The Wonderful Story From Chile!

For millions around the world, Chile as a country (with Santiago as capital city) is known better when the name Augusto Pinochet Ugarte is mentioned. It is not a great or rich country by any stretch of imagination. But its history is steeped in blood of thousands courtesy of this notorious dictator who in September 1973 toppled the late President Salvadore Allende, a democratically-elected President who appointed him the Chief of Army Staff — to his peril! After the successful bloody coup Gen. Pinochet brutally eliminated more than 3,000 supporters of the Allende regime, tortured thousands more, and forced into exile many thousands more.

He dissolved the Chilean Parliament, banned all political and trade union activities, and in 1974 appointed himself President. Though relatively popular as he claimed upon siezing power that he had to do what he did in order to rescue his country from imminent chaos and above all creeping threat of communism. In the 1970s, many Chileans saw him as a patriot appearing to support his point of view, particularly as the economy recovered and stability returned.

Weakened by both old age and the consequencies of the evil he perpetrated while in power he was arrested and detained in London in October 1998 on his way home after an extradition request from Spain. There were jubilations in Santiago and other world capitals as the British police seized the bloody tyrant making him to ‘dream’ about the Hades in his detention room. The ordeal, no doubt, rattled him and opened up fresh hopes of bringing the Chilean strongman to justice.

Back home in Chile Gen. Pinochet had since been demystified by successive civilian administrations by indicting him on many charges of torture, mass killings and serial abuses of human rights; he had been placed on many occasions under house arrest. And as he celebrated his 91st birthday few years ago before his death on the 10th of December 2006 he had to issue a statement that read thus: “Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done, which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration”.

Talk of a dying brutal dictator recognising the inevitability of mortality; to God be the glory! Faced with the prospects of “the ultimate leap into the dark” as the English author Thomas Brown describes death, Pinochet must be ruminating on how he would be spending eternity standing before Jesus Christ or Lucifer as judgement day beckoned! The problem with dictators almost everywhere who play god is that they never reckoned the end would ever come one day.

In Nigeria we have a Pinochet in the person of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. They share the same bloody history of state terrorism and banditry but the Chilean Pinochet happened to be more evil-oriented than our own ‘Maradona’ who criminally annulled a free and fair presidential election in 1993 but now wants to be voted in as a democratically-elected President! Talk of an ‘evil genius’ trying to win our votes in order to ‘finish’ off Nigeria from where he had left it. As my Igbo people would say: ‘Chineke ekwena ngwere gba aji’ (May God never allow the lizard to grow hair).

Chile is a small country of 17 million people and majority of her people are christians. Penultimate week the world was treated to a miraculous story, a wonderful story of human triumph over adversity. It was a story of courage, of resilience, of national pride and faith in the living God. The story was made in Chile in a mining town called Copiapo. It was about the 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly a half-mile underground since August 5. They had spent a total of 69 days in this pit of hell, including the first 17 days of total isolation from the world. For those 17 days these now-famous miners were trapped under the mine pit, staring death in the face, without contact with the outside world one wondered what must have been going through their minds as darkness set in with angels of Satan doing the utmost to kill hope of any survival.

As I watched the rescue efforts early Wednesday morning on ‘France 24’ international cable TV network providing blow-by-blow account of the freed miners as they joined the rest of their compatriots on the surface of the earth I was amazed and at a point goose pimples enveloped me to the point of shedding tears of joy for the lives saved through dint of hardwork and governmental care and concern. The success of the rescue mission remains a great tribute to human compassion and the triumph of the human spirit. Social solidarity was in full display much as the out-pouring of emotions and the display of national pride.

The Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who had camped at the rescue site from the beginning of the rescue operation to the end was an embodiment of leadership; it was refreshing to behold this gentleman as he personally welcomed and embraced each miner back to light. Whatever may be his motivation for such ‘un-African’ act of presidential identification with a common problem of some common people he demonstrated great leadership indeed. That was leadership by empathy at its very best.

As a battery of foreign reporters with international TV networks brought the rescue operation home to viewers around the globe Pope Benedict XVI waded in from the Vatican with his moral voice of reason praying fervently for a successful operation and asking God that His grace should abound and prevail. Other notable world leaders like President Barack Obama wished the unprecedented extra-ordinary rescue operation a resounding success. He paid a glowing tribute to the determination of the rescuers and the Chilean government and also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who had inspired the world.

The Chilean President displayed qualities of a great leader at peace with his people. He was physically present in a casual dress supervising and welcoming the trapped miners one by one as they emerged, hugging them, praising their resilience devoid of serious presidential protocol. If it were back home in Nigeria even though President Jonathan might have wanted to be closer to the rescue site his overzealous aides would have advised him against pleading ‘security’! The lesson here is for the presidency in Nigeria to be demystified so that the occupant would be made to feel human and not god!

The Chilean President and his wife scored huge political points during the ordeal of the miners as they demonstrated quality and responsive leadership expected of great leaders. Democracy is described as the government of the people by the people and for the people. And in the constitutions of many a democratic country it is spelt out clearly that the primary objective of any government is the welfare of the people. In other saner climes this much is appreciated as governments try to bring happiness and satisfaction to the majority of the led. But not so in our country Nigeria where democracy has been defaced to the point of meaning another thing entirely.

Thousands of Nigerians had died (and continue to die daily) on the death trap that goes by the name Benin-Ore Expressway and other neglected network of roads across the Nigerian landscape. In Anambra State erosion has eroded the lives of many without the government (state or federal) doing anything to provide lasting solution. The fake and sub-standard drugs imported or manufactured in Nigeria have continued to take the lives of innocent helpless Nigerians much like the ‘consulting clinics’ without drugs and personnel that pass for health centres. The list is long and agonizing. Yet we claim that we are making some progress, I beg to disagree!

We must learn how to handle emergency situations better. The lesson from the wonderful story in Chile is multiple-fold: a people united on a common purpose achieve almost the impossible. Secondly, no human life is worth neglecting on account of whatever circums

tances. And thirdly, we must endeavour to persevere against odds even in the face of daunting situations that appear insurmountable. The Chilean miners survived harrowing weeks trapped underground because they had faith in God and in their government. They survived because efforts were made to give them hope. They survived because there was a common purpose, a common unity that pervaded their inner abode beneath the surface of earth.

Power belongs to the people as the Chileans and their affable President had demonstrated. If it were in Nigeria that the incident happened perhaps the miners would never have seen the light of day. Or even when the government intervened and sent in the famous ‘Phoenix’ capsule that should ferry the miners to safety a ‘war’ over who comes out first or who comes last would have broken out leading possibly to in-fighting. As Nigerians the level of our indiscipline stinks to high heavens. The Chilean miners were disciplined, following strictly the pre-arranged order of passages: from the strongest, healthy to the weakest and eldest and what have you. It was very orderly and everyone was pulled out alive and well.

The Bolivian President, Mr Evo Morales, flew in to Chile to welcome back to life the only Bolivian among the 33 fortunate miners, Carlos Mamani Solis. While cheerfully visiting him at a regional hospital of Copiapo, where he remained under medical observation, President Morales had told the international press that he had offered his fellow countryman a job along with all social benefits. Imagine President Goodluck Jonathan abandoning the comfort of Aso Rock to pay a visit to a Nigerian in trouble somewhere outside Nigeria? Hundreds of our countrymen and women have been extra-judicially killed by agents of foreign governments with the Nigerian government doing practically little or nothing. Why? Because they don’t care about us!

To the Chilean people I say: “Chi! Chi! Chi! C-h-i-l-e. Bravo! May God bless your country now that Pinochet had joined his ancestors having recognised his mortality even before he kicked the bucket! When he left for the great beyond I only hoped everyone gave glory to God of David and Abraham for He gives life and takes same according to His discretion.

Written by
SOC Okenwa
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