The government of Chile demonstrated that it values its citizens no matter how lowly placed. The Nigerian government may not worry itself sick about an incident involving only 33 persons out of 150 million.
@eldrastic Ndudi Osakwe
REBRANDING NIGERIA: If the trapped Chilean miners were Nigerians, would there
have been any hope for rescue? Reply to email@example.com
9 Oct via web
When I posted the above question on Twitter, the idea was to beat Dr. Reuben Abati to
it, knowing he would ask the same question. Few days later, he did.
Though we received several responses, Dr Abati in his usual style assembled in one
piece all the points raised by our numerous respondents. Happy reading!
Abati: Doing it the Chilean way: Lessons for Nigeria
Friday, 15 October 2010 00:00 By Reuben Abati
COMING shortly after the disgraceful bomb blasts in Abuja that robbed Nigeria of
glory on the occasion of its golden jubilee anniversary, Chile’s inspiring handling of the
rescue of 33 miners, trapped since August 5 in the San Jose gold and copper mine,
provides very useful lessons in national character, national solidarity, values and
leadership that should be of interest to all Nigerians. The rescue operation was Chile’s
finest moment of the year, nothing could be more memorable and moving than that
moment shown on cable television all over the world when with the emergence of the
33rd miner, the Chileans broke out in song: their national anthem, and thereafter took to
the streets of Santiago and Copiapo in jubilation. For them adversity had turned into
triumph and history. When President Sebastian Pinera gushed: “we did it the Chilean
way”, he underscored the sense of national pride and determination that defined the
entire process. You know the worth of a nation by the way it treats its citizens in
The story of those 33 miners would have been different if they were Nigerians. They
would have been left for dead or allowed to die. For almost 17 days, there was virtually
no trace, no contact with the trapped miners. But the Chilean authorities kept searching
and when they found traces of life, they set to work determined to rescue the miners.
They spared no expense, nor effort. The initial projection was that it could take four
months to get to the men, 2,041 feet below the earth surface, but it took 69 days and 8
hours. Even the rescue operation was completed earlier than scheduled in 22 hours 37
minutes. The entire will-power of a nation, the spirit of the people, helped to propel the
rescue team to success.
In Nigeria, the accident would have been described as an “act of God.” The President
would have gone on television to say that “this is the work of his enemies, an act of
sabotage designed to bring his government to ridicule.” All the time that the Chileans
spent thinking through the rescue process mobilizing international support, would
have been wasted by Nigerians on unnecessary politicization of the incident. Our ever-
ready army of opportunistic soothsayers, prophets and pastors would have come
forward to claim that they had previously predicted that a serious calamity involving
human lives would befall the nation. No serious effort would have been deployed
towards rescue services. When a C-130 aircraft crashed in Ejigbo in 1992, many of the
victims were alive for more than ten hours. They were left to die. In another plane
crash, as the victims cried for help, other Nigerians looted the scattered luggage.
There was something in the Chilean incident about the value of human life: its
sacredness. The government of Chile demonstrated that it values its citizens no matter
how lowly placed. The Nigerian government may not worry itself sick about an
incident involving only 33 persons out of 150 million. Our governments treat us as if
we, the people are expendable. Chile is a small country of 17 million people but it
stands tall on the scale of humanism. Two weeks after the Abuja bomb blasts,
government still has no record of the victims, or the survivors or those who were
traumatized by the incident and who may require further help. In the Niger Delta
where we have had many cases of pipeline explosion and fires, the victims are often
accused of inflicting the tragedy upon themselves. In cases of oil spillage which damage
the ecology of the area, the blame is heaped on saboteurs, vandals and militants and the
government is unconcerned about the associated tragedy.
In Chile, the devotion of the government in that moment of tragedy was instructive. As
each miner was successfully rescued, medical teams were available to conduct tests and
to take the person to a medical facility for further examination. The Chile mission was a
multi-national rescue operation: American drillers, NASA officials, media crews from
Asia, South Africa, Europe and the United States; different professionals were also
involved: nurses, doctors, geologists, engineers, psychologist, counselors,
physiotherapists, and so on. For the next six months, the government has promised to
keep the men under observation. Mining accounts for 40% of Chile’s earnings, but the
ordinary miner is a poor man (earns about $1, 600 per month); in Nigeria, working class
people do not get such quality official attention as we saw in Chile.
President Sebastian Pinera was in charge. He and his wife stood by as the miners were
being rescued. One of the miners was a Bolivian. The Bolivian President, Evo Morales
travelled to Chile to show that Bolivia cares. In Nigeria, that one citizen would have
been ignored: “what is he looking for in Chile, for God’s sake? – would have been the
question on every lip. And if in an attempt to share out of the international limelight,
the Nigerian President decides to go to Chile in solidarity with the Nigerian miner, he
would as usual travel with the largest delegation imaginable with representatives from
every clan and ethnic group; the cost of the travel alone would have been nearly double
the entire expenditure of the Chilean government on the rescue operation! But that is if
the President condescends to travel to Chile because of one Nigerian miner.
During the Ikeja cantonment bomb blast in Lagos, President Obasanjo showed up at the
venue of the tragedy which claimed hundreds of lives and the only word of comfort
that he had for those who dared to ask him a few questions was: “I don’t have to be
here!” It took the Bola Tinubu government to provide leadership at that critical
moment, while Obasanjo waltzed away. Leadership is about duty. Pinera considered it
his duty to stand up for the miners. So also Evo Morales. President Goodluck Jonathan
visited the victims of the October 1 Abuja bomb blast in the hospital but after the photo-
op that this provided, he and other Nigerian leaders began to play politics with the
There has been no talk about political gain in Chile and neither the ruling party nor the
opposition saw the accident as an opportunity to score political points. Character: the
foreman was the last man to exit the mine, the first rescue worker to go down was the
last to return. If it were in Nigeria, there would have been a fight over the order of exit.
We saw in Chile, national institutions that are capable and effective. The rescue capsule
was built by the Chilean Navy. In many countries of the world, when there is a national
emergency, the military are usually the first to step forward to help. The Nigerian Navy
and the other armed forces are under-equipped. Our military officers are busy
intimidating the public with their uniforms, chasing innocent citizens off the road with
their sirens. Chile’s success rallied the people around the national flag. They could sense
correctly that their country had won the respect of the world. All through, the white,
blue and red Chilean flag was on display. The capsule was draped with it. On October
1, there was no excitement over the Nigerian flag.
And did anyone notice the discipline of the crowd at the rescue site? There was no
riotous behaviour, no ethnic associations turning the event into a cheap popularity
campaign, no sachet water sellers. There is ethnic diversity in Chile but this was not an
issue. If it were in Nigeria, there would have been a distractive national argument over
the rescue process. If the first man to be rescued was Hausa, other Nigerians would
have protested that this is an extension of the politics of Northern domination. The
Yoruba would have called for a National Conference! If there had been no Easterner
among the first ten to be rescued, there would have shouts of marginalization and how
Easterners are the best of the miners and should have been rescued first.
If no minority showed up early enough, minority groups would have called for a
Constitutional Amendment to address the mischief of the majority ethnic groups
always thinking that Nigeria belongs to them alone! There would have been demands
for the application of the federal character principle even in the choice of drillers and
engineers. The politics of ethnicity would have been so overwhelming; the world would
again have been forced to ask: what is wrong with Nigeria? Not to forget the fact that in
the course of the rescue, some of the foreign journalists could have been kidnapped;
some of the officials will have their pockets picked!
Human tragedies which should unite us as a people, often divide us further in Nigeria.
Chile, Pablo Neruda’s country, has just shown us that national character can be built
through extra-ordinary moments in history. For Chile, the tragedy has been a call to
action. Questions are being asked about safety and the mining industry. Top regulatory
agency officials have been fired, 18 other mines have been shut down.
There are plans to convert the San Jose mine into a national monument, to be a symbol
of hope for future generations. In Nigeria, we don’t teach history nor do we know
how to preserve it; often we miss opportunities for progress. The change that we seek
must begin at the level of national character, first by our learning to value human lives
and working towards preserving the dignity of man in all ways through our