When he was engaged to start writing a column for the Sunday Tribune late last year, he was given the blank cheque to christen it as he wished. Of all the names in this world, he chose ‘Injury Time.’ Everyone with a little football sense knows that ‘injury time’ means the very last moment before the very end. It is the few minutes added to the end of a match as compensation for time wasted on injuries. He started that ‘injury time’ on Sunday, November 11, 2018 when his first article was published. What turned out to be his last article came out on Sunday, March 10, 2019. His ‘Injury Time’ lasted exactly four months. He died that day.
He was too alive to be dead. It still seems like his next post would appear as usual on his Facebook wall today, wink at us and wonder why we all thought he could end just like that. We still go to that wall hoping that this death talk is just one morbid, expensive joke that would soon unravel. But, no. He is gone – forever.
Our mutual friend, Afenifere spokesman, Yinka Odumakin broke the news to me on Sunday, in suppressed sobs: “Pius ti ku o!”
He said Pius spoke with a friend very early that day. He was in Addis Ababa going to Nairobi. And it was painful that his friend had no gift of seeing the next moment, he would have stopped our friend from moving an inch towards that plane. He wished him a safe trip and turned to other things. Then it happened. Odumakin remembered the departed’s disturbing signals. He said about five years ago, the departed told him he was worried – ‘eru nba mi.’ He was moving very fast, his brand had become global; everything he tried his hand on was an instant success and he thought that was a signal that the end could come suddenly before his dusk. His wish was to live long to be eighty something years old, in peace and contentment, surrounded by his children and grandchildren in his native Isanlu in Kogi State. His words were so comfortingly reassuring: “If it is your wish, my maker, to grant me life into my 80s, may I spend that evening decade of my life in Isanlu, drinking at least one aha of undiluted palm wine daily, reading newspapers, taking evening strolls, surrounded by my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. May what I will eat not make me spend my eighties and beyond rolling in the mud for small boys in Abuja.” His maker clearly answered his prayers. He did not roll in the mud and did not grovel before the moral kindergartens of Abuja or of anywhere before he took his final bow. He did not join others to wear gown to town and etch inconclusive elections on the forehead of his country’s democracy. He achieved everything a real man would wish in full measure but he made just half of the target age.
Ona ara n’iku ngba a p’eda…Death kills man in unusual ways. Death, really, is just a tool in the hands of fate, of inscrutable destiny. Fate is that air hostess who brings unordered drinks, something her passenger never asked for. We are all fools in matters of fate against which there is no armour. The wise, from the beginning of time, have not been able to decode death and its mortal software. That precisely is why crooked mahogany stands bent in the forest to eat funeral cakes of straight, upright Iroko. But it is strange that we don’t think the death of death should be man’s priority. Instead of distracting death with all the delicacies of the earth, we spend the little time we have feeding pearls to some impotent ash in accursed hearths. We leave deleterious leprosy untreated and spend our life savings curing eczema. We know death is the immortal enemy that needs appeasement but we won’t take our choice wines to his presence. Instead, elaborate shrines and propitiations are prepared for some small, lame gods in rocks and villas who have no finger to raise when the spirit of finality strolls in.
The departed wrote some time ago about his unsure beginning. As a baby, even, later as a pre-teen, he said everyone believed he would die the usual Abiku death. His parents had suffered the torture twice before the third. The forest is full of such spirits of abortion after birth. But where there are vigilant elders, no newborn suffers sprains of any part. His father’s mother was not going to let him “fool everybody again.” She promptly ‘branded’ his face. Then he survived the “coming and going these several seasons.” But that did not bail him out of being a suspect of sudden death forever. He said even his enlightened parents believed he was an abiku feigning rebellion against the fraternity of the spirit world. They always leave, deplaning in the middle of a crucial flight. And they don’t jet away when the pain won’t be painful. They always stop the beat at the moment their parents get set to dance. But he lived 47 fruitful years and survived life’s survival tests including a ghastly road crash last year.
Pius played on the world stage, so, he couldn’t have taken a local, pedestrian exit. His maker chose for him that sudden closure in a bolt of shrieking, thunderous shock. He played his part, fulfilled his mission and delivered the message fully and clearly. He was a teacher without borders. There was no subject he did not touch – offline, online, morning, afternoon, evening, night. His words were as restless as his world. His every phrase is a professorial lesson in Language, Literature, Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Economics, Religion, and, even Relationship – everything. The very far distance between his Canada and this Nigeria, he shortened in a way very few could ever do. When that Lagos school collapsed last Wednesday killing and maiming kids without sins, his reaction would have been prompt in time and depth; his disapproval of the mass killings in New Zealand would have, as usual, been unsparingly severe. His words would have landed on the conscience of a numb nation before the first cock crowed on the Lagos tragedy which got an aburo in Ibadan on Friday evening. He would have whipped out his koboko against the derelict, decrepit system that sent those Lagos kids to hurried graves. The one we miss would have rained acid tears on the original sin that always feeds the young to the greed of the old. The shriek in his cries would have loudly cursed the race which routinely fades flowers before their bloom.
In his death are lessons for the wise. He was a young man of 47 – just one of the 157 persons who died in that crash. But have we noticed that poor Pius has been mentioned in all news reports of that crash in almost all countries of the world? His story continues to make the dominant paragraphs in reports and commentaries on the Ethiopian Air crash and of the tech-error called Boeing 737 MAX with its anxieties and controversies. No one is talking about his possessions but all tongues and fingers toast his humanity, his unpretentious anger and angst at his country’s refusal to be of good behaviour. The global focus has remarkably been on the fecund mind and heart and brain his maker endowed him with. His writings and talks hoist him up as a loyalist of untainted truth, of patriotism, of courage and consistency and of honest living. Even he, if he could look back and see his atubotan, he would kneel before his maker in absolute gratitude for the universality of his acclaim.
He was sent here to play a part and he played it so well that at departure, even death gave him a full compliment. He is a successful brand, very well blessed that he had the grace of waving a goodbye. His last newspaper article was sent in a day before he died and was published by the Sunday Tribune the day of his exit. But from the title to the last paragraph, it is a red flashing light – honking a sorry goodnight for (and to) an increasingly irredeemable Nigeria. In one last stroke, Adesanmi wrote off his slavery-loving compatriots and walked out, excused himself: “….A thousand years from now, archaeologists would be interested in how some people called Nigerians lived in the 20th and 21st centuries. If they dig and excavate, I am hoping that fragments of my writings survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves….” That paragraph qualifies for what soldiers call the Last Post: a pull-out message from the one who had fully played his part.
O di gbere, o di kese…
Ona ara n’iku ngba a p’eda…Death kills man in imponderable ways…