Adieu J.P Clark By Tahir Momodu

Today is a sad day for me and I am sure for many students of Literature in English who took this subject in SSCE in the early ’90s. One of the poems we studied in preparation for SSCE was THE CASUALTY by Professor John Pepper Clark. It is also, a day to remember and pay tribute to Late Mr Omokhua (alias who go to), my Literature in English teacher at Auchi Comprehensive High School, Auchi.

The poem was essentially about the Nigerian Civil War which occurred between 1967-1970. This was when the Eastern Region seceded from Nigeria and declared the sovereign state of Biafra under Colonel Chukuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

The Nigerian Civil War is reported to have led to a total military casualty of about 100,000, while between 500,000 to 2,000,000 Biafran civilians (most of them children) died of starvation. This was the focus of the poem which was able to portray that not only those who died were casualties but that the casualties were many and a good number as well. He was able to showcase in the poem how everyone was in one way or the other a casualty of the war.

I reproduce below the entire poem for us to have a full grasp of the message the great Professor was able to put across with the poem:

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 instalment.

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.

A 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 has 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 member as well

Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;

They are the emissaries of the 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 counterclaims 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 every day 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.

Fast forward to the present, you cannot but agree just like it was when J. P Clark penned THE CASUALTY that today we are all casualties of the Nigerian State. We are our government, we provide light, water, road, security to name but a few for ourselves. Those things that are ordinarily referred to as basic amenities and in the 21st century, we are under siege of Police Brutality.

It is, however, heartwarming that today, Nigerians seem to have woken up to the realisation that their destiny is in their hands. Thanks to the #ENDSARS Protest which is now a precursor to what will become an overhaul of a major government institution with expectation for many more.

After a fulfilled life at 85, Professor Clark today dropped his pen amid an epochal social transformation blowing across the land. Famous for many other literary works of which I am a great beneficiary, we say Adieu, Professor Clark, for indeed the casualties are not only those killed by SARS, we are all casualties. May your soul rest in peace.

Aledeh News is not liable for opinions expressed in this article, they’re strictly the writer’s

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