The story of Thailand’s 13 holds lesson for Nigeria, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

The stories coming out of the cave in Thailand where 12 adolescents and their 25 years old coach have been trapped for days will go down as yet another set of demonstrations of common humanity and respect for the sanctity of life. The initial atmosphere of loss that greeted the news of their missing has since been replaced by the adventurers’ discovery more than one kilometre into the earth crust. Even if they had given up hope, the spirit of the erstwhile loss has now been reinvigorated by the prayers and rescue attempts of the outside world. The positive attitudes of other people, especially agents of government, have, no doubt, contributed to alleviating the gruelling travails of the boys and their instructor. Nothing is being spared in figuring out ways they can be delivered. Theirs is clearly a society that places premium on the inviolability of the human life and is blessed with commensurate public policies and practices.

The entire world is standing by 13 persons in danger now mainly because of the passion and sense of urgency attached to the melodrama by the host nation. Compare that with the abduction of Nigeria’s Chibok girls, for instance. It was the protests that erupted in cities around the world that jolted the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan from its slumber. And even with all the interest it generated, the momentum was not sustained largely because of weak local leadership. In fact, the humanitarian crisis was quickly subsumed by dirty politics and conspiracy theories. On a balance, the present administration has not performed differently, to put it mildly. The kind of concerted response and evaluation mechanism on display in Thailand is not readily available in Nigeria today.

Sadly, government officials lead the way in unwittingly belittling the value of an individual’s life. It is common to hear police personnel say that “only five or 10 persons died in the clash.” When such declarations are made, Nigerians who are already used to them would multiply the stated figure by two or three or more to determine the actual casualties. Of course, when the law officers announced that 89 people were killed in the recent attacks on unarmed citizens in Plateau State, most watchers of this sad editing of numbers knew that the dead were probably in hundreds. The point must be made, however, that since every human being is unique, no sacrifice is too much for his or her wellbeing and preservation. The seriousness about the importance of life we hope to project as a people can only truly begin with the attention we give to one or few persons, like what is playing out in far-away Thailand.

It is always better to prevent calamities wherever and whenever we can. The incessant killings especially in parts of the north now threaten to dominate and define the nation’s psyche, unfortunately. The horrible occurrences, more than any other factor, have further undermined our claim to decent humanity. The feeling that people’s lives can be cruelly cut short by militants and murderers in whatever mould, with savage gut and impunity, has further sliced off a chunk of our existential identity.

In the midst of this seeming sea of despondency, I still nurse some optimism about our ability to demand and work towards safeguarding the integrity of human life in our country. This is reinforced by agitations from numerous personalities and organisations. Earlier in the week, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a body known more for trade matters and strikes, added its voice to the pressure on government to act decisively. The union’s President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, was emphatic: “The Federal Government must take responsibility for failure to anticipate, manage and control the crisis. Government’s handling of the issue has fallen far short of protecting certain constitutional provisions on fundamental human rights. In particular, the government has failed in enforcing Section 17 (2b) of the Nigerian Constitution which states that: ‘the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced. ASUU condemns unreservedly and unequivocally the unjustified and unjustifiable loss of lives and property arising from the unwarranted conflicts. We condemn, in strong terms, those hiding behind the farmers and the pastoralists to incite the poor to mutual destruction.

“Nigerians had hoped for socio-economic opportunities that would improve their deplorable conditions, secured dwelling and working environment to safeguard their present and their future, as well as qualitative and life-enhancing educational provisions for transforming the citizenry and the country. These hopes, and many more, have been dashed. Not only that, the hope for any meaningful change in the near future appears bleak and is getting bleaker each passing day. The recent antipathy and violence evolved in conditions of land hunger and environmental hardships, which themselves, are not produced by farmers or cattle workers (‘’pastoralists’’). Severe changes in natural, climatic conditions which triggered a large hunger for land and, consequently, hardship in the availability of feed for cattle was a significant causal factor.”

Well spoken. Living dangerously must not be accepted as a way of life here. The president of Nigeria and his team should not continue to lament about these tragedies like the rest of us. Promises to “bring culprits to book” have become empty, useless and even provoking. Also, paying condolence visits and issuing related press releases, good as they are, can be irritating at some point if there are no visible efforts and results. It does not take any hatred for this government to see that it is overwhelmed by the present security challenges. Ironically, this same issue was Jonathan’s biggest undoing. It should, therefore, rise to the occasion, call for help, shop for workable solutions. Enough of having Nigerians reduced to insects.