorial candidate in one of our sister states. It is the definitive manifesto for any visionary seeking to go into politics untramelled by the paraphernalia of certain failure in the form of godfathers and other vested interests. I recommend that any young person seeking public office in the land must first find and assimilate that piece.
‘Not too young to run’ is a cool catchphrase, until you get into office and the vicious interests you supplanted go methodically to work on every aspect of you, especially in the media. That is when you get to decide if you will stay the increasingly deadly obstacle course before you, or whether you should just let the forces of retrogression have their way in exchange for some desperately needed peace. Prof could have been reverse-engineering our experience. So accurate was he in that open letter that he hit the nail on the head with every word.
Which brings me back to Davies and his lines. Prof Pius Adesanmi during his life was full of care for his world at all levels, yet he possessed an extraordinary capacity to slow time to a halt and just stand and stare. How else could he have observed so much and done so much in the little time he had? The result is his gift to mankind in the form of an excellent compendium of work across genres of literature, forms of journalism, groundbreaking scholarship, and genius-level social impact.
If, as the gurus say, the ultimate seal of true success is worthy successors, then Pius Adebola Adesanmi is the true and ultimate success. He left behind a global corps of protégés who will take his legacy farther than he himself possibly could, were he to live a hundred plus years.
I am able to mull his departure with some detachment today while the countless others who knew him more closely are dissolving in a gigantic global meltdown because his life, ‘short’ as it apparently was, poses so many challenges to the living that one is better served by introspection than helpless grief.
Our sincere prayers and condolences lie with his young family, his beloved mother, his extended families and the friends he left behind. We shall continue to remember him for the honour and glory he brought to Kogi State and Nigeria through his towering accomplishments.
Like the lines I have referenced, the sudden passage of Prof. Pius Adesanmi is missing a question mark where a question mark ought and should be. ‘What is this life if, full of care/We have no time to stand and stare.
Requiescat in pace, compatriot.
Governor of Kogi State
By Gov. Yahaya Bello.