21 March 2019

Nigeria: Pius Adesanmi's Body Is Gone, but His Soul Keeps Marching On


In the early 1980s, only one matatu, the Sungura, crisscrossed Kenya's North and South Kinangop.

Nobody was so important as to delay Sungura's departure at 5.30am in the morning. Making its odyssey back the following day, Sungura traversed roughly 80 kilometres per day.

That may not seem like an achievement today but back then, with no tarmac, Kinangop roads were more often than not rivers of mud. Sungura connected people to schools, markets and the North Kinangop hospital, bringing us close to a world we could only have imagined otherwise.

Today, if you want to go to the African cities of Ndola, Mbuji-Mayi or Nosy-Be, our African airline Sunguras will take you there.

Ethiopian Airlines is an example of what the peace building community call a connector. In 2017, Nigeria closed its airport in Abuja for repairs. Airlines were directed to land in the northern city of Kaduna 190 kilometres away. All international airlines, except one, Ethiopian, refused to fly to Kaduna.

On a continent where every single border has served as a divider rather than as a connector, dividing Africans into competitors rather than collaborators, Ethiopian's latest move, to partner with Ghana and Nigeria to re-launch national carriers, is an African connection success story.

In an e-mail conversation, a reader of The EastAfrican, Jean Paul Awuor, and I agreed travel is critical to ending ethnicism.

While living among "our own" people without exposure to other cultures, we are often boxed in by "belonging." There is usually an unsaid presupposition: The affiliation that matters is determined at birth, never to change.

It is refreshing to step out of the box of "belonging" and meet connectors who demonstrate an affiliation to their place of birth and an allegiance to the place they live. Differences become superficial. Being an African becomes the dominant identity.

When I received the Global Pluralism Award in November 2017, I had no previous interaction with two connectors who partnered with the Global Centre for Pluralism to organise a speaking event.

Sarah Onyango, a popular media personality known for networking the African community in Ottawa, moderated, while Professor of Literature Pius Adesanmi chaired and as director of its Institute of African Studies, provided the venue, Carleton University. The event was headlined by campaign-like posters titled "An evening with Alice Wairimu Nderitu."

We immediately connected; Sarah like I, had Kenyan roots, I was working in Professor Pius Adesanmi's country of birth, Nigeria. Professor Adesanmi hugged me like a long lost sister, giving vent to a laugh that shook his tall frame.

Professor Adesanmi, travelling to an African Union conference, was in the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 that crashed at Bishoftu in Ethiopia on March 10.

Professor Adesanmi was a storyteller. His twitter page @pius_adesanmi and the columns he wrote for Premium Times and Sahara Reporters are feisty, humorous, concise commentaries. His book Naija No Dey Carry Last traces Nigeria's progress as a nation. His collection of essays You're Not a Country, Africa, shows how Africans can restore their humanity by building on previous attempts such as decolonisation, nationalism, negritude and pan-Africanism.

In July 2018, he was involved in a road accident on his way to Dakar for a consultative meeting of the working group put together by the African Union to revive Kwame Nkrumah's Encyclopaedia Africana project. He would write, of those who worked so hard to save him then, that "God resides in Nigerian humanity, warts and all."

He lived in many worlds, connecting, forging links, proving that Africans do not have to be competitors within Africa's artificial boundaries. Professor Pius Adesanmi has left us so much of himself. He will continue to Sungura us to new connections, impacting those who come after us.

Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism: Exploring Ethnic and Racial Diversity for Educators, and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides.


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