Friday, June 25, 2021 12:02 am
It’s Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury’s Tales all right, just that this time around it isn’t the original classic movement of the people, big and small, high and lowly, a traveling company of storytelling professional cadres, wending their weary way to collective self-(re-) discovery; a trip to truth, indeed. No, this is not the England of the Middle Ages, pre – 1400 AD. This is Nigeria, to be more exact, it’s Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. The airport female announcer’s captivating, velvety voice floats over the loudspeakers: “Announcing the departure time for Emirates Airlines, flight number 000-1-44. Take-off time 2.00pm local time. Passengers going to Dubai are hereby advised to make their way to blablablabla….” Then commotion, Nigerian-style. The hubbub is truly confounding as Nigerians, rich and seemingly rich, bustle about, toting luggage and all, trying to queue up in front of the Emirates stand in order to complete their travelling formalities.
The entire departure lounge crawls with these well-heeled tripsters, both old and young, literate and uneducated; some clad in formal, western attire and others simply outfitted in a variety of indigenous dresses, especially the types identified with the Islamic faith. You would think the country is at war and thus its citizens are trying to flee from the raging conflagration. However, the truth of the matter is that, there is nothing like that. The nation is in its normal mode of arrested development or suspended animation, a people who love to sit on their hands and watch the rest of the world stride away supersonically into the Brave New World of wonder (apologies to CNN’s Richard Quest). Speaking of which, the Cable News Network (CNN) is fond of showcasing Dubai to the world, showcasing its exquisite infrastructure, its security system, trade and commerce, sport, etc. Perhaps other viewers might see these things and simply go their way, but not Nigerians.
The world-historic fame of Dubai, advertised to the world by the CNN, always robs Nigeria’s high-enders of sleep and, consequent upon this, flying to Dubai has become for these upwardly-mobile denizens something of a status symbol. Politicians, Nollywood stars, musicians, professional types, the so-called millennials, and others now troop to Dubai.
But the Nigerian traveller needs to be reminded that Dubai was not built in a day, as they say of Rome. Dubai is thought to have been established as a fishing village in the early 18th century and was, by 1822, a town of some 700 – 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe and subject to the rule of Sheikh Tahnun bin Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi. Founded by Ubain bin Saeed and Maktum bin Butti Al Maktoum, Dubai is reputed to have been built by slaves. (See Google.com). Thus from around 1770 up until the late 1930s, the pearl industry was the main source of income in the Trucial States, which today make up the United Arab Emirates ( the UAE). To be certain, three decades ago, Dubai was little more than desert.
Politicians, Nollywood stars, musicians, professional types, the so-called millennials, and others now troop to Dubai. But the Nigerian traveller needs to be reminded that Dubai was not built in a day, as they say of Rome. Dubai is thought to have been established as a fishing village in the early 18th century and was, by 1822, a town of some 700 – 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe and subject to the rule of Sheikh Tahnun bin Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi.
Before the discovery of oil in Dubai in 1966, the city was an unremarkable port in the Gulf region. So, whilst it had existed as a trading port along important Middle Eastern trade routes since the 1880s, its main industry was pearling, which was said to have dried up after the 1930s (Google.com). Dubai, also spelled Dubayy, city and capital of the emirate of Dubai, is one of the wealthiest of the seven emirates that constitute the federation of the United Arab Emirates, which was created in 1971 following independence from Great Britain.
The city is therefore unique for a host of reasons, chief among which is that it has the biggest mall in the world, thus making it a shopaholic’s dream. The iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, dominates the skyscraper-filled skyline lighting up the entire city wherever you look. Almost 90% of the population in the UAE are expatriates and immigrants and mostly live in Dubai. Unsurprisingly, this vibrant array of different cultures and religions has made the city a truly global one.
Another factor that makes Dubai irresistible is its food. From delicious food stalls on the beach to five-star restaurants serving gold with their food, from local Emirati cuisine to the most diverse culinary scenes, Dubai truly boasts an international food scene, a foodie’s paradise, indeed. It is equally reported that Dubai’s delivery system is second to none: you can get almost anything delivered to your doorstep. It’s just a click or a phone call away! Another thing which is pivotal to the city’s booming economy is the midas touch of its royal family led by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The royal family is said to be down-to-earth in their relationship with the people, helping in no small measure to develop the city. The royals have successfully overseen the construction of such projects as the Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai International Finance Centre, the Palm Islands, Burj Al Arab Hotel and, of course, the one and only Burj Khalifa. Thus the sheer extravagance and bonhomie of Dubai is clearly down to its cosmopolitanism, its fusion of international cultures and added to this is the fact that the visitor is suitably wowed by the sights of Lamborghini police cars, gold-infused coffee and the breath-taking magnificence of the city. However, regardless of the fact that Dubai is the fastest-growing city in the world, its ties to its autochthonous culture and tradition have remained unshakeable. Women’s rights, we are informed, are fanatically protected, notably in the fields of education and in the workforce. Recently, the authorities established the UAE Gender Balance Council charged with the responsibility of ensuring equality of genders in society. It is against the foregoing factors that Dubai has come to be known for luxury shopping, modern architecture, and a lively nightlife scene. It’s the number one tourism destination for leisure and business travellers.
More crucially, that is why Nigeria’s nouveaux-riches will give a life and a limb to fly to Dubai under any pretext. Remember, Nigeria’s First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari recently returned from Dubai after fleeing the earthly paradise that is Aso Rock Villa for months! Former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, took his own covid-19 vaccine in far-away Dubai recently. Even before then, the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had to travel all the way to Dubai for their so-called pre-election retreat. Nigerian musician Tuface Idibia and his long-time wife, Annie, had to fly to Dubai for their wedding reception and honey-moon. By the same token, lovebirds see Dubai as their ultimate tryst, a “Mecca” of sorts for the footloose and the fancy-free. Dubai, in a word, is the Holy Grail for most Nigerians – sportspeople, students, would-be couples, old couples who have made good, the homo ordinario. Formerly you used to hear folk say: “See Paris and die!” Not anymore. It’s now: “See Dubai and die!” Dubai! Dubai! Dubai! Oh, for a nation that sits atop stupendous and fabulous resources but prefers to rather pine like a famished flaneur for a river flowing with milk and honey in the Arab Desert! An artificial man-made river at that! Woe, indeed, to the people who begin the midst of plenty, pity the land whose rulers’ taste-buds crave only the delights of the exotic but retch at the sight of homemade repast. But we must give honour to whom honour is due. Years ago, the then-Governor Donald Duke of Cross River State did conceive and execute what could be characterised as “Alternative Dubai”. We are talking about his much-vaunted Tinapa Free Zone and Resort in Calabar.
A true patriot, Mr. Duke was positively miffed by the humongous waste of Nigeria’s scarce resources that the Dubai jamboree constituted at the time. The huge amounts of hard currencies spent on travel expenses, hotel accommodation, shopping, name it! He then decided to replicate Dubai on Nigerian soil. In hindsight, Mr. Donald Duke’s initiative, evidently laudable as it was, is analogous to the Biblical sower who sowed precious seeds among thorns and thistles. The Tinapa Dream never succeeded in staunching the haemorrhaging of Nigeria’s economic blood. Dubai has proven Nigeria’s Achilles’ heel. If you like turn the whole Bandits’ Paradise called Nigeria into mega- Dubai. You are on your own. Nigerians’ faces are already set like flint, rushing for the borders, rushing for Dubai. There is clearly a sense in which Dubai may be used as trope for other equally seductive watering-holes, captivating getaways like Paris, London, Abu Dhabi, Rome, Milan, New York City and Malaysia. The point is that, those who want to flee these shores for greener pastures are doing so because of man’s innate love for ease and comfort. As earlier noted, Dubai was once a desert: desert here signifies utter barrenness, dearth of opportunity or “props” of any kind to support the transformation of bald and brute nature into culture, the propitious humanisation of the environment. Dubai (like most world-class cities) is thus the triumph of human ingenuity over the coarsening recrudescence of wild nature, the triumphant transitioning from lowly Third-worldism to the commanding heights of a First-world futuristic city. It is, unarguably, an enduring metaphor for the boundless vistas of human possibility.
Nigeria, it must be conceded, is still, largely, a rural and pre-modern society blessed with vast swathes of forests and grassland stretching from coastal Lagos through the better part of the south to the mostly “Sahelian” north. This country-wide universe of green and brown outcrops is sparsely dotted with clutches of human habitation, few of which are urban and sub-urban conurbations as well as innumerable, hamlets, villages and farm settlements, all crying for a touch of modernisation. Ajala, the traveller must now stay at home to build his own patch to the envy of all.
Nigeria, it must be conceded, is still, largely, a rural and pre-modern society blessed with vast swathes of forests and grassland stretching from coastal Lagos through the better part of the south to the mostly “Sahelian” north. This country-wide universe of green and brown outcrops is sparsely dotted with clutches of human habitation, few of which are urban and sub-urban conurbations as well as innumerable, hamlets, villages and farm settlements, all crying for a touch of modernisation. Ajala, the traveller must now stay at home to build his own patch to the envy of all. Government must get our unemployed youth to work and thus keep them off antisocial and deviant acts. We must rethink our National Policy on Development and prioritise the provision of social amenities and infrastructure. The ongoing road and rail projects are in order. We must add other means of transportation to the mix: e.g. underground tube system, metro-lines, a more efficient domestic aviation industry. Also, government must encourage tourism and the hospitality industry. We should do more in the area of awareness-raising regarding our own tourist attractions in Nigeria. Let Nigerians know about the following: the Ibeno Beach in Akwa Ibom; the Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River; the Ngwo Pine Forest in Ngwo, Enugu State; the Awhum Waterfall in Enugu; the Osun-Osogbo Grove in Osun State; the Royal Palace of the Oba of Benin; the Sukur Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO heritage site located in Madageli, in Adamawa State; the Ancient Kano City Walls; the Kainji National Park in Niger State and the Yankarị National Park in Bauchi State, among others.
Besides, government must equally prioritise education and research; attract the very best and brightest from wherever they can be found. We must kill nepotism and the “settlement” culture before nepotism kill us as a country. Accordingly, government must enthrone a merit-based reward system in order to create a conducive climate of healthy competition among our youth and the young-at-heart. Therefore, we must think globally and act locally. In the same vein, government needs to put in place a Marshall Plan for the development of physical infrastructure in the country and appoint a consortium of experts to manage and monitor its progression. And, crucially, the vagaries and the vicissitudes of regime-change must never be allowed to truncate the progression of the projects as is the norm at present. Truth be told, Nigeria is going through its worst patch ever at present but viewed in the grand scheme of things, our present adversities will work out a far greater weight of glory for us as our people. For sweet are the fruits of adversity.