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JP Clark: One Year After

JP clark caricature

October 17, (THEWILL) – If there were a proper burial ceremony for Professor John Pepper Bekederemo Clark after he died a year ago this October, there would have been a gathering of the Who is Who in Nigerian Literature. Leading a phalanx of literary big-foots would have been his close friend, rival and contemporary, Professor Wole Soyinka, delivering a funeral oration that would have got literary ears pricking.

Many more scholars, especially from the Department of English and Literature from the universities of Ibadan and Lagos, would have been around (in Lagos where he lived the twilight of his years or even Kiagbodo where he was born.) Before his sudden demise, the poet, dramatist, essayist and distinguished scholar had written something of a last testament, asking to be buried in his natal littoral place. His family obliged him.

So, there was no crowd-pulling, colourful, ceremonial send-off for JP. It was simple, low-key and a solitary departure for the poet who was set forth upon the waters of Kiabgodo for his final journey to the great beyond.

One year after, more than a dozen professors, twice as many doctors, the literati and admirers had a chance to do what they could not a year ago.

Besides his last commandment to his family concerning his burial, COVID-19 pandemic ensured that people kept their distance and so could not meet physically for a proper celebration of JP. For three days last week, starting from Monday, October 11, through Tuesday to Wednesday 13, participants at the first commemoration of the late poet kept their distance but got together via zoom to celebrate the late poet who meant so many things to different people.

Professor Femi Osofisan, one of the moderators of the event, set the tone right by declaring that, one year after JP’s demise, “it is just appropriate that we come to look at the legacies that JP Clark left behind.”

For obvious reasons, Mrs. Jegede Head of Department of English, University of Ibadan, made the opening remarks. UI, along with the University of Lagos, are co-hosts of the memorial. It was at UI that JP began his university education and also honed his skill as a writer, writing and publishing some of his poems and plays.

Mrs Jegede told participants what they already knew, to  wit: “To celebrate our great Nigerian and literary icon…to honour our father, teacher, colleague, elder statesman, hero and idol.”

Jegede’s counterpart from Unilag, Shalysha Oleoreore, also made her opening remarks representing an institution where JP was one of the founding fathers of the Department of English. According to her, the school “started celebrating JP while alive when we organized a lecture and a conference in his honour. He looked healthy then and we didn’t know that he was going to be away from us so soon.”

How true! With the possible exception of Soyinka, very few people knew of the health challenges JP faced until his untimely death.


Given the privilege of speaking first, and despite initial technical glitches in the recording, Soyinka held his audience spellbound in a speech titled “JP: An Absence Still in Denial.”

With his piratical good looks despite his advanced years the Nobel laureate began by describing the “unique gift” he received from “our JP, poet of unlimited surprises. I received a unique gift at the hand of our JP. That gift, we share poetry, its dimensions… the nature of that gift, alas,  is one that is insufficiently acknowledged, insufficiently embraced, shared and propagated an underrated request that replenishes my own humanity. It is also a burden…the challenges it places upon one’s shoulders…Often, indeed, I get that feeling that JP is looking over my shoulder to see if I have already re-gifted that present in my own way. You would be right to assess it a virtue the like of which renders society fragile and contentious, an obstacle to its perceived existential harmony.”

Concluding, Soyinka insists he remains “eternally grateful to JP for being the medium of such gift.”

Tagged “The First JP Clark Memorial” and moderated by two professors, Osofisan and Hope Eghagha of University of Lagos, the nearly three-hour remembrance had other eloquent speakers have their say on the man JP, his works, life and legacies.


Speaking from Carleton University Ottawa, Canada, Associate Professor of African Studies, Nduka Otiono, tackled very brilliantly “Discussing JP Clark and Poetic Expeditions in Mortality.” JP’s early life at Ibadan, Otiono averred, “was marked by intellectual and cultural activism.” JP always liked to shock, Otiono said, citing an instance when the dramatist slaughtered a live goat on stage during the performance of his play Song of A Goat. Venue was Courtyard Hall of the institution. The action “had tongues wagging for weeks after the production.”

If anything has to be said about the lectures, it is that all of them, men and women did justice to the various presentations. For one, they are university teachers. Two, they are all familiar with the works of the late professor. Thus, Professors Mabel Evwierhoma and Saint Gbilekaa both of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja, were plainly at home with “Discussing JP Clark: Towards and Agenda for Femocracy” and “An Ecocritical Discourse of JP Clark’s ALL for Oil and Women’s Revolt respectively.”

You must give the organisers credit for not focusing on university dons alone. An old boy of JP’s alma mater Government College Ughelli, had something to say from their school days. For him, all old boys become mariners automatically even though GCU is not located by any shore. JP, he said, is one of the most prominent and acknowledged students of the school whom they will remain proud of.

Professors Godini Darah and Tanure Ojaide can both be called students and younger proteges of JP. In talking about “Voyager of Our Folkways,” Darah recalled the rich traditional imagery and allusions in most of JP’s works, citing some of his popular plays like the Ozidi Saga, Song of a Goat, The Raft, etc. Ojaide’s “What we Don’t Know Yet About Clark’s Writings was equally revelatory.

The second day had medics talking about the ravaging disease cancer. There were two of them on hand, Dr. Olatunbosun A. Oke and Kene Chudy-Onwugaje. Their topic of discussion focused on cancer of the colon and how to detect and prevent it. At the time he died, there was speculation about what really got the dramatist. With the two doctors in the house, one was left feeling whether it was the debilitating disease that got the poet.

The final day of the memorial for JP was a production of his play The Wives Revolt. As you might have guessed, it was online like the previous meetings.

The memorial wouldn’t have been complete without family member from the Clarks. His wife, Professor Ebun Clark lent her majestic presence to the event. She pointedly recalled how her spouse was “elected to be a London Underground Poet. London Underground has this habit of carrying poems from different nations to then tube stations and inside the tubes as well. He was a London Underground Poet in 2012 when his poem, Ibadan, went round the whole of London Underground System and other poets like Chaucer, Yeats and so forth.”

His daughter Pastor Egedeh gave the vote of thanks.

A first memorial for JP Clark presupposes there would be follow-ups in the coming years. For literature students and lovers of creative writing, there can’t be a better and worthier way to get to know the man JP Clark, his works and lifetime more and more.