By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, it is very difficult to write this tribute to a man one knew as a friend, colleague and brother, Professor Pius Adesanmi. Let me start from the end. Last Sunday started for me like every other Sunday, a day for relaxation. My son had driven to Oxford to pick me and take me home in London. The drive from Oxford on the Motorway was smooth, with little traffic here and there particularly when we got to London because as is typical of most roads in the capital, they are perpetually undergoing some repair or another at the weekends.
On getting home, I opted for a quick Nigerian lunch, something which is a rarity in Oxford and which I had therefore missed during my weekly stint in Oxford. Thereafter, I opened my phone to navigate through my social media platforms as is my habit. Suddenly, a satanic news item jumped at me. An Ethiopian airlines plane was reported to have crashed shortly after take-off. I was stunned. I have never liked such news, being a frequent flyer myself. I said the usual selfish prayer: “may we not have any of our family members or friends on it.” But truth was, that route, from Addis Ababa to Nairobi is quite popular for Nigerians. The headquarters of the African Union is in Addis Ababa and international agencies dot the landscape of Kenya which is also renowned for its amazing tourist attractions. The allure for fun-loving and adventurous Nigerians is best imagined. My mind continued to process the news and I twitted a prayer for the casualties and offered my condolences to their bereaved families.
I was still wondering what might have caused this unfortunate crash when my eyes roamed to a pending direct message on Twitter from a lawyer, writer and brother, Tade Ipadeola: “Egbon, something ghastly has happened. We have to believe Pius Adesanmi was on the crashed Ethiopian airliner. Travelling with his Canadian passport.” I screamed, “no way!” I immediate called Mr Ipadeola in Nigeria and he reiterated his earlier message.
I started working the phones and soon stumbled on another bad news regarding another distinguished Nigerian on the ill-fated flight, written anonymously by God knows who: “Just got this: I’ve just been informed now that we lost one of our own. A high-profile Nigerian, Amb. Abiodun Bashua in that crash. Those serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will know him. He was the former UN and AU Deputy Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Sudan. A complete gentleman. May God rest his soul.” What a terrible day this is turning out to be, I soliloquised. Ambassador Bashua is a brother -in-law to Bose and Gboyega Adegbenro, and I could therefore share in their pain and sorrow because of my friend and brother, Prince Damola Aderemi, whose mother, Funlayo Adegbenro, is the matriarch of the Adegbenro family.
As for Pius, who I used to call Kofeso, as a Yoruba corruption of the word ‘Professor’, I eventually confirmed that he had indeed perished along with Ambassador Bashua and 155 other innocent souls on that doomed Flight ET302. I knew his death would reverberate to far-flung places across the oceans because of his towering accomplishments in academia and the literary world. Kofeso, in his inimitable, simple but flowing literary style had written himself into the hearts of too many fans globally. At under 50 years of age (Pius had only recently celebrated his 47th birthday on 27 February), he seems to have achieved what most people wouldn’t have achieved at the age of 80 and beyond. I had become acquainted with him through his compelling essays and articles before we met physically. And ours was love at first sight, based on mutual respect and admiration.
My colleague and brother, Segun Adeniyi had called me in Accra, Ghana, one afternoon from Abuja, Nigeria. After our exchange of usual pleasantries and banter, Segun informed me that his close friend, Pius Adesanmi, would like to have my numbers. I gave him my consent immediately. Who wouldn’t? I was a big fan of his writing prowess, as well as his political interventions, even if we disagreed from time to time on various issues. I soon received a call from Kofeso and he told me he was coming to spend some time teaching at the University of Ghana in Legon. I told him to alert me once he arrived and settled down, and he did. I personally drove to pick him from Legon to my home where we had so much fun devouring our bowls of pounded yam and egusi soup. We ate as voraciously as we chatted moving back and forth from mundane to serious issues. We got on so well, it was as if we had known each other forever. I told him that for as long as he was in Ghana, he had unfettered access to my chefs, whether I was home or not. He was such a friendly man and he would sometimes ask if he could invite his friends along and of course this was fine by me. His friends straddled society and was a reflection of the kind of persona that Kofeso had. Needless to say, we all bonded as one blood.
Months later, Kofeso returned to his base in Canada but we kept in touch. I followed him on social media, and I admired his passion and love for our motherland Nigeria, a passion we shared, albeit with different approaches.
Let me fast forward a bit. Kofeso was involved in a ghastly fatal motor accident on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway last year. He was lucky to escape with his life from what I later learnt. Somehow, I missed the news but stumbled on it on September 7, 2018, and I quickly sent him a WhatsApp message: “My dear Brother, this is Dele Momodu. I don’t know how the story of your accident escaped me. Just discussing now with Segun. May God heal you totally. I will keep trying till I get you.”
Kofeso responded about six hours later. I didn’t realise the accident was worse than I had imagined. “Great to hear from you my dear Brother Bob Dee. It was serious o. 2 months later I’m still in physio and recovering from injuries. 2 people died. I am the only survivor.” I was shocked to my bones. “Lord have mercy… May their souls rest in peace.” I wrote. How could I have envisaged that that fiendish accident was only a dress rehearsal?
Surprisingly, barely 24 hours later, Kofeso and I exchanged yet another WhatsApp conversation, after he read my Pendulum column titled “Are Nigerian Youths Truly Ready to Run or Just Ranting?” I was particularly delighted by his beautiful comment: “Bob Dee, this tour de force has arrived in time for inclusion in my syllabus on youth and politics in Africa.” I thanked him profusely.
Our interactions continued unabated, and on January 24, 2019, I contacted him to be one of the three referees I needed for my application to Oxford University, the others being my former teacher at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Chidi Amuta, and my former boss at Weekend Concord, Mr Mike Awoyinfa. As always, as soon as he read my message, he responded: “Apologies Bob Dee, I’ve just seen this. I’m in a seminar. Can I call you in an hour?” I said ok. He requested for my current cv and asked if there was anything in particular I wanted him to write. I simply replied: “Pls write from the heart. You know I’m a great fan of your style.”
I pestered him a bit about the deadline for the submission of the referee’s letter. At a stage, he phoned and said “Bob Dee, you should know I can never let you down” and I was deeply touched by his love. It was such a great honour to have him write a reference on my behalf as an impartial and independent assessor of the quality of my essays and work. He finally completed the reference and sent it off. True to his word, I subsequently got confirmation from Oxford that all my referees met the strict deadline, and I was very grateful to them all including Kofeso, who had obviously been very busy and distracted at that time.
My last WhatsApp interaction with Kofeso was on February 5, 2019, after what seemed an altercation between us on Twitter. Some young guys had suggested that Pius Adesanmi had attacked me in a comment, which I didn’t consider as a big deal, but Kofeso was visibly worried to the extent that he privately fired some quick clarification to me: “Bob Dee, I can’t believe this. I just got on Twitter now and noticed that a comment I made pointing out that CNN would always badmouth China from an American perspective was misread by so many. I hope you got my drift o. What is wrong with all these Twitter kids and reading comprehension?”
Since I didn’t feel his tweet was anything negative, in the first instance, I just told him: “Nothing at all KOFESO. We live in the age of ignorance and intolerance.” But Kofeso was not yet done, and he raged on: “I am so angry. How could anybody think it was u I was attacking? E GBA mi o. These kids can’t read!!” Kofeso appeared like a man who had a deadline to meet, and he didn’t want our relationship destroyed by any mischief-maker. I told him not to worry because, sincerely speaking, I didn’t take it to heart, in any way, and I had not even considered that I might be the one he was addressing in his tweet, which as he explained was not the case in any event. “My own KOFESO, these young guys don’t know our relationship. Check my response pls.” That was my final response to him on WhatsApp. It never occurred to me that it would be the last.
But I’m glad we managed to speak before his unfortunate departure on the tragic flight. Kofeso had called me weeks back to ask if I would be in Nairobi, Kenya, this week. He knew I travelled a bit within the East African region and was hoping we could meet in Nairobi where he was attending a conference. I said I would be in England most of this week before travelling to Lagos for a youth empowerment program. It was our last verbal discussion. It still plays on in my head like a broken record because this was a most unassuming intellectual and literary giant as his writings demonstrate.
Death took away one of Africa’s best and brightest. Like too many people have openly attested to, it would be difficult, if not impossible to replace Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi. He came, he saw, he conquered, within a short space of time. Kofeso flew away on the wings of time into eternity and the sure hands and embrace of the Lord, when he finished his assignment on earth, even as we, the lovers and admirers of his writing and and some of his ideals, still feel that we needed him more. Such is the unchallengeable way of almighty God that we must give thanks for his short but monumental life. A life in which he gave of his knowledge and wit to enrich our space and thoughts. Kofeso, we thank and honour you today and always. You are a pious STAR!
My sincere condolences to his entire family particularly his mum, wife and children. May his beautiful soul rest in perfect peace.
Adieu, Kofeso. Sun re o!