Tuesday 11 January 2022

Clark, Aliu and the continuum

Birth. Death. The period of existence in-between is what we call life. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the defunct Western Region, in his twilight years, said death is actually the beginning of “life afterlife.” He explained further that “life is a continuum.”

The Yoruba people believe that death, Iku, is a messenger of Olodumare. Unlike other deities and messenger of the Supreme Being, death cannot be appeased. There is no need to propitiate a deity who is permanently deaf to all entreaties. If Iku was not hard of hearing, maybe we could have appeased him to tarry a while before Major-General Dapo Adebayo, the former Director of the Nigerian Army Corps of Education, was summoned home. Adebayo died on September 23. General Adebayo was a complete officer and gentleman. There was a time we thought he would become the Director-General of the National Youths Service Corps, NYSC, but that one passed him over. The last time I saw him was in Ado-Ekiti when we both attended the swearing-in of Governor Kayode Fayemi two years ago. He was in an excellent mood, full of gaiety and life and his boyish look belied his long service in the army. Who could have suspected that death was waiting in ambush for him?

Dayo Omotoso too was a top gun of the Nigerian press. I was shocked when his son called me two weeks ago that his father died after a domestic accident. Omotoso was my colleague at the defunct Drum Magazine, publishers of Drum, Trust, Sadness, and Joy, Truck and Cars and African Films. Our bosses were the unforgettable Prince Olu Adetule, the Editor-in-Chief, and Mr Olaseinde Lawson, our Editor who later served as the registrar of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. Omotoso also worked with us in the early days of TELL magazine before relocating to Ibadan. He developed deep roots in Ibadan where he served as one of the governors as the Senior Special Assistant on media. He also tried his hands at publishing a magazine.

Unlike Adebayo and Omotoso, I met Mrs Rachel Adefunke Wellington after she celebrated her 100th birthday. Despite the burden of years, she displayed an ebullient personality and you wonder what she would have been in her younger years, even in her seventies. Pastor Boma Peter Kio, my old senior at the Ife Anglican Grammar School, brought me to her. She wanted to build a new city for the poor, complete with schools and recreational facilities. She said poverty was the cause of conflict in Africa and if African leaders could take practical steps to confront the ogre of poverty, the problems of Africa would be solved.

She took her dream seriously and embarked on the assignment with ardour. She had made arrangements with some state governments to partner with her to build the new city. She acquired hundreds of acres in Ekiti State for the pursuit of her dream and sought the assistance of knowledgeable people, including architects and builders, to advise her. She wanted to partner with international organizations, especially the United Nations, in the pursuit of her dream of taking the poor from the streets.

Mrs. Wellington wanted me to help her prepare a document that could persuade the UN and other agencies to join her in the fight to rid Africa of poverty. I regarded her dream as utopian, if not outrightly quixotic. But she was relentless. She was used to winning and getting the impossible done. In her younger days, she became the first Nigerian woman to start an airline. In her twilight years, she wanted a legacy project that would announce her to generations unborn. It was a tall dream; and dreams do die. Mrs Wellington would be buried in Epe, near Ijero, Ekiti State next month.

Chief Jimoh Aliu, the fertile brain that gave us Arelu, Fopomoyo, and other unforgettable epics, would have found Wellington’s life a suitable raw material for an epic play. Aliu belonged to the second generation of Nigerian artists who inherited the estate built by such giants as Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, and Duro Ladipo. These three men pioneered the travelling theatre industry in Nigeria and they were soon joined by other eager creative spirits. Thus we have the likes of Oyin Adejobi, Ishola Ogunsola (I-Show Pepper), Lere Paimo (Eda Onile Ola), Ade Afolayan (Ade Love), and many others.

I don’t know how much Aliu learned from Kola Ogunmola who was the dominant dramatist during our growing up years in Okemesi, Ekiti State. Ogunmola, like Aliu, was a native of Okemesi. Every yuletide period, Ogunmola would lead his troupe to Okemesi Town Hall to entertain us. It was there we first watched plays like Lanke Omu, the stage adaptation of Amos Tutuola fabulous novel, The Palmwine Drinkard. Ogunmola died early. I don’t know whether he attained the age of 50 before his demise, but his death struck everyone with deep sadness. Then Jimoh Aliu came with his breathtaking tales of timeless chivalry and conflicts.

Some years ago, he wanted the Ekiti State Government to sponsor a new play on the Ekiti Parapo War. Everything was ready, he said, but he needed money and he believed the new play would consolidate our people sense of identity. It was a futile effort. He was looking for another great epic that would follow the triumph he recorded in Arelu and Fopomoyo.

Unlike some of the pioneers, he was able to make the transition from stage to celluloid film quite smoothly. It was a success he acquired at great personal cost. Once he was preparing to stage a new play in Abeokuta in which one of his sons was to act. His character was to confront his son on stage. He had learned a powerful incantation but had been warned not to recite everything correctly. However, in the excitement of the stage, he confronted his young son, who was less than 20, pouring out the full incantation. The young lad fell! That was not part of the play, the father remembered. He moved over the son. The audience was roaring with excitement, thinking that the drama was taking a good turn. The boy died.

There were many other dramas that attended the life and times of Jimoh Aliu. He was a capable polygamist whose wives use to dress in identical uniforms. He was also a cultural nationalist, always at home to attend and participate in the major festivals of the Yoruba people including Ladunwo in Okemesi, Osun festival in Osogbo, and Olojo festival in Ile-Ife.

The life of Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo took a different trajectory to that of Chief Jimoh Aliu. Both of them were involved in the business of words and drama. Clark, who died on Tuesday at 85, was an academician of universal status. When I was in secondary school, we were introduced to his poem, Ibadan (A running splash of rust and gold, flung and scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun) and his travelogue, America, Their America. When I gained admission to the University of Lagos in 1978, Clark was one of the living legends on the campus along with the likes of Professor Ayodele Awojobi, Professor Alfred Opubor, and the unforgettable Father Skalar.

Clark was one of the great Ibadan boys who burst on the national stage with their stupendous literary outputs at the dawn of independence. Among them were Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Okigbo. The trio of Achebe, Soyinka, and Clark jointly pleaded for the life of that unlucky poet, Brigadier Mamman Vatsa, who was implicated in the 1985 coup plot to topple the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida rejected their plea and Vatsa and his men were later executed.

It is good for a country to have creative minds like Clark and Aliu who can live for something greater than money and power. Their death actually means the beginning of life afterlife.

By Dare Babarinsa

Source: Guardian Newspapers 2020

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