JONATHAN, LEARN FROM CHILE
Chile is not new to disaster and some in extremely varying degrees. Not long ago, precisely on February 27, there was a record 8.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Chile and traumatized humanity. According to reports, public and private property was destroyed while several hundreds of people died. It looked as if God had deserted that part of the human race until the miracle of 33 miners took place. This incident alone has changed human calibrations and redefined government and the people relationship, which Nigeria must learn from.
The Chilean mine collapse accident of August 5, 2010, took place in San Jose near Copiago in Chile, leaving 33 poor Chileans including a Bolivian trapped deep below ground level. The trapped miners stayed underground for 69 days only to the glory of God. On October 13, all the trapped miners were lifted and brought to the surface of the earth in the full glare of television cameras broadcasting live to the whole world, families and friends. It was radiant Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who showed leadership and stayed on site to see the last man saved before ceremonially closing the San Jose mine.
Since Wednesday last week when the last trapped miner was rescued, many Nigerians have been traumatized by the joy of Chile, a country that has also wasted itself for decades. Newspapers and other media commentaries are ad idem that Nigeria should take tutorials from poor Chile on how to deal with her citizens in times of calamity.
Good students of history have likened Nigeria to Chile in many respects and apart from recurring natural and man-made disasters, this claim has remained true to its name. Chile has all it takes in terms of human and material resources to be a relatively great country but bad leadership, poor infrastructure, hard-core poverty, lack of accountability and lawlessness has also sent it crawling like Nigeria. That is why it was possible for the mine owners, Empresa Minera San Esteban, which had a prior poor safety profile and had suffered several mine mishaps, with several workers being killed in recent times to successfully operate in Chile with scanty rebuke from the government. While this prevailed, public officials trusted with responsibilities looked the other way, assured that their own may never be the victims.
While corruption also runs riot in Chile, the recent mine incident contrasts the fact that when exceptional challenges confront a people or when duty beckons, the nation comes first over and above self interest. This is the lesson that Nigeria must learn from. The Chilean mine incident became a rallying point in celebrating national pride and patriotism. There was no question of zoning the constitution of the rescue team as Chile simply went for the best, irrespective of where he comes from. The Chilean Navy built the miracle shaft that did the job, but Chile did not have difficulty in rallying international support to save these men.
Responsible nations just do the right thing and stand tall because the output simply reflects the input and it is very easy to understand. Even though it was the American drilling team that punched through the hole after drilling over 2,000 feet into the rock, the Chilean Navy was on hand and competent to provide the support the Americans needed. If this were to be in Nigeria, public officials will be waiting for Julius Berger, a private foreign firm to provide logistics. Even when the officials act, they first would be applying for funds and the presidency will ask for approval from the National Assembly as that may not have been captured in the budget and all these will take days and weeks while the men remain trapped underground. In most cases, the miners would have been declared all dead and mass graves erected and burial rites conducted by priests and imams to remember the miners who are still alive. That done, life moves on as if nothing had happened.
It is for this reason that many Nigerians believe that the several billions of naira wasted to celebrate Nigeria's golden jubilee is a scandalous waste. It would probably have served a greater public good if that money were spent on education or development of the Niger Delta or in the provision of safety equipment in our entire nation's airports or better still, in some more productive areas.
Reports have it that the head of the drilling team, Jeff Hart, who is from
Colorado, was in Afghanistan drilling wells for water for the U.S. military when he was called to Chile. He is an expert and the best at what he does. The beginning and end of his life is drilling. In the end, all the drill technicians, officials, physicians, etc left the mine rescue site fulfilled and proud while honking their horns.
Nigerians have the likes of Jeff Hart in various fields of endeavour, but retrogressive and demented mentality blind us and derail policy makers to see things only from personal gains. A Yoruba man would not allow a Jeff Hart to shine if Jeff is Ibo and the Hausaman will not allow an Ijaw man enjoy the scholarship slot in his office that should go to the best. In the end, we shortchange ourselves and the nation suffers. Every year budgets are prepared and releases are made to purchase equipment for several purposes including emergencies, but the money ends up in private pockets and we pretend as if tomorrow would not come. When emergencies arise, we are caught looking like morons as if emergency warns its victims. We may not need to discuss more complicated disaster cases in Nigeria here, but let us take a peep into how the nation reacts to mere fire incidents. It would reveal a laughable state of hopelessness and the hollowness of our leaders at all levels.
Right under our eyes at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa in December 2005, we saw innocent students of the Loyola Jesuit College and other passengers roast to death when the Sosoliso plane that was supposed to deliver them alive in Port Harcourt crashed, killing all her 110 passengers. Eyewitness accounts were to the effect that many of the passengers would have been saved if there were ordinary functional fire service trucks with hydrants and water to stem the ravaging inferno and save those in danger. Fellow Nigerians watched their own die in acute agony and pain. We wailed, questioned God, cursed the devil and buried them. Life has since moved on.
It was an enraged President Jonathan, then as Vice President who, during the first National Fire Conference and Exposition at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja who emphatically confirmed that 'If we had enough fire service personnel and and equipped Federal Fire Service, all the children that were killed in the Sosoliso aircraft at the Port Harcourt Airport could have been saved.' He further said, 'More than 60% of our fire incidents would have been avoided if we had been developing our fire service.' May we remind Mr President that his call for action and less talk on that day was like blowing hot air because nothing has changed.
Even in the town and cities, fires take on Nigerians and their property with absolute impunity. The records and tales of woe are there in every town and city in Nigeria.
What did we do as a people after the Sosoliso crash? Was anybody punished? No.
Did the nation learn any lesson? No. Are the nations' airports and cities now equipped with ordinary effective fire fighting trucks to avoid a repeat of the past? No. So what do we call those who rule us and manage our airports and other sensitive institutions that fail to provide safety valves? Fela called them 'Zombie.'
Just as Nigerians hardly learn lessons from the past, Chileans are no better.
How else would you explain that, more than a century after official denunciation of the inhuman conditions of men toiling underground, that insecurity and danger still persists and even to a magnitude that shook the world?
Back home, we believe that we can do it right if we begin today in building a formidable nation. When we put in place the right framework and template and deploy the correct attitude all woven around an inspiring leader, Nigeria will fly very high. When that happens, we become heroes as a people and begin to sign autographs as a result of our exploits. Jonathan is young and sometimes frank enough to lead Nigeria if he can act beyond rhetoric. He can start to do it now.
It does not take ages to show what you can do as a President. Nigerians are not a bad people.
They are only waiting for leadership they can trust. We are looking forward to that day when our national flag will be celebrated outside independence anniversaries.