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.


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