Tribute to Professor Pius Adesanmi


The Pan-African Doctoral Academy is devasted to learn of the passing of Pius Adesanmi, professor of English and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Canada.

A Carnegie African Diasporan Fellow and PADA faculty, Professor Adesanmi had an intellectual brilliance, an energetic personality, a warmth and wit that made him a wonderful colleague and an outstanding teacher. Such was his commitment to PhD training in Africa that, twice a year, this much sought-after and extremely busy academic travelled to the University of Ghana for the PADA Doctoral Schools to teach ‘Career Development for the Emerging African Scholar’ as well as to run writing clinics for faculty. Indeed, Professor Adesanmi taught at the last Doctoral Schools in January despite having suffered a potentially fatal accident in Nigeria a few months earlier. When we expressed surprise at having him join us in Accra so soon into his recovery, he replied, with his signature laugh, ‘My sister, you know nothing competes with PADA in my calendar!’

In evaluations, PADA participants praised his knowledge, enthusiasm, friendliness and generosity. Clearly, his students loved him and, in turn, Prof. Adesanmi revelled in their accomplishments. Just a week ago, he forwarded to us an email from a delighted PADA alumna who, with his encouragement, had applied for and won an international grant. ‘Thanks so much Prof! I now have the confidence and boldness to try more,’ she wrote.

Professor Adesanmi was a brilliant academic, an engaging public intellectual, a passionate defender of freedom, and a builder of community. There will be many tributes to his life in the coming days but it is doubtful that any can fully capture Professor Adesanmi’s impact on African and global scholarship, and on public discourse about the state of our continent, nor can they adequately describe the place he held in the hearts of so many of us here at PADA and around the world.

We extend our condolences to his family, his colleagues at Carleton University, his friends, students, mentees, and all PADA faculty and alumni.

He will be dearly missed.

***Read a short bio here of Professor Adesanmi's work and awards, a more extensive write up by CODESRIA of his many contributions to the African scholarly community here, and a statement from Carleton University here. There has also been an outpouring of tributes on Twitter where he was an active contributor to political discussions, especially on his native Nigeria (follow #PiusAdesanmi) and on Facebook where he founded the African Doctoral Lounge as a supportive community of students and faculty across the African continent.



On Friday, 22 March, and in solidarity with mourners around the world, the Doctoral Researchers Association of Ghana held a remembrance service for the late Professor Pius Adesanmi.  Many members of this Ghana-based association had been students of Professor Adesanmi during the PADA Doctoral Schools and gave tribute to his warmth and generosity. Below are pictures of the ocassional and tribute from the association. 



Tribute for Prof Pius Adesanmi


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Prof Pius Adesanmi, a selfless African and global scholar was on board the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, he was on his way to an African Union conference.

Prof Pius Adebola Adesanmi was a Nigerian-born Canadian professor, writer, literary critic, satirist, and columnist. He was the author of Naija No Dey Carry Last, a 2015 collection of satirical essays.

Pius Adesanmi fondly called “Payo” by friends and associates was born on February 27, 1972 in Isanlu, Yagba East Local Government Area of Kogi State, Nigeria. He holds a First-Class Honors from the University of Ilorin in 1992, then a master in French from the University of Ibadan in 1998 and a PhD in French Studies from the University of British Columbia in 2002. From 2002 to 2005, he was Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, USA.

Adesanmi was a Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) from 1993 to 1997, and of the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in 1998 and 2000.

From 2002 to 2005, he was Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University, USA. In 2006, he joined Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada, as a Professor of literature and African studies. He was the director of the university's Institute of African Studies until his untimely death.

For many years, Adesanmi was a regular columnist for Premium Times and Sahara Reporters. His writings were often satiric, focusing on the absurd in the Nigerian social and political system. His targets often included politicians, pastors, and other relevant public figures. In September 2015, his scathing column on the decision of the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, to take an underage wife generated substantial conversation on the matter, and even got the response of the Emir who responded to Adesanmi by name.

In 2015, he gave a TED talk titled "Africa is the forward that the world needs to face".

For the Nigerian writers, Prof. Adesanmi was a restless intellectual who always loved cerebral exercises in form of banters and criticisms of literary works. He is a contemporary satirist, a die-hard African with award-winning books such as “The Wayfarer and Other Poems” which won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Prize and “You’re Not a Country, Africa which won Penguin Prize for African Writing in the non-fiction category.

Professor Pius Adesanmi! Everything that needs to be said about your remarkable life has not only been said but those things have been said so eloquently by the numerous lives that you touched in your approximately 50 eventful years of life. The Professor had plans to return to Nigeria once his term as the Director of the Institute of African Studies ends in 2021.

Today as we celebrate the life of an African icon and scholar, it is our chance to say thank you Prof for the way you have impacted our lives, even though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated always that you were taken from us so young and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along at all.

We pray much for your soul, rest in peace with God, we are very sad but God will give us the strength to cope in the best way, we will remember you with great joy, although you should have never left.

We know that the void created by your demise will be difficult to find someone like you again, so happy, so motivating, always drawing a smile and there to support us, we will always remember you.

We now know that you have just departed to another life, we will remember you at every moment as you were an exceptional person, however we say fare thee well.

Thank you.

Fred Amankwah-Sarfo

(Acting President, DRAG)




Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, Dean of the School of Communications, and also a resource person for PADA, requested her students to write an article on Pius Adesanmi. 





By Philippa Arthur, Fidel Tetteh, Nana Ama Asare and Lydia Lartey

Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana



Pius Adesanmi.jpg Professor Pius Adesanmi delivering a lecture at PADA, University of Ghana

About five years ago, Pius Adesanmi took on a mission in Ghana as a Diasporan Fellow, filled with passion to help improve scholarship in Africa and support African universities in the area of capacity building in PhD education and graduate studies.

The Nigerian-born Canadian associate professor of literature and African studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canadawas perceived by many as “super-passionate” and “one of a kind”.

A writer, literary critic and columnist, he has been described as caring, inspirational and hilarious by those who knew him.

“He was a south paw and, with his left-handedness, he would try to emphasize a very positive point. He had the natural humour of most Nigerians, but with a flexibility of Canadian training,” said Dr. Collins B. Agyemang, a lecturer at the Department of Psychology at the University of Ghana and a great admirer of the late Professor.

On March 10, Adesanmi was on the ill-fated Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, with flight number ET302, en route to Nairobi as a delegate of the Economic Social and Cultural Council of the African Union.

The Guardian newspaper reported that, six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa, the Boeing jet “ploughed into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles (65km) south-east of the Ethiopian capital,” killing all 157 passengers and crew aboard.

Adesanmicontributed significantly to academic development in Nigeria, Ghana and other parts of the world.He supported the Director of the Pan-Doctoral School at the University of Ghana, Professor Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu, in the development of the Pan-African Doctoral Academy (PADA), helping to run pilot programmes to determine the viability of the idea.

“He was a friend, became more like a brother and somebody you could go to at the last minute; if you needed his help, he would still drop everything and come. Africa lost a great scholar,” said Ntiamoa-Baidu.

Since its inception in 2013, Adesanmi had been a regular at the doctoral schools held at the University of Ghana, teaching the course ‘Career Development for the Emerging African Scholar’ and running writing clinics for younger faculty.

“He wanted to improve the quality of PhD studies in Africa,” said Dr. Nana Akua Anyidoho, the Coordinator of PADA.“He wanted to make sure that the young African scholars put their best foot forward on the global academic stage.”

A student-centered man who believed instructors must see their role in the lives of students as a privilege that need not be taken lightly, Adesanmi saw students as customers.

"Pius was one of a kind and he tried to simplify the so-called ‘perpetual head damage’ (PhD) programme for everyone,” Agyemang said. “He was an advisor to many students and faculty members.”

Ophelia Anarfi, a PhD student at the Department of Psychology of the University of Ghana and a former Carnegie scholarship beneficiary, said she remembers his fleet of ideas. “He says one thing and another follows,” said Anarfi. “And he was always here, every doctoral school, you would find him here. He was a friend to PADA and everyone."



Prof. Adesanmi with some doctoral students at the June 2018 PADA

In the later part of 2018, Adesanmi almost lost his life in a car accident but that did not stop him from taking part in another doctoral session shortly after in January 2019. He dismissed concerns about his health, insisting PADA was already on his calendar and was too important to miss.

“He had such a commitment.” said Anyidoho. “Even as someone who had made a name for himself in global academia, he had this commitment to the continent, especially to younger scholars, and that is what kept him coming back twice a year to the University of Ghana to be part of the Doctoral Shools.”

The young professor understood the essence of relationships also. He not only walked with great minds in academia, but treated all with respect and dignity, irrespective of status.

"Prof. Pius was a very friendly man, anytime he came to Ghana for a PADA programme, as his driver, I transported him,” William Tetteh, a driver at PADA said. “After a training programme in January this year, Prof. told me, ‘We will meet again in June’. Yesterday, the secretary told me that my ‘buddy-buddy’ had passed on and since yesterday I have been in pain."

A true Nigerian nationalist, Adesanmi was a political satirist who consistently ridiculed the Nigerian government and its political system. On March 7, three days before his death in an Ethiopian airlines crash, he tweeted,

“Folks, please, remember: ‘I cast my vote…’ Any ‘I castedmy vote’ I see on my [timeline] will be considered election violence. I reserve the right to defend myself.”

Adesanmi was also an award winning author and a highly sought after speaker. His awards include the Penguin Prize for African Writing in the Non-Fiction category for his book ‘You’re Not a Country, Africa;’ the Association of Nigerian Authors’ poetry prize for his poetry collection, ‘The Wayfarer and Other Poems’ and a 2017 Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership award.

“We don’t know how we will replace him,” said Ntiamoa-Baidu. “He was just that sort of a person – very special. And with the skill and character he brought on board, it’s going to be impossible to replace him.”

Adesanmi leaves behind his daughter Tise, and wife Muyiwa, whom he affectionately described as his “polar opposite.”