By Donu Kogbara
BY the time you read this column, all of the 33 men who were trapped in the San Jose copper and gold mine (near Copiapo in Chile’s Atacama Desert) should have been freed from a terrible and terrifying ordeal that has dragged on for over two months and attracted global attention (no less than 1500 journalists – from several different countries – showed up to personally witness their liberation).

But, as I write, the miners are still being winched up to the surface, one-by-one, in a special capsule. And I’ve been glued to the live TV coverage for hours and  have watched 17 rescues so far.

It’s so nice to hear good news, for a change, and to be uplifted by a heart-warming tale that reminds us that the human spirit can triumph over adversity.

This a story about the extraordinary good luck of 33 brave men. The dark, dank, dangerous, cramped mine in the boiling bowels of the earth could so easily have become their tomb. The joyful wives and children who are welcoming their husbands and fathers back into the sunshine and fresh air that they’ve been deprived of for so long could so easily have become grieving widows and orphans.

But these tough guys somehow succeeded in surviving 700 metres underground for 69 whole days – which is a record. And, amazingly, they didn’t collapse emotionally or mentally. One of them – Mario Sepulveda Espinace, who turned 40 during his subterranean nightmare – even emerged beaming and cracking jokes.

I salute their heroic strength, not least because if I had been similarly incarcerated, the claustrophobic, dungeon-esque conditions would have literally driven me mad. I’d have emerged as a gibbering wreck or glassy-eyed zombie.

I also salute their President, Sebastian Pinera, for his efficient handling of the drama. When Sepulveda Espinace gave a post-release interview, he said that he was extremely proud of his country; and he has every reason to be proud.

The Chilean Government’s management of the crisis was impressive. Once communication was established with the trapped miners, they were able to reassure – and be reassured by – their families, in writing and via radio links and filmed messages. Medication, food and survival tips were regularly relayed to them. And their eventual rescue was planned calmly and precisely.

Yet again, Oyinbo technology and discipline have achieved wonders (Chile may be in South America, but it is largely run by people of European extraction!).

I would like to patriotically disagree with the Nigerian friend who called me to gloomily express the view that most of the miners would have died as a result of chronic governmental incompetence if the same thing had happened on our home turf. But I strongly suspect that my friend’s pessimism is well-founded.

Swimming against the tide?

FORMER Minister, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, is not happy. Since the late President Yar’Adua  passed away, Ciroma has been making lots of noise about zoning and insisting that Yar’Adua should be replaced by another Northerner in 2011.

When President Jonathan decided that he didn’t feel like being restricted to a mere caretaker role, Ciroma and other Northern PDP politicians formed a Committee of “17 Wise Men” whose brief was to select a consensus candidate…

…the general idea being that if the supporters of IBB, Saraki, Gusau and Atiku join hands and choose only one of the above to represent them, the advantages that Jonathan can gain from his incumbency will not save him from defeat.

But I’m hearing on the grapevine that things are not going according to plan…and that Ciroma – who chairs the Committee – is feeling increasingly frustrated because he hasn’t been able to persuade all of his members or any of the candidates to focus on the consensus-seeking agenda and operate like a team.

Various irritations, obstacles and hidden agendas are being thrown in Ciroma’s path. Three governors who are supposed to be representing Northern geopolitical zones on Ciroma’s Committee – Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Danjuma Goje of Gombe and Sule Lamido of Jigawa – are not showing up at  meetings.

Meanwhile, it isn’t looking as if  IBB et al will be able to reach a consensus. And Northern elders are flocking to Aso Rock to pledge allegiance to Jonathan and advise him to ignore the Ciroma faction’s zoning obsession.

Someone once said that:  “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come”.

It remains to be seen whether this uncharacteristic disarray in Northern ranks will be prolonged or temporary…and whether it is evidence that “the idea whose time has come” is the idea that it is time for a Niger Deltan from an oil-producing community to get a chance to run the show for at least one full term.

By the way, many people are accusing Ciroma of pursuing an outdated ethnocentric agenda. And I agree that he is old-fashioned, but feel that it’s OK to think and behave like a dinosaur when you are Ciroma’s age!

I certainly intend to be impossible when I am in my 80s!!!

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