John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo  was born 6 April 1935. He is a Nigerian poet and playwright, who often publishes as J. P. Clark and John Pepper Clark. His poem, “The Casualties” is essentially about the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). When the Eastern part of Nigeria named itself Biafra and seceded from Nigeria, in the resulting conflict there were there were about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation. Most of them children. “The Casualties” emphasises the very widespread fallout of war. Nigeria has not come to terms with this tragedy and atrocity. (Note: I have deliberately not included pictures of starving children below, though they are readily available. It is my personal belief that it is disrespectful to share pictures of children in this way)

The casualties are not only those who are dead.
They are well out of  it.
The casualties are not only those who are dead.
Though they await burial by installment.
The casualties are not only those who are lost
Persons or property, hard as it is
To grope  for a touch that some
May not know is not there.

The casualties are not only those led away by night.
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a haven.
Nowhere as absolute as the grave.
The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put out. Thousands
Are burning that have no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who are escaping.
The shattered shall become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls.


The casualties are many, and a good number as well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-rooms they haunt abroad,
They do not see the funeral piles
At home eating up the forests.
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know.


The drums overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others left,
We fall.
All casualties of the war.
Because we cannot hear each other speak.
Because eyes have ceased the face from the crowd.
Because whether we know or
Do not the extent of wrongs on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay-at-home unsettled.


By taxes and rumours, the looters for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return.
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The cases celebrated for kwashiorkor.
The unforeseen camp-follower of not just our war.



  1. We studied this in secondary school. It never left me. It brought home what war is and why we should never resort to it. Thanks Foluke. God bless and rest your soul J.P Clark. !!! A great poet indeed you were!

  2. Hi, was dear hing for the full poem when I came across your blog. I learnt this poem by heart in the 90s, the second line reads “The casualty are not only those who are wounded, though they await burial by instalment” I’m shocked to see ” wounded” replaced by ” dead” on many blogs I’ve come across today. Cheers

  3. Are you sure I was not one of these refuges running into the forest because there was no place to run into. Eventually the war ended and we lost it all both Nigeria and Biafra. The soldiers killed the civilians and civilians paid the soldiers for KILLING THEM. What a paradox of patriotisms(non political think tank your critical link) Ama Elibe.

  4. Wonderful! well encapsulated. I was referred to this poem today, by one of the great minds of the 90s, who learnt it off heart and, I must confess the richness of the poem👍.

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