By Japhet Alakam
The occasion was supposed to have started by 5.00 pm , but by 4.30 the court yard of the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Awolowo Road Ikoyi was already electrified with the sound of traditional drums and songs provided by the Niger delta traditional wrestling club of Lagos, while the Ijaw Women leadership forum gorgeously dressed in their uniforms on their own exchanged banters while drinks of all sorts were served to guests.
Professor John Pepper Clark- Bekederemo is unarguably one of the most famous living poets who has made wonderful marks in different fields as an academic, writer, civil servant and journalist. But ironically, he is also one of the most underrated Nigerian literary giants.
And as a wake up call to that oversight, publishing outfit, Bookraft and friends last week organised a book party to celebrate Clark’s 78th birthday with a public presentation of a book of biography titled, JP Clark: A Voyage, The definitive biography of “ the main animating force of African poetry written by playwright and poet, Femi Osofisan.
And to celebrate with him were friends, colleagues, kinsmen, students and what could be described as the who is who in the literary community as all joined Bookcraft on Tuesday at a book party to give honour to whom it is due.
Ordinarily, one would have thought that the occasion was a political gathering but that was not to be. Rather, it was a celebration of life and book: most importantly, celebration of a new book that chronicles the life and career of JP Clark from his remarkable childhood to his emergence in the 60s as one of the best and brightest vocies and midwives of Nigerian literature.
The occasion was indeed a voyage around the life of the Kiagbodo born poet as the true nature of the man who is described by many as a man of many parts was revealed by the author and other close associates of his during the event.
In his remarks, the author of the book, Femi Osofisan used the opportunity to explain some of the questions that people asked him; like why he embarked on the project, what he has gained and why he wants people to read the book. According to him “ JP Clark was an enigma to most of my generation.
He had a terrible and terrifying reputation. He was said to be rude, and reclusive and arrogant, and hostile to critics, he was, in short, the full incarnation of his name, ‘’ Peppe.’’ Osofisan went on to explain why he embarked on the project and how the book had helped him to know more about many things in the country.
The book reviewers Toyin Akinosho and Prof Abiola Irele in their different reviews pointed out how the book reports the life of JP Clark from his Kiagbodo home to the period he became a significant figure in the Nigeria literary industry. Akinosho pointed out that the book tried to unravel how the man JP Clark was made.
While Abiola Irele took a swipe on the author of another attempt on JP Clark’s biography titled, Peculiar Tragedy written by one time editor at Heinneman Publishers, Maja Pearse for what he described as fabricated lies concerning what the author wrote about JP Clark. He said the book by Femi Osofisan is a welcome development because it will help diffuse what Maja Pearse wrote.
He described the book as a celebration of their own person, but his only grouse with the work is that it is published outside Nigeria.
After the review, the various speakers spoke of their encounter with the man called JP , his shortcomings and about his good sides of his life. It was indeed a wonderful moment for an exposition of the secrets of JP by his close associates.
On his part, the Noble Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka who sat by the side of JP Clark humorously started by saying that he didnt’t know why JP is described as an enigma when JP is just pepper.
Soyinka who described himself as an expert on JP also took a swipe on Maja Pearse for what he described as “ the poor miserable work of research he did on JP.”
According to him , “I don’t know why somebody who calls himself an editor can publish such a book. It is full of lies and the worse of it is that he summons witnesses to testify to the lies.” Soyinka likened the Maja Pearse to a character like Godwin Dabo who fabricates stories.
The Nobel Laureate popularly addressed as Kongi also described the book as unprecedented and advised people to be more conscious of what they read as all of them are not correct.
On JP Clark, Soyinka said that the problem with JP Clark is that he behaves as if he has no sense of humour. Pointing out that the book wont have come out at a more auspicious time than now when every body is talking about peace. On the author, Soyinka said that Femi cheated, but his was a creative cheat.
The unique event which was well attended also coincided with the 78th birthday of the celebrant and as usual, friends and well wishers joined him in the special birthday celebration. While the students of Holy Child College, Ikoyi Lagos rendered a birthday song for him.