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By Magnus Onyibe

To cast light on Nigeria’s stunted growth despite her enormous potentials in human and material capital , let us compare  our country which obtained her independence from British colonialists in 1960 with the United Arab Emirates, UAE which was formed in 1971 under the counsel of the same Britain.

So, while Nigeria is 61 post independence, UAE just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding , the UAE is ten years younger than Nigeria, yet she is light years ahead of our country in industrialization , adoption of high technology and prosperity of citizens .

According to the UAE office of the Historian, prior to 1971, the Trucial Sheikdoms of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharja, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, and Ras al-Khaimah were under a British protectorate.

Fifty years after her coming together as a country, she is the toast of the world for the socioeconomic, infrastructural and  dexterous management of its diversity.

Even as  Nigeria has been caught up in the past 61 years in the shenanigans of ethnic supremacy, religious rivalry and insurgency, banditry and separatism, the UAE has been plotting its way into the club of countries with presence in the orbit with its recent deployment of satellites and a robot to planet Mars and the building of awe inspiring infrastructure so magnificent that it appears to have  trounced that of the Uk, USA and France,  put together.

While Nigerian authority’s predilection for proposing archaic policies such as RUGA and re-enacting millennium old grazing routes/reserves for cattle is legendary ; the UAE has got the whole world cooing about her stupendous wealth, adroitness of their leaders and the indomitable spirit of the Emiratees which in terms of population is far less than delta state, that is a little less than six (6)million people .

And it is a testament to that country’s ingenuity that despite the fact that she is located in the gulf region and nestled in the desert between Saudi Arabia, Oman and lran, it is the world’s foremost tourism destination, while at the same time attracting hordes of business into the country because of its gigantic man made sea ports and some of the world’s biggest and busiest airports. Little wonder, it is the undisputed market hub for practically all major multinational firms that have set up offices there for their Middle East and Africa markets .


Now, can Nigeria be more Islamic than the UAE? Not by any chance.

Yet,while Nigeria is locked in religious extremism leading to deadly clashes between Muslims and Christians resulting in colossal human and property losses in the past decades , the UAE just entered a strategic arrangement with Israel, a Christian and Zionist country that is a world leader in technology, to set up technology driven businesses in Dubai with a view to achieving technology transfer.

So , in a very profound way, the UAE places peace, progress and prosperity of Emiratees above prebendal issues of religion or tribal rivalry, matters on which we dissipate colossal  energy in Nigeria.

Like our country , the desert nation of UAE is made up of diverse nationalities and ethnic groups, yet the country is very stable and therefore a very much sort after investment haven for funds managers from Europe, (Sweden , Denmark and other Scandinavian countries with huge sovereign wealth funds deployed as foreign direct investment,FDI ) and from North America – multinational corporations like the USA , Canada and Mexico.

That is in stark contrast with the volatility and instability of government and governance in Nigeria occasioned by religious and ethnic intolerance, which have  prevented potential investors from pitching their tents in our country. Available statistics indicate that only an inflow of a paltry sum of about $320m in FDI came into Nigeria in 2020 . That is despite the existence of abundance of God given virtues, which is underscored by the fact that Nigeria is not only the largest market, but also has the highest Gross Domestic Product , GDP in the continent of Africa.

Even as the United Arab Emirates, UAE present a striking blend of ancient customs and modern technology, of cosmopolitanism and insularity, Nigeria is the antithesis of all the positive virtues that the 50 years old Arab country represents because, regrettably , our leaders’ policies are anachronistic.


At the risk of appearing to be calling out my country and waxing lyrical about the great accomplishments of another country’s strategic and visionary leaders , it is with all sense of responsibility that l am denouncing the apparent myopic world view of our leaders whose policies are mired in pre-historic and archaic idiosyncrasies.

Which is why l would like to recommend that president Mohammadu Buhari models Nigeria’s development after the UAE’s extraordinarily captivating system simply because it is a universally acknowledged success story and he too can attest to the wonder in the desert which Dubai,  in particular has been transformed into.


The advise is also especially apt now, since mr president has just returned from a visit to the UAE’s months long EXPO 2020, where that desert country exhibited her scintillating  accomplishments in the 50 years of its formation as a united country of seven Emirates independently optimizing and reaping the benefits of the natural endowments endemic in their various locations.

One can imagine that if the UAE were to be Nigeria , all the other Emirates would literally run pipelines into Abu Dhabi to suck all the oil endemic in that region as  all the states in Nigeria appear to be doing by relying solely on the oil/gas in the Niger Delta region for sustenance  instead of harnessing other natural resources available in their localities as the UAE is doing with Dubai as the hub for trade, industry and tourism and the other Emirates like Ras Al-Khaimah, Fujairah , and Ajman being centers for agricultural production and various activities in which they enjoy comparative advantage.

Lennox Mall

Put succinctly, why can’t Nigeria adopt a development strategy similar to UAE’s proven formula ? The Niger delta can be like Abu Dhabi as  oil/gas hub, Lagos as commercial , industrial and financial center like Dubai and the northern region would be like Ras Al-Khaimah for agriculture and the eastern region can be the artisan and engineering hub like the other Emirates like Sharja ,  Umm al-Qaiwain etc in the UAE.

I am of the conviction that such might have been the vision of the British colonialists that modeled our country structure after their own parliamentary system at independence in 1960. And it was working well for us until some smart Alecs with guns, (six years after the British left our destiny in our hands in 1960-66) derailed the train of progress via a mindless coup detat and six (6) months after that sad event, another set of the same spoilers with guns, further muddied the waters via a counter coup, and thus consolidated the damage already inflicted by the first set of military adventurists by adopting the unitary system of government disguised as federalism. More than 50 years  after the first coup that started a civil war, the military incursion into politics remains the main culprit for Nigeria’s arrested development. 


Is the quest to reverse the mistakes made by the military (wittingly or unwittingly) in 1966 and  subsequently consolidated by the politicians who took over from them, not what the  current clamor for restructuring is all about ?

The bottomline of this piece, (which is actually a plea) is that our political leaders should strive to be more  religion and tribe neutral. That is one sure way that we can have the chance to be like the UAE.


More liberalism and less totalitarianism is one sure way that as a nation , we can optimally harness our latent potentials to enable us collectively attain the destined level of prosperity, from which we are currently very far from achieving,  largely due to the dearth of innovative and dynamic leadership vision of the hue that has been deployed by the leaders of the UAE that which has enabled them turn desert into paradise .

In conclusion, l am optimistic that my fervent plea for our leaders to, like true patriots resolve to rise above ethnic and religious considerations and resolutely pursue a political settlement of the crisis of separatism and terrorism threatening to wreck the nation, and adopt the UAE development model would not fall on deaf ears.

 Because it  would facilitate the harnessing of the full potentials of our beloved country that is currently hamstrung by the pursuit of inanities by some of our past and current leaders as earlier outlined .

Without a scintilla of doubt, it is clear that the urgency of seeking innovative ways to put our country together again can not be denied , as it is increasingly looking like the subject of the kindergarten rhyme, Humpty-Dumpty that sat on a wall,  had a great fall and all the kings men could not put it together.


If the UAE leader Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nayan and his co-rulers of the 7 Emirates presently known as the UAE could co-operate  with each other to cobble together an originally disparate people from the seven (7) Emirates that were independent and banded together as one nation in 1971 to form one country; and thereafter rose meteorically to the level of being the envy of many nations, l do not see why Nigeria and Nigerians should continue to be mentioned in same breathe or be grouped together with wretched countries like Afghanistan, lraq, Syria, or be at the bottom of the rung of the comity of undeveloped nations.

For the sake of emphasis, were it not for the mismanagement of our diversity by our leaders to the extent that the twin monsters of secessionism and terrorism have been unleashed with ethnic nationalism and religious extremism as propellants, our country would not be in such a sorry state today.

We need no soothe sayer to enlighten us on the fact that a combination of religious insurgency , ethnic supremacy and separatism that have collectively and significantly impaired the productivity of our country men and women, (hence we are currently punching below our weight) should not be allowed to fester, more so because they are preventable and avoidable through good leadership.

And what a glorious country Nigeria would have been, were it not for the mismanagement of our diversity- a condition which leaders of other climes such as  the UK, Switzerland, Canada and UAE that are also comprised of diverse people are successfully managing and harnessing for the beneficially interest of the citizens of those  nations.

Now that our leaders have been fully apprised of what has been ailing us as a nation, and as we prepare to enter the year 2022, hopefully they would make a new year resolution to be more flexible and responsive to the stimuli of progress through dialogue and negotiations amongst the multifarious ethnic nationalities and religions for the common good and prosperity of all.

•ONYIBE, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst ,author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government,  sent this piece from Lagos.

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