L-r: JP Clark, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka at Dodan Barracks
By JP Clark
When Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and I went to plead with General Ibrahim Babangida to spare the lives of Major General Vatsa and his colleagues, I remember some friends asking me later how I came to be in the company of my friends.
“You are not a political activist… You are not a politician. Those two are plain party men. In any case, you’ve never taken part in group activities!” they protested. All I could do then was laugh, for I had been the one who asked my friends to join me in our mission.
Chinua I got surprisingly on my first telephone call to Nsukka. We had made up soon after the war when I invited him to be my external examiner. Wole I had seen only once, and that in Dar es Salaam, since he asked me to his publisher’s office in London to show me page proofs of The Man Died in which he libeled me.
I told him then I would take him to court which I did, and there were quite a few people waiting for the fight. Chief Richard Akinjide, I remember, promised to buy himself a ringside seat. But that is another story, although you could say it forms part of the larger one. Now some twelve years had passed. How to reach him with his roving style. Some one suggested I try his man Yemi Ogunbiyi at The Guardian.
I did, got directions, and took off straight to Abeokuta. Wole was away hunting somewhere in the forest of a thousand and one demons. So I sat waiting for him at his neighbour’s flat. Of course, I was the last person he expected to see at his doorstep. I cannot remember whether he came back with a kill and what kind. All I know, we had a great recognition scene of it, and then good host that he is, he cooked us a great meal. Of course, like Chinua, he was a prophet needing no preaching to.
That was how we came to put our heads together at my place at the University of Lagos to send our petition to the power that was and some say still is and shall be. Wole did the drafting, Chinua and I teasing him he had had more practice at making pronouncements than either of us. How to reach the great man? It turned out to be no major problem, although his PSP, Hamidu Wathanafa, had told me it would take some days to arrange.
Word had got to General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida all right, and he was not one to be done out of a show. Three distinguished world-acclaimed writers wanted to see him on a national matter of urgency how could he refuse seeing them? He duly received us at Dodan Barracks the next day, and was his charming self and all attention. A difficult case, he told us. Some junior officers were the problem, but not to worry.
He would take care of it. So we left, walked straight into the arms of the press, and on to a restaurant to toast and treat ourselves to a lunch we all thought we thoroughly deserved.
We were still savouring our wine, when that same afternoon General Domcat Bali, Chief of Defence Staff, came on air, announcing Vatsa and the other accused had already been executed. As a matter of fact, the execution did not take place until well into the night that day.
Credit: JP Clark: “The Burden Not Lifted” – Nigerian National Order of Merit Award Winner’s Lecture; Abuja, December 5, 2001; pgs32-34. Copied from Uzor Maxim Uzoatu’s FB wall