'He was just so alive': Nigerians remember Ottawa professor after Ethiopian Airlines crash

One of the Ottawa victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is being remembered by writers, politicians and colleagues halfway around the world in Nigeria.

Pius Adesanmi, the dean of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, was on route to a meeting with the African Union in Nairobi when his Sunday morning Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just after take off because of reported technical issues. None of the 157 passengers survived the crash.

Among the dead are 18 Canadian citizens, including Ottawa residents Adesanmi and Jessica Hyba, a humanitarian worker with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

Tributes started pouring in from Nigerians in Canada around the world almost immediately after Adesanmi’s death was confirmed. One of the first to make a statement was Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

“I mourn the passing …. of professor Pius Adesanmi in the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash,” Buhari wrote on Twitter. “ [A] distinguished Nigerian who did the nation proud in his professional endeavors.”

Buhari did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Adesanmi was born and educated in Nigeria but moved to Ottawa in 2006 to take over the Institute of African Studies. He also taught English literature classes at the university.

But he was best-known for his witty commentary on Nigerian affairs through his two weekly columns for the country’s most influential newspapers and his searing but smart take-down of authorities on social media. In a statement published to Facebook today, writer Lola Shoneyin said Adesanmi brought “creativity, wit, love for literary criticism and his infectious laughter,” to Nigeria’s literary scene for the last 25 years.

Adesanmi’s decades of experience with the written word made him a “public intellectual without peer,” Shoneyin continued, who gained a huge following on both sides of the world who were impressed by the man’s stature and his thoughtful commentaries on Nigerian politics.

One of Adesanmi’s most memorable commentaries was a scathing 2015 piece criticizing a northern Nigerian leader for marrying an underaged woman. This critique, Shoneyin continued, generated “substantial conversation” and even got the Emir to respond to Adesanmi by name - a rare feat for a Nigerian writer.

Adesanmi was also a decorated public speaker on African issues, taking to the TEDx Stage in 2015 with a talk called “Africa is the Forward that the World Needs to Face” that became an instant national sensation. He also spoke at universities, conferences and international events around the African continent.

An association of his peers awarded Adesanmi for his body of work with the Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Prize in 2001 for his book: The Wayfarer and Other Poems.

Media commentator and writer Oris Aigbokhaevbolo only met Adesanmi once in 2014 at a literary conference in Lagos, Nigeria, but the towering man left a long-lasting impression on him and his work.

“The man was just so alive,” he told 580 CFRA. “He was somebody a lot of us looked up to.”

Kayode Ogundamisi, a Nigerian commentator and friend of Adesanmi, wrote a tribute to his friend in online African newspaper, Sahara Reporters. The two men would talk daily about how much they loved their country, share gossip, and check in with each other after long flights.

In his piece, Ogundamisi recalls their last conversation, where Adesanmi said he was having a hard time boarding his Toronto flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last weekend.

“Pius, how I wish the trouble you had in Toronto make it impossible for you to board that flight. I am still waiting for that phone call,” Ogundamisi wrote in his tribute piece. “I thank you for your friendship, your laughter, your comradeship.”

Ethiopian officials said Monday that they have uncovered the black box of the plane, which will help investigators and experts piece together the last moments of the flight and shed light on why the plane crashed. In the meantime, countries like China and Indonesia said they have grounded all of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes until the investigation is complete.