Countdown to March 28th, and averting the casualties

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

By Prince Charles Dickson

The casualties are not only those who are dead;

They are well out of it. –The Casualties by John Pepper Clark

Last week a friend asked me, “sir, what are your thoughts on the March 28th elections” and below are my thoughts.

I would take us into John Pepper Clark’s The Casualties. The poem written in the 60’s was one of those poems we had to learn off heart and recite in literature class then. The poem brings home today’s Nigeria in a sad manner.

The poem Casualties points to 1966, the time of the Nigerian Civil War. Biafra wanted to be free and independent. It affected the common people who were suffering endlessly. The Battle failed and the problem was silenced. The poet asserts that the causalities are not only the ones who are dead, for they are far from the devastating consequences of the war. They are not only those who are wounded though they are well on the route to death. They await burial by installments, as death is the ultimate escapism. It is not only those who have lost their material assets and property, it is also those who have irretrievably lost their near and dear ones.

The casualties are not only those led away by the law at night; there is always the uncertainty about the cell. To some it may be a cruel place, to others it may function as a haven

Furthermore, the casualties are not only those who started a fire and that cannot now extinguish the same. This may be any form of rumour or issue that kindles a controversy or sparks communal violence. The scapegoats are the innocents who had no say in the matter, and they are the victims of the fire. They are also the ones that escape the war, for they reside in the shattered shell of its aftermath. They always experience the walls falling against them. These so-called diplomats remain smug in their rooms smoking. (J.P.Clark was also a diplomat).’Smoking’ apart from its literal meaning also connotes the means of alleviating tension using a short cut.

This stanza refers to the causalities of the war in an ironic and sarcastic stance. These so-called ‘casualties’ exist outside the scene of ravage and wreckage. Rather than being the emissaries of peace, they are the emissaries of rift. They are smug in room smoking. Here the term ‘smoking’ apart from its literal meaning may also connote the meaning of alleviating tension using an easy method. They cannot see the funeral fires consuming the forests or natural vegetation. They fail to have a far-sighted view. They are the wandering minstrels who beating on the drums of the human heart, taking advantage of human-sensitivity to certain issues. These drive humanity to a frenzy that is unfamiliar to its basic nature itself. These drums possess a power that overwhelms even guns.

We are thus caught in chaos of charges and counter-claims.

When not in the niche others have left,

We fall,

All casualties of the war,

The ‘niche’ referred to here is that of being “politically correct’. Only those who are politically correct, and are therefore in a ‘safe corner’. People are caught in the hatred of communities, or a cause that they see only the crowds. In a tumultuous situation nobody can hear each other speak. Nobody sees the innocent individual faces who are unnecessarily made the victims. This is very significant in the contemporary context of terrorism. To know or not know the extent of wrong on all the sides is not a matter of concern for them. ’We are characters now”: we do not have an existence of our own. Though we appear to be the “stay- at- home”, we are unsettled by rumours of inflation, taxation, rumours etc.

By taxes and rumor, the looter for office

And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,

We are all casualties,

All sagging as are

The case celebrated for kwashiorkor,

The unforeseen camp follower of not just our war.

Kwashiorkor is the unseen camp follower of every war: a huge personification of all the deteriorating and devastating effects of the claustrophobic war. Kwashiorkor is an acute form of childhood protein-energy malnutrition. What the poet means to say that the war is like a disease afflicting a child, or a new generation at its very core. It is the children of today that is the future of tomorrow. Therefore the best way to win a war is to prevent it.

We have exhibited in the last few weeks again that all is not well in this political marriage, which at best is simply co-habitation and it is not mutual, at least amongst the very wild poor and the very rich on top. Again our comments have shown that we are symmetrically antagonistic groups trying hard to find a melting pot other than soccer, corruption and neglect by those we call leaders.

In the face of the current political contestations we continue to sugar coat the truth in the presence of the stark reality. We are cursed with a leadership that has long lost grasp of the issues, whether it is Goodluck Jonathan or Bestluck Buhari.

In the long term, while we head to the polls, there is no clear blueprint to address the developmental and poverty issues in Nigeria – such as security, education, water, health-care, desertification, jobs, housing, etc.

While we go to the polls, again we may be forced to watch helplessly as lives are primed short by senseless orgy of killings because X won, and Y did not.

Baring any miracle, we need to face it, people will be killed, maimed, and deaths that will not be protested, apart from public outcry which will not be loud. The government (whichever it is) will be silent, threatening fire and brimstone delivering none…, we all are casualties and will pay one way or the other, except baring a miracle, will there be any–Only time will tell


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