Despite icons as indigenes, Pius Adesanmi’s Isanlu lacks basic amenities
After a visit to Isanlu, Kogi State, the birthplace of the late Professor Pius Adesanmi and other iconic figures, YINKA OLADOYINBO writes on the various impressions that people the growth and development of the celebrated writer, animated academic and indefatigable teacher, while detailing the many infrastructural deficits crippling the development of the community.
Isanlu, also known as Isanlu-Makutu, is the headquarters of Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State. The town also serves as the political and sociocultural centre of the Yagba people in Yagba federal constituency comprising of Mopa, Yagba East and Yagba West local government areas. It is populated mainly by the Okun people (sub-group of Yoruba ethnic people).
History pegged their existence to the 17th Century. Located on latitude 8°10’N and longitude 5°48’East, it has an estimated population of 200,000 people (as of 2016) majority of whom are farmers, traders and few hunters. The town also boosts of two popular rivers: Oyi and Erigi; it has a thick river forest reserve called Ebba. Isanlu is a large territory of about 20 miles, much like a country home with many communities that are labeled with the affix «Isanlu». Some of the communities around the town are Itedo, Ijowa, Mopo, Idofin, Ilafin, Ilotun, Odogbe, Iddo and Amuro.
The town has produced many notable and distinguished people like a former minister of health, Professor Eyitayo Lambo, a business magnate, Jide Omokore, among others. But 47 years ago, precisely February 27, 1972, providence made it the birthplace of an iconic academic who drew renown to the community; it was the birthplace of Pius Adesanmi. Born to a father, who was a teacher and a mother who was an administrator, Pius rose to become a professor at 37. He had his first degree at age 20, graduating with a First Class. Little wonder that his death, though tragic and painful, was turned to a celebration of sort across the state, country and beyond.
Pius had his primary education in Kabba, the headquarters of Okun – the Yoruba speaking part of Kogi State and his secondary education was at Titcombe College in Egbe, the most populous town in Yagba federal constituency. One could guess that being the only male child of an academic, his holiday would be so filled with indoor educational activities, reasons for not being a familiar face in his community. But Pius never failed to associate and reflect his community in his numerous write-ups which projected the town long before his death.
A drive around the town however shows that its popularity only thrives on paper. Aside the linear road from the entrance of the town from the Kabba axis to the exit towards Ilorin that offers some resemblance of a motorable stretch with lively activities, every other road across the community is in deplorable condition. Despite the town’s popularity in the state, lack of government’s presence is quite noticeable, with a larger chunk of the community overtaken by gully erosion. The township feeder roads are in bad shape, no street light, no potable water supply.
With a former Minister of Finance (Professor Eyitayo Lambo) and the state’s current Commissioner for Finance and Economic Matters (Idris Asiru) and many others, one would have expected some modicum of commensurate developments in the community.
The pitiful condition of the community was reechoed by the president of Isanlu Progressive Union, (IPC), Ayo Friday. While speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, he decried the paucity of development in Isanlu.
Friday said not only has the community suffered physical neglect, the educational needs of its students were being threatened as there was no single computer-based centre in the town. He noted that power outage was a major setback for the community for three years at a stretch.
According to him, lack of good roads has affected the economic activities of the farming population of the people. The IPC chairman also bemoaned the current state of civil servants in the community saying, “Many of the civil servants are local government workers who have been placed on percentage salary payments for many years now. This development has affected the economic viability of the community.”
He however spoke with nostalgia of the glory, honour and fame that the late Pius Adesanmi brought to the community despite living a short time on earth.
Pius was the last of three children and the only male child of his parents. For the family, words and tears could not define their emotions. For Pius› sister, Mrs Iyabo Toluhi (nee Adesanmi), the death of her brother was a great loss to the family and community. Toluhi spoke on the sideline of the memorial mass held in honour of the deceased at St. Joseph Catholic Church, in his home town in Itedo-Ijowa, Isanlu, Yagba East, LGA, Kogi State.
The elder sister to the late professor, with tears rolling down her eyes, said it was really difficult for her to talk about her younger brother who died along with 156 others on board the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 on Sunday March 10, 2019.
“We appreciate the whole world the way they have celebrated our brother, Bola (Pius) the last born and only son among the siblings of our parents. Pius was a very hard working and a highly intelligent man, right from the nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary schools. He was an excellent child in school. We thank God for the life he lived and that is what we are seeing now, how people all over the world are celebrating him,” she said.
The paramount ruler of Isanlu – the Agbana-elect, Oba Moses Babatunde, promised to immortalise the scholar by organising an annual lecture in his honour.
According to him, “We will bring everybody from all walks of life to the lecture and that will encourage our youths to be able to write about the society and how the country can develop from where it is. We are going to immortalise Adesanmi, he will be remembered in the community.”
The Kogi State government also raised the idea of celebrating Adesanmi by ensuring that all his books would be made available in the state’s school libraries. Mrs. Rosemary Osikoya, the Kogi Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology disclosed this during a tribute organised in honour of the deceased.
The commissioner said that Adesanmi represented what Kogi indigenes were known for as very talented people, adding that the scholar exemplified all the virtues “you would like to see in Nigeria.”
His former classmate and debate partner at Titcombe College, Egbe, Mrs Olamide Adesoro (now Special Adviser on Media to Kogi governor›s wife) stated that “Pius Adebola Adesanmi and I were paired to represent Titcombe College for a secondary school debate in the old Kwara and standing with him that day in 1985 to receive the prize a thought crossed my teenage mind that this brilliant, skinny looking boy would go places, and in the last 34 years I have watched him brilliantly climb up the ladder of success in his career confirming my thought that windy and rainy day in Ilorin.
“In the years that followed, Pius and I became quite close as we held sway in the literary and debating club in Titcombe college where Pius as the lead debater would always say ‘With me today to oppose the motion that is my co-debater Olamide Babalola ..’ And at the end, like this very tragic end I can almost hear Pius say like those days, ‘I hope with these few points in this short time of mine on earth, I have been able to convince you all that the world must change for the better with my satiric work.’ He preached the philosophy of conceptualisation of the Nigerian society. In his work, he tried to create in every Nigerian the need to develop a sense of contempt for chaos, urban rot, rural decay and the Nigeria culture of accepting half good for good like his parable of the bad shower.
“In 2016, Pius and a few of our Titcombe College friends in Kogi State took time out after a retreat for political office holders where he was a facilitator to catch up on old times where he shared his vision and dreams and advised me in particular not to dump the classroom totally because of politics.
“He was indeed an African genius with language. In the short time he spent with us on earth he pulled weight across the globe with his brilliant ideas. He came, he saw and he conquered. Pius’ death was a great blow! It is devastating. The pain of his passage to glory is excruciating and heart renting.”
His mother reportedly appealed to him to tune down his criticism of government because of fear of being attacked or killed. The emotional trauma foisted on her following his death could only be imagined. There are reports that since her retirement as a civil servant under Kogi State, her pensions were yet to be paid.
This prompted Reverend Kunle James, of the St. Joseph Catholic Church, Isanlu, to appeal to the Kogi State government to pay the gratuity and pension of Pius’ mother. “The government has said so many great things about the late professor, but we are appealing to the government to pay his mother’s pension and gratuity,” he said.
However, Dr (Mrs) Folashade Ayoade, the Secretary to Kogi Government, said the state government would expedite action on the payment. “We learnt that she retired from Kogi civil service, and her gratuity had not been paid. We will make sure as a government we expedite action on the payment of her gratuity, and we shall be in constant touch with his daughter and wife,” she pledged.
The late Professor Pius Adebola Adesanmi was born on February 27, 1972. Before his death he was the director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada. He joined the university in 2006, after spending three years at Pennsylvania State University in United States America, where he was assistant professor of comparative literature. He was educated at University of Ilorin, University of Ibadan and University of British Columbia.