BY EKANPO ENEWARIDIDEKE
In his sickbed, he reviews his actions and agrees that he is rather too hard on Chief Babigha over the excrement-pouring, the dehumanising tying and the burning down of the shrine and that he has to build bridges before he dies. His wife Mitovwodo assures him that he will not die since he has withstood greater challenges in his life – like Chief Bekederemo’s survival when his half-brother Sabolo shoots him in the chest with a double barrel gun, when Chief Dore Numa sends an ark of small pox to him and when Agbodobiri people tell Chief Dore Numa and the white friends that he has committed multiple murder in the matter of twins, Erekebena, Chief Bekederemo’s wife, her father and entire family absolve him of the murder charge.
Chief Dore Numa has to sacrifice bullocks to his ancestors to save his life when Chief Bekederemo floats the ark of smallpox back to him. Mitovwodo awakens Chief Bekederemo to the fact that even Uyo of Amatolo who says Bekederemo is the son of a daughter on both sides of Kiagbodo and so should go to Okpokunu and Tebegbe or even Ugbokoto (Bekederemo’s mother’s father’s place in Itsekiri) is no more. Uyo has run to Akotogbo.
With all these Mitovwodo is convinced that Chief Bekederemo will not die. Chief Bekederemo recalls how his own father has actually fought for ungrateful Kiagbodo town. His own father fights for Kiagbodo against Okpokunu (his father’s town) and that when his own father loses the power of his lower half, he shares his young wives among his selected sons.
Chief Bekederemo hears a noise and tries to know what is wrong and he hopes that crocodiles have not found their way into land because he knows he has cleared the land of crocodiles since crocodiles kill two of his daughters. Then Branuvwere announces the arrival of Fetaroro, Chief Babigha’s son.
Fetaroro claims that he is sent by his ancestor Ngbile to tell Chief Bekederemo that he will survive this illness because he still has work to do for the people. Fetaroro speaks to Chief Bekederemo thus: “… you will not die of this
illness …. Never mind the people of Kiagbodo.
Your mission reaches far beyond them. And when your mission here in these rivers is finished, a great tornado will come upon this land, and then, in spite of all the walls of brick you build around yourself, your life will go out with that oil lamp you have set up to burn forever there in front of your altar to our creator …”
Baffled, Chief Bekederemo asks Mitovwodo if she has seen such surprise performance before and she asks him back. He extends the question to Branuvwere, a poor household slave, who admittedly confesses that he does not understand Izon people. Bekederemo maintains that the news will move Yenken his sister.
To Mitovwodo, the news sweetens everybody: “It is honey on all our tongues, oil for our lamps in the white man’s night market he calls Nigeria.” Chief Bekederemo miraculously gets a message from Ngbile through Fetaroro that he will not die and this becomes joy to all; he still has work to do for his own people.
Clark’s story centres on Chief Bekederemo, a court member, middleman, a trader in palm oil and kernel from Kiagbodo, who becomes rich by his own hard work and prudent management of resources; Chief Dore Numa, a paramount Chief and president of Native Court of Appeal Warri from Odogene village who is a colonial agent that leases people’s land to the colonial masters for building of offices, barracks, etc without their knowledge and consent and Col. M.C. Moorhouse, an officer that acts in the absence of Frederick Lugard who uses Chief Dore Numa to deprive the people of their lands through fraudulent acquisition methods and still showers medals on Chief Dore Numa in recognition of his manipulative atrocities.
Chief Bekederemo’s moves are towards the elimination of the atrocities of Chief Dore Numa through his catalogue of complaints launched in col. M.C. Moorhouse’s office which does not produce the result desired by him because of manipulation.
Chief Dore Numa sees Chief Bekederemo as an opposition who should be crushed so that the way will be cleared whereas Col. M.C. Moorhouse sees Chief Dore Numa as a potent tool deployed towards the actualisation of the thrust of his colonial policy on the natives. Col. M.C. Moorhouse sees any opposition to Chief Dore Numa as an opposition to the colonial administration.
Chief Bekederemo is cast as a saviour-figure, activist who can liberate the Ijaws, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Isokos, Abohs and Kwales from the oppressive manipulations of Chief Dore Numa in the colonial days when palm oil and kernel trade hold sway. In the portrayal of Bekederemo’s glorious contributions, Clark does not spare him: he throws light on both his positive and negative associations.
Clark surveys his business life and portrays him as a rich honest trader who is not exploitative and then in his activist role, portrays him as a man dedicated to the liberation of the masses from the tricks of Chief Dore Numa and as a family man, he portrays him as a caring man of many wives with traces of dictatorship.
In the management of his home affairs he does not accept counter views. He marries his daughters off to men in Sagbama creek against their will. At first he marries Aminose (his daughter) off to Niger company’s manager and later to Fenatangbe in Sagbama creek like Temagha. He quarrels with his wife Mitovwodo when she protests against it.
Bekederemo’s mother’s father Ofiagbere is Itsekiri by extraction and this empowers him to protect Itsekiri’s interest where it is threatened by Chief Dore Numa. Bekederemo comments that Itsekiri’s marry their children to white men in order to get power and influence and similarly he gives out his daughters to men in Sagbama creek because he wants to reward them for the free labour they have given him.
He single-handedly gives Fiobode to Chief Egbe as wife against his father’s wish and dislikes Yenken his elder sister for marrying Suoware without his approval. Even without good reasons, Chief Bekederemo burns down chief Babigha’s shrine though in his sickbed he admits being too hard on him and would like to make amends.
Chief Bekederemo over pampers his children; he marries wives for his sons and caters for his daughters in their matrimonial homes; and to an excessive degree, he is generous with gifts and food to his children, relations and guests in the house.
Chief Bekederemo, who, in what could be cast as a narcissistic self-adulation more in defiant trivialisation of Ajayi Crowder’s exhortation to him on education, proudly talks about how he becomes wealthy without education and manipulative collusion with the white men, shows little or no interest in the education of Fuludu and Okemeji (his children) though he eventually sends his children Orumala, James and Ajaluwa to Government school in Warri and demonstrates phenomenal interest in the education of his grandson Clark already sent to his favourite daughter Ovughurugha and her husband Robert Milne for the purpose of educational advancement.
The beauty in the portrait of Chief Bekederemo is that, even with his occasional flaws or wrong actions, he demonstrates ability to identify them and correct them for the purpose of tomorrow; this I think, is the Jesus Christ in him. Bekederemo shows capacity to forgive and to beg for forgiveness when he knows he has erred.
Clark’s portrait of Chief Dore Numa is that of insensitive, cunning, exploitative, domineering, unrepentant, oppressive, arrogant, envious, manipulative, dishonest, irresponsible and insincere man who does not want to see anybody progress and rise above him in life; his manipulative preoccupation is to deprive the Ijaws, Urhobos and Itsekiris of their lands by leasing them to white men without their knowledge and consent.
Chief Dore Numa is a sadist: he always congratulates himself on having dealt with Nana by driving him to Accra and back to Koko and by sending the Oba of Benin on exile to Calabar; no wonder he tries to kill Chief Bekederemo by sending an ark of smallpox though he misfires.
He is unrepentant, wicked and vindictive. When Chief Babigha tells him how Bekederemo humiliates him, he promptly sends white men and soldiers to arrest him without investigation because he does not want to see any opposition from him. Dore Numa’s manipulative gimmicks are non-discriminatory: he manipulates all tribes in Warri including Itsekiris. What matters to him most is his own survival.
Chief Fore Numa is a land-grabber, manipulator who lives only on what the white men give as reward for his perfidy and dedication to manipulation. Even with his manipulation, he is not as rich as Chief Bekederemo. Chief Bekederemo once asks Dore Numa in infuriation if he has ever had a thousand English pounds for his perfidious labour for the white men.
Chief manipulates litigants to give him money and gifts; he always gets jars of gin from Ijaw people as gifts; even Ayakoroma people use to give him fine ALOKU poles but Bekederemo’s agitation stops all that. Chief is a cankerworm in any society.
Clark’s portrait of Col. M.C. Moorhouse is that of exploitative manipulator who uses Chief Dore Numa to perpetrate land-ownership atrocities against the natives of Warri. He is the one who rewards Chief Dore Numa with medals and portion of land and political power to intimidate and deprive people of their lands.
Col. M.C. Moorhouse is a satanic agent who is responsible for the land-related problems in Warri. Through manipulation, Ogbe people are driven away from the headland for the purpose of building offices, barracks etc. He is a disgusting character.
From the portrait of the three characters, Clark’s message is a very clear one: the present ethnic configuration of Warri is flawed and needs to be reversed; the issue of land ownership should be redressed because the acquisition process masterminded by Chief Dore Numa is self-serving and manipulative; Chief Bekederemo’s activist prescriptions and complaints which culminate in his opposition to Chief Dore Numa should be the basis for the reconfiguration of the nationalities in Warri since all – Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo are exploited by Chief Dore Numa.
The ending of Clark’s ALL FOR OIL is symbolic and has implications for the future. Actors like Chief Dore Numa, Chief Bekederemo and Col. M.C. Moorhouse are still alive; this means that the problems of Warri are not over as Chief Bekederemo will continue to agitate until his genuine complaints are properly addressed – which is the task his ancestor Ngbile has thrust upon him.
Clark is calling on the relevant authorities to rectify the injustices in Warri in line with Chief Bekederemo’s agitations – Chief Bekederemo who clearly awakens Chief Dore Numa to the reality that he (Dore Numa) knows who the true owners of Warri are.
Clark’s artistic vision is that Chief Bekederemo will not die until the injustices in Warri particularly and the injustices generally in Nigeria are corrected because to Clark, the making of Nigeria by the colonial masters is flawed. This is a heavy statement from Clark who has turned a human rights activist in ALL FOR OIL having set ablaze his characteristic cultural edifice in pursuit of new realities in his literary career.
Clark’s development of his three characters, which is full, adequate, convincing and realistic, is reinforced by the roles of characters like Branuvwere who is afraid and worried that Chief Bekederemo’s generosity to his children and other people may wreck him, Nemugha who gives independent and objective advice and opinion to Chief Bekederemo on any issue without giving him the room for necessary adjustment; Piniki Ederume who strengthens and inspires Bekederemo for anything either through his songs or provision of necessary piece of information for him to work on as he does in the time of the illness and the abortive arrest masterminded by Chief Dore Numa; Fuludu and Fiobode who always kowtow to the wishes of Bekederemo without differing views; Mitovwodo who gives Chief Bekederemo the ideal love of his life; Fetaroro who gives Bekederemo hopes of survival from the illness as handed down to him by Ngbile; Egerton Shyngle who always gives Bekederemo necessary legal opinion and guidance on issues; Johnson Nana who brings greetings to Chief Bekederemo from Nana (Johnson’s father earlier dealt with by Chief Dore) that he is worried about the fate of the Itsekiris following the proclamation of the HOME RULE REPEAL ORDINANCE – a signal that even the Itsekiris acknowledge their confidence in Chief Bekederemo’s leadership qualities and justifiable agitations against Chief Dore Numa’s numerous illegal arrests, capture of livestock for sacrifices to gods, seizure of young girls, palm produce extortion, surreptitious leasing of people’s lands in Okere, Sapele, and Alder’s town in the name of Olu long dead; Bar Rolle, who tells Chief Dore Numa of how Chief Bekederemo (warrant Chief appointed by Copeland Crawdor who displaces and drives Ogbe people from the headland to build a trading post now called Warri) breaks a court session in Okpare which quickly reawakens him to the knowledge of how the same Chief Bekederemo scatters the court in Frukama and on different occasion perpetually refuses to pay fine imposed on him by a legally constituted court leading to incarceration of Chief Egbe (and later released on payment of the fine by people other than Chief Bekederemo), gives an inventory of the steady flow of goodies and gratifications sent to Chief Dore Numa by the Ijaws, Urhobos, Isokos, Abohs and Kwales in fear, respect, recognition and anticipation of favour from him (Chief Dore Numa; A.C. BURNS, who sees Bekederemo as an objectionable troublesome character whose maritime trade hacks away the profitability of the white men’s palm oil and kernel business in Sapele, Koko and other areas reported as the representatives of the firms complain bitterly about the steady decline in profit-accrual, gives vindictive excuses and tries to dissuade Col. M.C. Moorhouse from giving audience to Chief Bekederemo’s petitions against Chief Dore Numa; Chief Egbe who always protects Chief Bekederemo’s interest but plays mediatory role between Chief Dore Numa and Chief Bekederemo anytime they clash in words, thus making himself a constant cooler of the ever rising temperatures between the two though Chief Dore holds the strong view that Chief Egbe is always on the side of Chief Bekederemo because he is married to his sister Fiobode; Chief Babigha who sees Chief Dore Numa as his only instrument to confront Bekederemo for justice over the burning of his shrine, and S.L. Bucknor who always gives candid opinion to Chief Dore Numa on legal matters concerning Chief Bekederemo. It is the conglomeration of the various voices of these characters that give chief Bekederemo, Chief Dore Numa and Col. M.C. Moorhouse their individual qualities and identities.
Clark draws on these individual qualities and identities to build his artistic vision about the problems plaguing the different nationalities manipulatively fused into unholy union by the colonial masters. Clark’s character portrait shows that both the minor and major characters are germane to the development of the plot – the plot itself being chronological in arrangement because the characters are drawn from history.
ALL FOR OIL shows Clark’s healthy exploitation of historical materials in the construction of his vision for Nigeria using a language that is skillfully an admixture of prose, poetry and quotable philosophical expressions. Lines like these from Bekederemo who says: “Fetaroro, you know life is only a bubble made in the river.
We see ourselves large in it, but it bursts in our face before we know it” and from Fetaroro who maintains thus: “And we also know the deepest track we make here on earth, and call our careers, is no more than the wake a boat makes. It tears up the river with pride but the river soon swallows it up.
Arrival is all, yes, it is the arrival…” are moving, evocative and mesmerising in construction that one is compelled to commit them to memory and permanently appropriate both the penetrating poetic rhythm and the philosophical echoes and truism the lines embody – which I am very sure are EFFORTLESS CASCADES from the Kiagbodo-born Clark.
Premised on the contours in ALL FOR OIL and THE WIVES’ REVOLT, the consummation of Clark’s incineration of his artistic cultural costume is his gallant flight to the world of marxist writers like Ngugi Wa Thiog’O. It appears that pulverisation of all institutions and structures of exploitation and oppression plaguing man on any planet using any necessary instruments as a potent counter-force is Clark’s new revolutionary persuasion.
Structures of oppression should no longer be given a breathing space or spell of hibernation anywhere on earth. In the two plays, Clark’s COMMUNICATIVE characters – Koko (for the women) in THE WIVES’ REVOLT and Chief Bekederemo in ALL FOR OIL – the preoccupation is towards the extirpation and pulverisation of invading oppressive structures (typified by the men in THE WIVES’ REVOLT and by Chief Dore Numa in ALL FOR OIL) until justice descends on the plagued humanity.
Conclusively, the man Clark, the Nigerian poet of the 20th century, has willingly claimed the seat of an INTELLLECTUAL MILITANT in THE WIVES’ REVOLT and ALL FOR OIL out of pragmatic deep solicitude for the plagued humanity in Nigeria. And again as a cautionary digression I must add that though Clark’s portrayal of the roles of Chief Bekederemo, Chief Dore Numa, Col. M.C. Moorhouse and others, remarkably vivid and realistic, which may provoke irrational aggrieved vituperative responses from persons/groups pathologically mindful of their public/private persona thrown up for critical interrogation, they should be content to claim as a guide the reality that ALL FOR OIL is a representation of probable action patterned upon the ARISTOTELIAN MIMESIS just in the same way I would like readers to realise that Clark’s break from culture can only be located in terms of the thematic thrust as the two plays still demonstrate healthy exploitation of the cultural resources of his own people out of which a RADIANT TAPESTRY
has been woven with a reverberating dexterity.