By Femi Osofisan
In the block of flats to which he was assigned, [John Pepper Clark, then a Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ibadan] found Ebun [Odutola] in the apartment just below his. She had just returned from England then, and begun to teach in the newly established School of Drama under Geoffrey Axworthy. . . .Miss Odutola was also highly regarded in the faculty, and especially by the vice chancellor [Prof Kenneth O. Dike].
Inevitably, . . . she and JP fell in love. And so, they decided on the next natural step, which was for them to get married. However, there was one serious obstacle—their respective ethnic origins! The Odutolas were one of the wealthy industrial families of Ijebuland, leading figures of the Yoruba aristocracy and Nigerian entrepreneur class, and highly conscious of their wealth and status.
Besides, the Yoruba as a whole tended to regard non-Yorubas from anywhere beyond Ondo, north or east, as uncouth barbarians, primitives whom they referred to derisively as ‘kobokobos’. JP, from Ijaw-land as we know, was of course one of them!
Add to all this the fact that Ebun was quite literally the apple of her father’s eyes, on whom the old man doted with uncommon affection, both on account of her comeliness, and her intellectual aptitude. He had great dreams for her future, which was why he had sent her at the age of nine to England to study. But these plans certainly did not include marriage to someone from some obscure village in the Niger-Delta that no one could point out on the map!
Hence, true to the tradition of his people, and in the manner of his great-grandfather Bekederemo, JP decided to resolve the matter in the only manner available—through elopement! One Saturday on April 4, 1964, he and Ebun drove off to Cotonou in the neighbouring Republic of Benin where his friend, Jide Alo, was the Nigerian Chargé d’Affaires. By evening of that day, they were husband and wife! The next day, they drove back to Nigeria again and resumed their normal life on campus.
At this point they had not decided yet to make the marriage public. They needed time to work out the best strategy to inform Ebun’s father and obtain his consent. Since their flats were adjacent, one above the other, and they decided to retain the two, they were sure that they could preserve the secret for as long as they wished, which they did for three months, until Ebun had to give notice of her change of name.
Then of course the dreaded consequence followed. One of Alhaji Odutola’s friends, Mr Adeniyi Williams, who was the chief engineer of the University [of Ibadan], read the news, and ran straight to confront him, asking why he was not invited to the [wedding] ceremony. That was how the old man knew for the first time that his daughter had gone and committed the unthinkable! For a whole year afterwards, therefore, Ebun did not dare approach her father.
JP sent emissaries, to plead for him, to explain and offer his excuses, to try and win a reconciliation, but all to no avail. The old man would not agree to see them. And neither was the mother in support, although she received JP’s ‘peace delegation’—comprising Peter Enahoro, Sesan Dipeolu, Sam Amuka, Kayode Jibowu and Ignatius Olisemeka—with customary politeness, which JP mistook for approval!
In contrast however, JP’s father turned out to be very liberal-minded on the issue. From the first time he called in their house on his way to Lagos in pursuit of his business, and met her, he and Ebun became like father and daughter.”
Source: Femi Osofisan, ‘JP Clark: A Voyage’ (Ibadan: Bookcraft 2011) 165-168