The Casualties, Elections And Disjointed Nigeria
The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.--The Casualties by John Pepper Clark
Only last week, I was taking my morning doze of facebook tablets before the day's main work, I could not help notice a post on a friend's wall of 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.
I have for two weeks been on sabbatical of pain as I watch events in my beloved Nigeria. 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 instalments 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. It is those who long heart-rendingly for a touch. 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 a chaos of charges and counter-claims.
When not in the niche others have left,
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.
I have extensively chosen to use John Pepper Clark's work as a long introduction to some few home truths; many a Nigerian is running from.
We have exhibited in the last few weeks again that there is a continued forced 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 a symmetrically antagonistic groups trying hard to find a melting pot other than soccer, corruption and neglect by those we call leaders.
In the face on current political contestations we continue to sugar coat the truth in the presence of the stark reality, another of which is that as violence has raged over in the Northern part of the country, we are cursed with a leadership that has long lost grasp of the issues, whether it be Goodluck Jonathan or Bestluck Buhari.
That we have a government that cannot do the following as postulated by my senior friend Baba Adams. In the Short term: cannot set-up an Independent Judicial Inquiry group to investigate the cause of the post-elections and other recurring problems in the North and make recommendations on prevention of such incident in the future.
A nation that cannot provide assistance and relief (both monetary and counselling) for all the victims of the post-elections violence, because as it were there is no official figures of the loss both human and otherwise apart from figures by local and foreign media and the rumour mills depending on which side of the casualties.
In the long term, There is no clear blueprint to address the developmental and poverty issues in the North - such as security, education, water, agriculture, health-care, desertification, niger river dredging, jobs, housing, etc and sadly these are issues also in the Southern part of the nation.
While we watch helplessly as livers are primed short by senseless orgy of killings there is still no form or develop system to instil some accountability mechanism / process to hold all States and Local Governments on budgetary implementation and on stemming out excessive corruption and abuses.
We have continued to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That's absolutely impossible. A simple disagreement, one religion, sect, ethnic group is upset and we resort to arms and in few hours lives, properties and worship centres are dispatched with military precision and then a curfew is declared and after few months we repeat the sequence.
I agree that a number of Nigerians voted for Jonathan, but the truth be said we have established that there is geopolitical map of Nigeria that speaks loud enough for any discerning mind to know that we are strange bedfellows, and not by fault of ours but by raison de etre of a thieving political class.
It may have been a miracle for Buhari to have won the general elections for so many reasons. Many voted Jonathan on ethnic grounds: - I am SS, he is SS, so I will vote for him. Others voted for him on religious grounds: - I am Christian; he is Christian, so I will vote for him.
Yet others voted for him on superstitious grounds:- He keeps making good out of others people's misfortune so, I will vote for him maybe such luck will rub off on me too. Others voted for him on sympathy grounds:- The nation's wealth derives from his region and his people have never been President, so I will give him my sympathy vote.
Others voted for him as a Protest vote: - Buhari, Shekarau and Ribadu are Northerners, is it only them, I will vote for a Southerner instead.
Now very few, if any, one voted for him on the grounds of his record in Bayelsa state, his performance as President, nor with full account being taken of the past 13 years of his party's poor performance.
A nation that votes on such subjective rather than on even a modicum of objective ground is in real trouble indeed and would be ruled as they rightly deserve. Jonathan is not the answer and events of the last few weeks show that Buhari was neither the answer. We need to come together and ask ourselves the truth, what do we want and how do we want it. Nigeria today is not united.
We need to face it, what do you tell parents whose lads were killed, maimed, raped in another part of the country that will foster love and unity, we are not even protesting these deaths, apart from public outcry which is not loud. The government is silent, threatening fire and brimstone delivering none. Not even a public burial or recognition, no compensation...Hmmmmmm, we all are casualties and will pay one way or the other.
Prince Charles Dickson is editor, burningpot.com