Ambassador Godknows Igali
On Friday, April 16, 2021, one of the fathers of Nigeria’s Diplomatic Service, and early crafters of the country’s Foreign Policy, Ambassador Blessing Akporede Clark, marked his 91st birthday.
Sandwiched between elder statesman, Chief E.K. Clark and his immediate younger brother, late playwright, Prof J.P. Clark, “BA” as his peers around the world know him, was born on that date in 1930 in Kiagbodo, which at the time was in Warri Province of then Western Region. Unlike his more media gripping siblings, this giant in global affairs, is conservative, taciturn, sober and restrained, even after exit from active public life.
Ambassador Clark is one of those who launched Nigeria, while independence was still at cockcrow into the intricate complexion of interstate relations. In his case, he came to stamp a watermark around the globe, as a master of ‘Multilateralism’ – a new fad at the time, in relations between the peoples of the world. One writer simply defined, multilateral diplomacy as “alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal” as different from bilateral relations (country to country), which had formed the traditional basis for diplomacy.
The truth is that the shadowy and inconspicuous world of diplomacy has always been part of the evolution of human statecraft. From the most primordial days of the nascence of human societies, it became obvious that none could live in autarky or isolation. Men realized quite early that natural essence defined by intersections, dictated all manners of interrelationships and interdependences. Humanity also came to terms with the fact, and quite early in the day, that what sets mankind apart from the Hobbesian “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short state of nature” is the ability to endlessly cobble peaceful coexistence amongst various groups.
As political formations took their idyllic structures, these currents of inter societal contacts equally became the normal with entire algorithm of ethos, logos, and orders. In addition, rules of engagement between peoples, definitions of orderly behavior, protocols, conventions, treaties, and the like became well developed. So, perhaps, more than any other preoccupation of man, the role of the intermittent and often itinerant intermediary took its roots far into the farthest antiquity. Expectedly, discreet, stately, witty, intellectual, the inter-middle thespians have kept human society at relative peace and allowed a state of mutual forbearance.
As human society and civilization progressed this complex art of going in-between took formativeness and life producing the types as Ambassador Clark. Through the centuries and around the world, becoming referred to as ‘Diplomats’ and known as “the person (who) is able to control a difficult situation without upsetting anyone.” Between former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and American writer, Caskie Stinnet, came the amusing euphemism that diplomats like this “birthday old man” are connoisseurs of their vocation who “can ask someone to go to hell and he looks forwards to the trip.”
Over time, the professionalized liaison and mediatory agents became exchanged, with ‘Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary’ powers. This simply means with almost unrestrained authority of their Sovereigns and Heads of States to their counterpart. Therefore, persons like Ambassador Clark who had borne, these tongue-twisting titles where only admitted at the receiving end by an Ágrement’ issued by the other “Oga-at-top” accepting them. Not finished, they also carry cursive lettered, ancient worded ‘Credentials’ bearing the personal signature of their own principals. Repeatedly and tardy, but sweetly underscoring why nations, worth their standing send their best to handle this calling.
As a British conquered colony, diplomacy and diplomatic service in Nigeria did not start until 1957. Prior to that time and with the promulgation of the Macpherson Constitution in 1951 and more particularly Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, when the three existing regions (Western Region, Eastern and Northern Region) were granted substantial autonomy and their respective Civil Services were created, so came the establishment of “Special Interest Offices”, to cater for welfare of students, pilgrims and labor needs. Even then, they operated “under the flying seal” of British Embassies near to where they existed as external relations was in the “Exclusive List” under the British Crown. When in the face of fierce nationalist struggle, the Office of the Prime Minister of the Federation (though appointive) was created by the colonial administration in 1957, a Department for Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations was created in the Office of the Prime Minister. Accordingly, a recruitment of the first 12 Foreign Service Officers took place in that last year and was followed in 1958 and 1959. The actual ministry effectively took off in 1961, when the flamboyant politician, Dr. Jaja Wachukwu was appointed as pioneer Foreign Minister. With this, some more senior officers already in service were posted or transferred into the newly created Ministry. First was, a substantive Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Francis Nwokedi and Ambassador Joe Iyalla, who since graduation from the pioneer set of University College, Ibadan in 1951 had been recruited into the Office of the Chief Secretary for Nigeria (now equivalent of Secretary to the Government of the Federation) and was posted immediately to London. He was moved into the Foreign Ministry in 1962 on seniority as Deputy Permanent and stayed long in service to become Permanent Secretary and patriarch.
Of more importance to us was the prominent early hand, B.A. Clark. He had been in the Western Regional service since 1957 but moved into Foreign Affairs in 1961 as it took off formally. Also being from the University of Ibadan pioneers, especially from the Humanities Department, he was quite at home with the several other ‘old boys’ who were head-hunted for this new noble profession. Before retirement from service, Clark rose to become Permanent Secretary, (Director General, Service Matters) of the Ministry of the External Affairs. Before then, he had cut his teeth as the leading multilateralist of his time. In all leading global concerts, Clark proved his mettle and sterner stuff in affirming Nigeria as the voice of the Black and African people. So as Permanent Representative to United Nations (New York), a position he took over from fellow ‘Warri Boy’s and debonair diplomat, Ambassador Leslie Harriman, he chaired the all-important Anti-Apartheid Committee and still remains counted in UN circles as one of the most outstanding. His was hands and head-on particularly in getting Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and Namibia to be free. Even the New York day, Ambassador Clark had served as Permanent Representative of Nigeria to United Nations (Geneva), which he combined with being Ambassador to the nation of Switzerland. His contributions in Geneva were particularly on the questions of Human Rights and Fight against Segregation and general deprecation of the Black people. As Arms Race and nuclear annihilation overhung the world, he also became a global expert on Disarmament, underpinning the pacifist tilt of Nigerian foreign policy. Still in the multilateral fora was his time on the African continent as Permanent Representative to Organization of African Unity and Ambassador to Ethiopia, where the focus remained decolonization of Africa, and socio-economic development, with him setting the continental agenda.
With such an ebullient credential, Clark became one of the leading multilateral diplomats during the 1960s, 1970, and into the 1980s. Conference upon conference around the world, his highly sharpened intellectual skill, and witticism, perfect belles-lettres, in both English and French placed him on an edge over most diplomats around the world in his days. He became much sought after on almost all fields of global affairs and helped to set the agenda for what world leaders will talk amongst themselves in the 21st century.
It was not a matter of gallivanting around the world alone. In between, Ambassador Clark served at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs, then in Lagos in various critical departments. In days when square pegs were only placed in square holes, he was severally Director for International Economic Co-operations, Director for International Organizations and Deputy Permanent Secretary. He was part of the intellectual apparatchik that defined Nigeria’s National Interest and formulatedthe country’s foreign policy on attainment of independence. These positions have continued to guide the country’s posture on to these days, even though nuances and specifics change with the passage of time. Ambassador Clark also became known as one of the sharpest speech writers in the ministry.
He belonged to a truly “golden age’. The Nigerian Delegation to the 31st United Nations General Assembly in September, 1976 underscores the unassailable fibre of the country’s diplomatic arsenal of his generation. This included i) Brigadier General Joe Garba, Commissioner for External Affairs, ii) Ambassador M.A. Sanusi, Permanent Secretary (father of Lamido Sanusi), iii) Ambassador Leslie Harriman, Permanent Representative to UN (New York), iv) Ambassador B.A. Clark, Permanent Representative to UN (Geneva), v) Ambassador O. Jolaosho, Director, Administration, MEA, vi) Ambassador O. Ogunsulire, Director, African Affairs, MEA, vii) Ambassador P.A. Afolabi, Director, International Economic Cooperation, MEA, viii) Ambassador H.B. Musa, Director, International Organizations, MEA, ix) Ambassador Olu Adeniji, Ambassador to Austria/UN (Vienna) x) Ambassador J.N. Ukegbu, former Perm Sec/Ambassador to France, xi) Ambassador E.O. Sanu, Ambassador to the United States, xii) Ambassador A.G. Gobir, Ambassador to India, etc, etc. Those were days when service to the country towered above all other proclivities.
Despite his standoffishness, in a day of communication technology and social media, hundreds of accolades, and felicitations on this 91st birthday have come from world leaders, peers, and younger colleagues. For obvious reason, quite regrettably only few of these, representing a broad spectrum need mention.
“Wonderful role model with razor sharp intellect; hates pompous ignorance which sometimes is accompanied by pride and a misplaced confused claim to ‘hereditaryright.’ Without rudeness Ambassador Clark puts such people in their rightful place.”
Former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil and former Editor, Daily Times, Dr. Patrick Dele Cole.
“He remains amongst Nigeria’s greatest diplomats”:
Former Permanent Secretary, MFA Ambassador Joe Keshi.
“I consider the 1970s and 1980s as the golden age of the Nigerian diplomatic service. Along with our other thorough-bred diplomatists of the time like Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka and the late Ambassador Olu Adeniji, Ambassador B. A. Clark was a key player whose views and insights carried considerable weight in the formulation and implementation of our foreign policy.”
Former Nigerian Ambassador to Ireland and now Chairman, Enugu State Council of Traditional Rulers, HRM, Igwe Ambassador Lawrence Agubuzu, OON, Ogbunechendo of Ezema Olo.
“We remember your time in the Ministry of External Affairs when young officers were trained to be confident and to examine issues of international relations dispassionately, showing their knowledge of the subject matter and giving well thought out and sound recommendations in the best interest of Nigeria. Our bosses were our big brothers, correcting the younger ones when necessary and encouraging them to give of their best. Erudition was encouraged and candid speaking was greatly supported with no fear of any adverse repercussions on the officer. Hard work was equally well rewarded.”
Seasoned Diplomat and current Executive Secretary, Gulf of Guinea Cooperation Council, Ambassador Florentina Adenike Ukonga.
“He is certainly one of the legends who bestrode the Foreign Service like a colossus. He meritoriously served as Ambassador in Europe, Africa and Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in NewYork, where he became a reference point and encyclopedia of sorts among his colleagues.”
Former Nigerian Ambassador to Thailand, Ambassador Chudi Okafor.
“Clark has dedicated his active life to the continuous building of the Foreign Service. Though from a noble family with deep and wide knowledge, talent and intelligence about Nigeria and the world at large, he has always demonstrated considerable humility, but spoke with candour and confidence. Great mentor and teacher, compassionate with subordinates, whom he treats as colleagues.”
Former State Chief of Protocol and former Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Ambassador Wole Coker.
“Classical Career Diplomat, luminous role model. I recall, according to Ambassador Leslie Harriman that Ambassadors Iyalla, Ogbu and Clark and fellow humanist and classicists were fond of taunting him in jokes about the error of appointing him (Harriman) a Zoologist as a diplomat. But he always fired back that: it is because of people like you that we zoologist are needed in the Foreign Service to tame you. We enjoyed their jokes. As I am going to be 87 years on August 4, this year by the Grace of God, I look up to him as both mentor and superior.”
Okrika Council of Chiefs, Rivers State and former envoy to Germany, HRH Chief (Amb) SMK Taribo.
Interesting enough, Clark appears to have been one of the most reported by foreign missions and their various special services of Nigerian diplomats. Due to his great patriotism and sharp intellect, declassified intelligence reports show loads about what the world was saying about. A 1973 report from a world power stated thus: “Akporode Clark, Ambassador to Bern, Ankara, Vienna and UN Geneva, is close personal associate of Permsec Joe Iyalla (See Reftel). His previous assignment was Deputy Permsec of External Affairs Ministry in Lagos. Clark, known as “B.A.” to friends, is pugnacious in appearance,intelligent, hard worker, and one of most outspoken Nigerian Diplomats — frequently to point of bluntness. He is unafraid to make views known and they are often sharply divergent from those of (that country’s) interlocutors.”
Exit from government service in 1983, did not spell doom or inactivity for Ambassador Clark. He was swarmed by international appointments but ended back in the United Nations system as Special Envoy to the Secretary General in brokering peace in some of Africa’s most intractable civil and cross-border wars. He was at different times between, 1984 to 1990 responsible for Chad and the Great Lakes. In 1999, when democracy was restored to Nigeria after the chain of military regimes, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected President, Clark was called back to service as member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Foreign Relations
Ambassador Clark belongs to a fading generation of global citizens who hold the truth that the greatest worth of life is the privilege of making one’s self available for the good of the nation and humanity. In his own case, it is ingrained for over 150 years in family circles. It was once said by former Florida State Governor, Jeb Bush, whose father and brother were Presidents of the United States of the America and grandfather and great grandfather was Senators that, “it is so blessed to be part of a family that has dedicated its life to public service.” This has equally been the story of B.A. Clark whose family record of service stands out in Nigeria. Beside his elder and younger brothers whose public exposure is of common knowledge, the other siblings numbering about 43 in total boast of at least three military general, three professors of international standard, an ambassador and countless other great notable Nigerians. Their immediate father, Chief Clark Fuludu was literate and a community leader while their grandfather Chief Royal Highness, Fuludu was a prominent traditional ruler and a delegate to the 1951 Ibadan Conference and the meetings that followed thereafter towards Nigerian independence. Their great grandfather Ambakeremo was one of the most prominent political and economic figure in the western Delta at the close of the 19th century. An intelligence report written in 1923 by Sir Chadwick, a colonial official amongst other things, described him as having: “A large compound, thought to be the size of the Oba of Benin kingdom, ……..a court, the compound contains divisions inhabited by wives, children personal house and a guest house for partners. He was a court member and middle man for the Niger Company based in Gold Coast West Africa.”
Whether of privilege family standing as in the case of Ambassador Clark, a great old boy of Government College, Ughelli or of humble birth, Nigerians of his type who live putting the nation above all typify the dictum that “public officers are servants and the agents of the people.” With the gift of longevity, God has preserved Ambassador Clark and few of his type to stay alive even in this greary years to continue to impact on our troubled country, not just on diplomacy but in the continuing effort to rebuild the nation. After all, they were part of the starting days and have so much to still impact, if only our leaders of today, across the country and their coterie of counselors will listen. Happy birthday good old Ambassador.
Dr. Igali is a retired Career Diplomat and Federal Permanent Secretary.