By Muyiwa Adetiba
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a favourite haunting place for our brothers and sisters from the North and I can understand why. It has virtually everything our erstwhile colonial master, the UK has and then some.
In addition to having the banks, the shopping malls, the tourist attractions, the international connections – both in commerce and route – that UK had, there are the cultural and religious affiliations.
There is also the weather which is nearer home than the weather in the UK. So it is easier for them, especially the Moslems, to feel more at home in the UAE than in the UK. It is therefore no surprise that many have acquired properties there and have made UAE their second homes after Nigeria. Or is it first homes?
As the presidential jet glides to a halt, it is inescapable that the occupants of the jet would have noticed how busy the tarmac is and how efficient the operators who handle the minute by minute take-offs and landings are.
And if they had the time between busy protocols, they would be able to see what a truly international airport Abu Dhabi is. The neatness, the friendliness despite the constant press of people as they try to make their connections, the mix of nationalities can only escape the notice – and admiration of the blind.
But what impresses most and I am sure the President and his entourage would have noticed, is the branding of the country. Framed and mounted in conspicuous places, are short messages that tell the story of the UAE; its history, the vision and mission of the founding fathers especially the architects of what can now be called the modern UAE.
Exiting the airport leads you to wide and beautiful roads that connect the emirates. Whichever road you choose, the ride is smooth, devoid of bumps and holes. The traffic can be heavy sometimes, but it is always orderly.
Besides, there is enough to see on either side of the road which should tingle the fancy and admiration of any non-resident. You will see glitz, you will see glamour, you will see architectural masterpieces, you will see the juxtaposition of culture and modernity. And if your trip takes you far enough, you will see the taming of the desert.
There are parks and greens all over. There are man-made lakes – including man-made harbours – in places. You will also see the taming of the harsh weather. Almost every place that has a roof is air-conditioned including some bus stops.
There are buildings with sub-zero temperature that have been made conducive for skiers and ice hockey players. Its hard to believe today, what the history books say the UAE was barely fifty years ago. As far as transformations go, the UAE is a success story. That is why UAE is a poster child of what can be achieved with good leadership and good vision.
Only a bigot, or a fool will refer to the UAE as a third world country today. It is not only in buildings and landscapes that it has raised the bar. It has done very well in the sciences and the arts too – our leaders now shamelessly attend their hospitals for regular treatments. UAE is a meeting point between East and West culturally and religiously.
It has been tolerant of the Western culture without losing the essence of its own culture. It has respected other religions without compromising the demands of its own religion. President Buhari and his entourage would have noticed the co-existence of mosques, churches and synagogues.
But what the President and the Muslim members in his entourage would not have helped noticing is UAE’s reading of the sharia law especially when it comes to education, the almajiri system and tolerance of non-Muslims among them – alcohol is served freely on board their airlines and in lounges; so is pork in their supermarkets. This interpretation is possibly what accounts for the difference in the prosperity of its people compared to say Afghanistan and Northern Nigeria.
The President’s visit to Abu Dhabi was ostensibly to commiserate with the UAE President on the death of his brother and former President and also to congratulate him on his ascension to the powerful seat. Issues of bilateral relations will obviously have been discussed.
It was not stated, but I will not be surprised if the President went with a begging bowl to ask for economic favours. That is the way of African leaders. Rather than pull themselves and their countries by the bootstraps and do the hard work which others had done in developing their countries, they would prefer to depend on freebies AKA as aid – much like the almajiris whose entire livelihood and existence are centered on begging.
It does not matter that just a few of the political officials can easily squeeze out the money the country is begging for. It does not matter that more than half of the money will end up in private pockets. It does not matter that begging diminishes the psyche – it is not for nothing that the giving hand is always on top while the receiving hand is always under.
The emirates discovered crude oil about the same time as Nigeria. But that is about the only thing we have in common. Rocky in places, and barren in places, it was a place nobody wanted. The bulk of its population some fifty years ago, was uneducated and unskilled. But the narrative changed for the better with vision and leadership.
It is today the pride of the Arab and the Muslim world. The next World Cup will be staged there – for the first time in the Middle-East. Just as it has over the years, attracted many international sporting events. Nigeria on the other hand came into being with a lot of potentials, both human and natural.
But it has remained just that; a country with potentials because we have not been able to get the vision and the leadership right. Each of the six zones has something to offer the country. With what we have, the UAE had no right to be near us in terms of development.
In fact, Nigeria would have been described as ‘God’s own Country’ in the same breath as the USA. Unfortunately, we took the wrong cue from God and allowed religious zealotry to influence and retard our progress while laziness and lack of vision did the rest.
President Buhari’s legacy is almost done. It is not likely to be a pretty one given the state of the country. He has one big last chance to do something about his legacy and change the trajectory of the country by his leadership in the next week. Will he rise to the occasion or will it be more of the same sectional, religious self? The next few days will indicate whether we are moving towards UAE or Afghanistan.