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2019: Nigeria’s year of Zayed

By Yinka Odumakin

IF Nigeria goes through the 2019 elections and it is unable to put in Aso Rock its Zayed to start the rebuilding process of a badly fractured polity, it should be time to sing the nunc  dimittis of the greatest tragedy of the modern era: a country with very great potentials that never was.

The United Arab Emirates is celebrating this year the centenary of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan who was born in 1918 and became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. He later led the unification of the then seven separate sheikdoms into a federation and became the first president of the newly formed country and transformed it into one of the most advanced countries in the world over his 33-year reign.

Fondly called “Baba Zayed” by his people, he was the youngest of the four sons of his father. He was just seven when he began to sit in his father’s majlis royal court listening to the conversations around him and asking questions. As it was a turbulent period, Sheik Sultan was concerned for the safety of his family and sent Zayed and two of his brothers to Al again with their mother in 1926. The father’s prescience was not unfounded as he was assassinated shortly afterwards.

From the age of eight, Zayed lived with his maternal grandfather and among the Bedouin tribespeople of Al Ain where he learned about the day-to-day issues facing the local Bedouin.He was very much of the tribe,enduring the hardships that were part and parcel of desert lifestyle. From there he developed his own characteristics, including tact, diplomacy, patience and a belief in peace and cooperation.

Where modern leaders learn the necessary techniques for success at University or business school, Zayed’s skills were self-taught as he did not benefit from a formal education. His only schooling came from reading the Quran and observing his father and grandfather in their majlis.

It was Sheik Shakbut bin Sultan his elder brother who saw how influential and well respected he was that first appointed him as the Ruler’s Representative in Al Ain in 1946. He used that position to bring many POSITIVE changes in the region which forever changed the lives of the people. In no time, Al Anin had a school and bustling markets while Abu Dhabi looked increasingly moribund despite the potential wealth from oil discovery in 1958. Sheik Shakbunat was unwilling to use the money to finance development and modernisation programmes.

In 1966,the Al Nahyan family concluded that a change of leadership was needed for progress. Sheik Shakkbut accepted the family’s decision and stepped down on 6 August in favour of his younger brother,Sheik Zayed, a change widely acclaimed by the people of Abu Dhabi.

Sheik Zayed hit the ground running setting about a programme of accelerated development, drawing up a budget for the first time in Abu Dhabi’s history and implementing what he saw as badly needed spending on sewerage, hospitals, clinics, housing, education and a new harbour. He announced a five-year strategic plan in 1968 covered a whole gamut. He had incredible foresight and always thought of what was best for his people. He gave each adult male three pieces of land-to build a home, a commercial property and an industrial workshop.He was committed to the investment  of the people in Abu Dhabi’s future success .

Just 18 months after Zayed became Ruler, the British announced their plan to completely withdraw from the Gulf by 1971.Britain provided their only military protection and it was hoped that the seven emirates of the Trucial Coast would form a federation with Bahrain and Qatar.

Zayed accepted the British decision and set about building a new federation.  Even when old rivalries made it look as though a federation would be impossible,he believed that unity was the best way of delivering economic and social progress for the whole region.His first step was to reach an agreement with Dubai that they would form a federation of two emirates even if ultimately the others chose not to join.To achieve this, he made concessions on the maritime boundary between the two. Discussions continued with the other five emirates and Bahrain and Qatar but the latter duo had a different agenda  by  declaring  themselves as independent states. Zayed worked patiently with the other five to establish a smaller federation.

As the clock ticked down to British withdrawal in 1971 and things still hazy, Zayed asked the other rulers a question Nigeria has been dodging in all its years of jaded existence: Do you want unity?They all said yes. And the details were worked out in just FOUR MONTHS with Ras Al Khaimah opting out over some of the conditions on representation. On  2 December 1971, the United Arab Emirates was  born  and included emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. It was a victory for the patience and vision of Sheik Zayed.Ras Al Khaimah joined the UAE just nine weeks after completing the Union.

Zayed was a leader whose foray to other lands was not for buying properties or medical tourism .Hear him “I visited the UK in 1953 for for the first time and was impressed by what I saw. I dreamed to make Abu Dhabi one day as beautiful and green. After that I visited the U.S, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, India and Iran, I had great ambitions to make my country their equal.I accompanied my brother to Paris and visited it’s great museums,hospitals and universities.I dreamed one day to have similar institutions in my country and to put an end to poverty and sickness”. The desert has become a world -acclaimed reference of development and tourist destination today for that vision.

While Nigeria lies in the midst of ruins with all its  oil wealth, Zayed showed contrast as he had a clear view of how oil money should be spent. He said Allah did not bestow this wealth on him alone, although he was entrusted with the nation’s money. He always held himself accountable and once said “I invite you to see for yourselves where oil money goes in this country.This money is directed to paving roads, building hospitals, expanding water and electricity services, constructing schools, so they will be available to every citizen”.

His leadership was in contrast to that of governments in many societies of which Nigeria sorely stands out. He created for his citizens a social structure where they benefit  not only from massive investment in infrastructure but also from free land,free loans, free education, free health care, subsidised utilities,well-paid jobs and generous state pensions.This system has endured for five decades now with adjustments here and there. He died in 2009 but he lives on in the hearts of his people.

Apart from electing a leader who can stop the wanton killings going on in the land today,Nigeria needs a leader like Zayed in 2019 who has a mission and vision,who is a unifier but not unitarist. A leader who can give it a fresh start and in the words of Max Siollun ,”a reconstructive surgeon and not a bulldozer’. The search begin…


…Not -too -old -to -run and not-too-young to follow

A PRACTICAL joke played out last week at the signing  of the “Not -too-young-to-run”  Bill where some age mates of Macron(French President) were brought out like ballot boxes  are used around here to give the appearance of democratic elections.

As President Buhari signed the law, he admonished the young people to be ready to run but after he must have finished his own second term in 2023. The “tomorrow ” has been delayed by another four years making them leaders of next tomorrow.

I learnt from ancient wisdom at very little age that there is a realm in which tomorrow never comes.The Yoruba put it succinctly:Ola o kin tan laye(tomorrow never ends).

I remember how ACN,one of the legacy parties elected a 62-year old as its “Youth Leader” some years back as a  loud statement that the youths cannot even manage their own affairs.

It would take “lazy youth” who lack the capacity to google who signed the bill for the generations of Zik, Awo, Balewa, Enahoro et al to become household names in their late 20s and early 30s. Or if one Baba called all those who governed Nigeria in their thirties to any signing ceremony.

Until the young people of Nigeria take  seriously one of the sayings of Jagaban that “power is not served a la carte” their years of shouting “Sai Baba” on social media have just started counting !


…Nigeria, you are not a country!

LOOK at the yellow bucket in the picture below. As we boarded an Emirates’ flight on Sunday 27 April from MMIA, it was rainy heavily and water was dripping on passengers with that bucket placed to collect the remaining. I thought it was a makeshift. I returned seven days after and it was raining and the bucket was still there for the same purpose. Some heads are definitely  not working here. While Nigerians complained loudly at the sight, foreigners just passed shaking their heads.In this age and time? It’s a shame!



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