May the sacrifice of Adesanmi and people like him not be in vain. The best way to honour their memory, is for those in charge of affairs in Nigeria, to restore hope to the country and give its citizens – all of us – and not a few privileged ones, as currently largely subsists, something to live for, a country they can be proud of.


It was, as far as I can remember, the second time in over three decades that I would observe such grief. The first was in 1986 when Dele Giwa, the pioneer editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine was assassinated by a parcel bomb. The second only recently happened after the tragedy of March 10, when an Ethiopian aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from the Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa. Among the casualties in the Ethiopian airline tragedy was Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor of English at Carleton University, Canada, and author of, among other books, You’re not a Country, Africa, who, like others, was headed for Kenya.

Without making light of the pain that the death of other passengers on the flight elicited across the world, as families and friends mourned the loss of dear ones, Giwa and Adesanmi’s deaths not only saddened many in and outside Nigeria but triggered wide curiosity and commentary on their lives and works. Considered to this day by many to be one of the finest journalists of his generation, the manner of Giwa’s death led many to insist that the then military administration or its agent(s) was/were responsible for his demise.

That of Adesanmi was different. A plane mishap, for which the cause of the crash is yet to be known, even with still evolving tales and controversies on the disaster regarding the plane’s operative software. But this didn’t blot Adesanmi’s worth, as widespread interest about the man and his works, surfaced. Curiosity about the young Nigerian professor rose to unprecedented heights around the world as many sought to know more about him. For the many people who, prior to his death, knew Adesanmi, there were many others who didn’t know him, and so digging into his work, beyond his known academic accomplishments, and noting how deeply committed and engaging he was about Nigeria, his country of birth, and Africa, added to the pain. Although I never met Adesanmi, I knew him by reputation as I have read a couple of his articles.

The Carleton professor was passionate about Africa and the fact that he died on the African continent, far away from Canada, his adopted country, where he lived and worked, may be proof of that, as he was said to be on his way to participate in a conference in Kenya. But the passion and commitment he displayed towards Nigeria particularly might not have been, were Nigeria a better country.

Nigeria, from what many of us know it to be, is anything but an ideal nation. It’s a country with many deficits, caused mostly by bad leadership and corruption and the deficiencies were a motivation for Adesanmi, even transforming him into an angry man, as his works show. His writings, satiric or witty, were pungent. Though he lived and worked in Canada, and despite rising to the pinnacle of his academic career, Adesanmi, unlike many of his peers, didn’t forget his roots. He monitored events back home in his country and did not shy away from contributing to discussions in his own way. His writings are a living testimony of that affection. Unlike many of his ilk who, having attained great heights that guarantee comfort for them and their families, choose, at best, to be passive observers of events in their country, Adesanmi obviously gave much of his time and resources to confronting the challenges at home. A man who first lived and studied in Nigeria before travelling abroad, he just could not make sense of the lack of development and progress in his homeland. To think differently is to turn his back on his country.

In the 90s, I came across an article on Nigeria titled “Where Nothing Works”. I do not fully remember the details but the title of the work tells the story better. That was over two decades ago. Nothing still works in Nigeria, an oil rich nation, and there’s no hyperbole here. Electricity supply across the country remains epileptic, worse than it was, many may argue, over two decades ago. Many of the roads across the country are death traps. Unemployment is at an alarming level; poverty and hunger are endemic; the environmental conditions of many municipalities are horrendous; corruption is rife; many schools, public and private, at all levels, in and out, are an embarrassment; inter ethnic, religious and political crises largely fueled by evil men in high places, have remained a hallmark of daily life, while gluttony in both public and private sectors reigns.

The other day, in the area of Houston, Texas where I arrived to attend a programme, I was reminded, yet again, just how infrastructure should be maintained. A stretch of road, without stress and pot holes, as far as my eyes could see, was being reconstructed. Looking at it, and considering where I was coming from, I wondered what the problem was. Yet the authorities chose to unearth and replace the concrete slab. It didn’t have to turn into craters and become a danger to car and man before attracting attention which, even then, in Nigeria’s case, may not be backed by action. A friend told me that the Lagos-Benin road has been perpetually under construction since the ’80s when, as a secondary school student, he used to travel from then Bendel State to visit his uncle in Lagos. Yet it remains uncompleted. The number of lives wasted on that road over the years, as a result of accidents caused by pot holes, and similar ones across the country, cannot be quantified. A common expectation is that, as days and years unfold, life gets better. Not in Nigeria. It gets worse by the day. It has been particularly worse under a government that promised so much change and it remains to be seen how better life can turn out after its recent dubious electoral victory.

How a country so gifted by nature, came to such sorry pass is one Nigerians and friends of Nigeria continue to lament. Adesanmi lamented to the end, like Chinua Achebe before him, who, in one of his books, There Was a Country, describes his country as the world’s laughing stock. Long before the damning view, the author of Things Fall Apart, in yet another of his much quoted works, The Trouble with Nigeria, had laid the blame for the country’s woes on leadership. Great leadership inspires a people, but how much of it we’ve seen in a country of approximately 180 million people is there for all to see. At an event I attended in Lagos over a decade ago, the story was told by one of the participants about a conference that held outside Nigeria, which attracted delegates from different countries, including Nigeria. According to the narrator, a Nigerian delegate, in the course of the programme, was so mesmerised by the speech of one of the Asian representatives to the conference who had unveiled the long term goals of his country’s government for its people, that she suddenly became emotional, and, in tears, asked another Nigerian participant, “why has God not blessed us with leaders like this?”

Really, why are we this unfortunate? Such is Nigeria’s oil curse that it had long become, for countries the world over, a case study on how not to manage or run an oil economy, a cautionary tale for all resource rich nations. Terrible hardship in the midst of so much wealth and an uninspiring leadership have forced many of the country’s citizens to fall back on their whims to survive, and such is the desperation of some of them that they are willing to do anything to survive. They are willing to take their fate elsewhere and are ready to face any risk, beginning with dangerous journeys across deserts and seas in search of salvation. Discouraging tales about life abroad for immigrants means nothing to them. Survival is key and anywhere but Nigeria will do.

The words of a Nigerian girl, who survived a boat mishap, off the Mediterranean Sea in 2017, and insists on still heading to her dream destination – Europe – says a lot: “There’s no hope in Nigeria.”

Many will agree to that.

May the sacrifice of Adesanmi and people like him not be in vain. The best way to honour their memory, is for those in charge of affairs in Nigeria, to restore hope to the country and give its citizens – all of us – and not a few privileged ones, as currently largely subsists, something to live for, a country they can be proud of.

Anthony Akaeze, is a freelance investigative journalist.