Do you know about the third eye? It is a simple trick of looking at a picture or slide and seeing another hidden picture or configuration different from the obvious one. At a time, a lot of management or training courses featured it. You would be given a set of pictures and drawings and told to use your third eye to find configurations different from the ones that stared at you. The feeling you got if you were successful, was that of elation at your perceptiveness. It was to teach you that things were not always what they seemed and that you could see beyond the obvious if you were creative and perceptive enough. And patient, in some cases, enough. I want us, as we go through this article, to use our third eye.
To the many Nigerians who have been to any of the Emirate countries, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, I ask this set of questions. What do you see as you step out of the plane, through the hot blast of air that greets you into the cool arrival halls of their International Airports? Do you see beyond the well maintained, highly automated halls and the civil but efficient officials? Do you take the low incidence of crime for granted as you and your luggage step into the car of a total stranger confident of your safety? Do you just take in the 12 lanes that ferry goods and passengers from Abu Dhabi to Dubai? Do you notice that not a single pot hole greeted you all through the 150 miles of the trip? And if you do, what do you see in it? Do you see in the construction works going on far beyond the two sides of the road as the car speeds past at 130 miles per hour, a sign of a throbbing economy?
Now to Dubai, the City of many firsts. Do you put on your thinking cap or just wander like a happy puppy, through the wide, smooth roads at the tall, architectural master pieces? What goes through your mind as you sail on what is supposed to be the largest man-made lake in the middle of the desert? Or go up the second tallest (it was the tallest when it was built) building in the world? Or have an expensive drink at the only seven star hotel in the world? Does the 365 day ice skiing facility tickle your imagination? Especially since the temperature outside is an almost unbearably hot, 40 degree Celsius? I could go on but I have said enough.
Now come back home…..home sweet home. What do you see as you enter our Murtala Mohammed Airport after a trip abroad? What do you see in the still, humid air you are greeted with because the air conditioners don’t work or the unnecessarily long walk you have to roll your hand luggage through because the travelators don’t work? Or the absence of a lounge or a decent reception area for those who might want to meet you? What do you make of the filth that greets you and the perennially bad road on the way to the Oshodi Bridge? This in spite of the fact that it is the first road that introduces Nigeria or Lagos, its commercial capital to a foreigner? As the car speeds to its destination, are you finally resigned to that stale air of poverty that swirls around you or re you still questioning it?
I don’t know what you see or what your third eye sees. My third eye sees leadership; or the failure of it. It sees a set of leaders with a clear vision and a determination to transform its country. It sees another set that mouthed slogans but did nothing besides enriching itself and its cronies. It sees leaders concerned with legacies vs leaders concerned with wealth. It sees national pride vs national indifference. It sees accountability vs corruption. It sees competence vs incompetence.
On the face of it, it is easy to say there is no basis for comparison between the two countries. But there are really many similarities if we care to find out. Both were British colonies. Both discovered oil within a couple of years of each other. Both are, if you like, desert countries. Both, believe it or not, are third world countries. And to those who felt religion was our bane, both have been led by conservative Muslim leaders. The stark difference lay in the leadership of the two countries. One set recognised oil for what it is—a wasting asset and proceeded to use it to transform a hot, largely uninhabitable country that even the British were willing to give up, into a desirable haven. The other indulged and even boasted that money was not its problem and handed the baton of indulgence and sloth to other sets of leadership. One set invested in its country while the other invested in self and abroad. The result is that one country progressed while the other stagnated. One made the Arab world proud while the other made the African world an object of pity.
Today, Dubai has taken over as the face of the liberal Middle-East from Lebanon. Today, Dubai has almost taken over retail tourism from Britain. It has also become the hub of commerce in the Middle-east. It is the veritable meeting and melting point between the east and west. Recognising the power of youths, it has now gone further to invest heavily in sports and has joined the circuit of all the world’s leading sports from tennis to car racing. It is today, making more money from these far sighted investments than it is making from oil.
Despite opening its doors to the world, it has tried to protect the future of its people. There are parts of Dubai that are still very traditional. And there are parts where only indigenes can buy property. There are also huge incentives when indigenes inter marry and huge disincentives when they marry foreigners. Barring a tsunami, it can be said that these leaders have invested in the tomorrow of their young. And us? It is safe to say that we have frittered it all away in foreign banks, and on foreign houses and foreign women. Just look around you. The ‘achievements’ of our past and present rulers are staring you in the face—in education, energy, infrastructure and youth employment. Our leaders say ‘for their tomorrow, we sacrificed our today’. But we know the truth. They indulged our today and in the process, distorted the tomorrow of our children. Yet some of these leaders are still strutting about—unrepentant. Some country. Some leaders.