Adieu J.P. Clark, Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan SAN, FCIArb


It is sad to write a tribute to the memory of John Pepper Clark, a poet, a Nigerian, an Izon and very importantly, an integral member of the Government College Ughelli family. He was a great man, all his own man.

Known simply as J P Clark, one saw in his appearance how a poet, a man of deep sensibilities and immense purpose lived an oxymoronic existence of so much wealth in means, wisdom and learning, but clad in sparse and simple apparel. He was so simple in his meaningful living, he was almost spartan. His lines in My Testament says it all about his uncomplicated and simple view of life:

This is to my family
Do not take me to a mortuary,
Do not take me to a church,
Whether I die in or out of town,
But take me home to my own, and
To lines and tunes, tested on the waves
Of time, let me lie in my place
On the Kiagbodo River.
If Moslems do it in a day,
You certainly can do it in three,
Avoiding blood and waste,
And whatever you do after,
My three daughters and my son
By the only wife I have,
Do not fight over anything
I may be pleased to leave behind”

It is comforting to see that in a country and continent fraught with and stricken by the malady of base materialistic tendencies that have robbed the most of their children the ability to rise to the challenge of the higher good, J P Clark won his life’s war against the vanity that drives soulless materialism as life’s purpose for the many. Thus, he was the sort in his simple shirtsleeves and chinos or khaki pants that could make another, a vain one decked in damask, gold and diamond finery, feel inferior. That was J P. He was a man of a silent easy style, simple in his ways, but not self-effacing. His presence always asserted his force of personality with an authority that could never be mistaken for meekness.

In all his simplicity, he never came across to me as meek. He was indeed a strong Izon man from Kiagbodo. In his play Ozidi, he beat the drums of praise of his proud and industrious Izon ancestry and thereafter highlighted his family name of Bekederemo to the world. Many thereafter came to know him with the compound name of Clark-Bekederemo, a family of gargantuan Iroko that include Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark and Ambassador Akporode Clark.

On letters and words, he was a true wordsmith so globally acclaimed that stating it here makes no special significance more than being a mere platitude. He was up there amongst the world’s most talented and most celebrated! The real genius of his style was his deft pithiness in asseverating groundbreaking themes, the imageries of which are immediately revealed to his audience without the feeling of one pulling a tooth at the dentist’s as some poets would drag you through. Four of his numerous poems make this point more than I can ever tell of it:

*Streamside Exchange,
*Night Rain, and
In Ibadan, one saw the poetic irony of a rustic town in all its spread and beauty, splayed on the canvas of her seven hills with the simile of smashed earthenware scattered in the sun. All that powerful imagery and story of a great city, compressed in a quintain of very few words!
In Night Rain, more than anything else, one’s experience of the lines of that poem brought home sweetly the sedative quality of night rain that immediately threw you back in time to your grandmother’s room warmed by a wood burning hearth on the cold rainy nights of childhood.

And in Abiku, the emptied and exhausted breasts on the wracked body of the unfortunate mother, vividly and graphically brought home the grim misery of unending rebirths and burials of the ghoulish Abiku in repeated cycles of pain.

What about the metaphysical message of the eternal rhythms of life and time in tides and markets he pithed songfully in Streamside Exchange? Man’s sojourn on earth is subject to metaphysical rhythms over which he has no control. Tides and markets always come and go and so shall everyone affected by this eternal law of nature.

By his passing, John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo has finished his trades in the market of life and has gone out with the tide to eternity. He will be sorely missed for many have in his death lost a dear one in a husband and father, a friend, a great Izon, a great Nigerian, a great African, and for the Government College Ughelli family, a close family member, an irreplaceable elder and an ancient mariner.

May God grant him rest and console his immediate family, the larger Bekederemo family and us all in the Government College Ughelli family.
Rest In Peace
–––Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Former Attorney General of Edo State.