For many decades in America, people used to ask each other: “Where were you when you heard JFK was shot?”
As Nigerian writers and creatives many of us will, many years from now, ask ourselves: “Bros, where you dey when you hear say Pius Adesanmi dey dat plane?”
I remember where I was. I was at the poet, Dami Ajayi’s apartment. It was his birthday and I had just stepped in when the artist, Victor Ehikhamenor sent me a WhatsApp message.
“O boy, you hear anything about Pius?”
I sent back a reply saying no.
“Abeg check twitter,” came his reply.
I did and the afternoon turned into a blur.
Pius Adesanmi was my friend. He was the sort of friend whom you didn’t see for 10 years then when you did, it felt like it was just 10 days because he would scream out your name or call you “Ogbonge man” then enfold you in a bear hug as he burst into his trademark body quaking laughter.
But to me he was a foolish boy who somehow managed to capture our collective imagination with his prodigious intellect. Pius Adesanmi was a bonafide multi hyphenate – Poet/Prose Stylist/Academic/Public Intellectual.
It is one year now since the boy who was born on 27 February 1972 in Isanlu in Yagba East Local Government area of Kogi State, passed in a blaze of glory aboard the ill-fated Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 March 10, 2019 in Addis Ababa.
There was an outpouring of grief across continents as writers and academics, politicians and pundits mourned the brilliant mind that was Pius Adesanmi. The eulogies flowed thick and fast and to borrow sentiments expressed by a former banker, many wished that they would die and be mourned so effusively.
I met Pius Adesanmi in 1997 or 98. I believe it was in Surulere even though memory is now a trickster. We were gathered for our monthly Association of Nigerian Authors meeting where we came together, one Saturday every month to read poems, share stories and talk shop.
Then meeting done, we inevitably gravitated to a watering hole. Many times, Nduka Otiono or Maik Nwosu would offer to host us at their homes.
We were almost done that day when someone screamed – ‘Payo’ and then a hubbub erupted as shouts of ‘Payo’ rent the air.
Payo was dressed in a shirt, maybe cream or something. It was long sleeved but folded. Payo wore slightly faded blue jeans. Payo was carrying a ruck sack and Payo had on dusty shoes that told us he had come all the way from Ibadan, where he was an IFPRA fellow or something.
Payo had not come alone. In tow was the tomboyish young poet, Lola Shoneyin. Together they had journeyed from Ibadan intent on sharing our literary communion and our beer.
But I already knew Payo even though we had never met in the flesh. I knew him just like many did, from his writing and this was how it happened.
Nduka Otiono and Harry Garuba (who incidentally passed almost one year after Pius on February 28, 2020) had started the Post Express Literary Series (PELS) at the defunct Post Express Newspaper. Pius and I quickly emerged as their most regular contributors. He was in Ibadan and I was in Lagos. He had bagged a Master’s degree from the University of Ibadan but had graduated with a First Class earlier on from the University of Ilorin. The story was that he was so brilliant that when he went back to Ilorin for his youth corps, he was assigned final year projects to supervise.
We were both young and in love with literary theory. We spoke the language of Foucault and Derrida, Barthes and Helene Cixous. We were at home with post modernism, post structuralism, magical realism and all the other isms. PELS offered us a platform to theorize about Nigerian literature.
That was where we met and it was a peripatetic friendship made more so by Pius’ migration to Canada where he lived and worked until his passing.
It is one year since Pius Adesanmi passed in that plane crash outside Addis Ababa but the pain remains fresh and the writer Chika Unigwe summarized the meaning and effect of Pius’ life and passing in a March 10, 2020 tweet.
***First published March 15, 2020 under the caption- Where were you when you heard Pius Adesanmi was on that flight?- Toni Kan