“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness., and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
No matter which schools you attended or how many degrees you have acquired, I doubt if you can really call yourself educated until you begin to travel to places beyond your comfort zone or familiar terrain. Traveling does something to the human mind by expanding it so much that whether the journey is for leisure or work, it is never able to fully spring back to its original state.
Visiting other climes helps you to become a well-rounded individual with a cosmopolitan view that does not view the world only from your parochial, insular prism. Sometimes, when you visit climes where you experience things that make your own environment that you so stridently excoriate at every given opportunity look like paradise, you can fall into the temptation of defaulting into a self-congratulatory mode that, if care is not taken, would make you accept your environment and its socio-political and economic oddities as norm. Afterall, in the community of the blind, the one-eyed man has no competition for the throne! I recall my visit to the nation of Zaire as the Republic of Congo was then called. I returned to Nigeria feeling that Nigeria, in spite of its aberrant predisposition, was still heaven on earth in comparison to what I experienced in that country.
Thankfully, I have also been privileged to see climes that only ended up making me so miserable about the state of my nation. I am not one of those who consistently bellyache about Nigeria. I am an incurably optimistic patriot and that is why I get worried when we cannot hold ourselves to higher standards in the way we run our society. I set my benchmarks by people or places that challenge or inspire me to up my game, not those who pat me in the back while I revel in and relish mediocrity. I hold the same values concerning my nation.
This explains my angst when I visit other places, especially those who don’t have the human, natural and environmental endowments we have but who have frog-leaped into civilization while we crawl as if reluctant to make any attempt to even pay a visit to the future! I hardly travel for tourism. It is either for work or for learning! Last week, I was in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as part of faculty for a training session for a group of leaders. This treatise is not about the sessions. They went very well. I was so engaged that I could not find time to even visit the Jacuzzi and the sauna which were complimentary parts of my stay in a world-class hotel.
That was not my first trip to this beautiful city which continues to be one huge construction site where structures spring up almost every second! My unease began from the point of clearing immigration. The immigration officials asked no questions. They simply checked our visa, took a photo and stamped us in. There was no overwhelming ubiquitous presence of uniformed men dotting every part of the airport in the same intimidating fashion that we have it, with every one of them you encounter openly soliciting or attempting to extort money from you. In the entire week that I spent in Dubai, I saw a uniformed police man in a patrol vehicle only once! Yet, this city hardly sleeps. Restaurants and shopping malls are open, some till three a.m and some round the clock. Security is on point! It took only a few minutes to effect the arrest of the Nigerian guys who robbed an ATM point. They obviously must have been fooled by the ubiquitous absence of police men on the streets into thinking that getting away with crime would have been easy! You can walk the streets at any time of day or night without having to worry about your safety.
Understandably therefore, the city is a preferred destination for the rest of the world. Money from every part of the world flows into Dubai. It is an open secret that many of those who have robbed Nigeria blind continue to use Dubai as the venue of destination weddings for their children and preferred vacation place for them and their family! Next year, Dubai plans to host twenty-five million people from various parts of the world to what it has called Expo 2020, designed to showcase its offerings to the rest of the world as a destination haven of choice!
For the first time since I have been visiting the country, I went with participants as part of the learning experience at our training programme to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building standing at one hundred and forty-eight floors! From the observatory at the 124th and 125th floors, you can get a helicopter view of the entire city. I also had the opportunity of having dinner at the twin-tower J.W. Marriot, the second tallest hotel in the world, standing at seventy-two floors and with 1608 rooms! Incidentally, the tallest hotel in the world (just by a few inches) has also recently been opened in the same city!
It was our visit to the Frame, a building constructed with the aim of presenting to the world in a picturesque frame, the visionary bridge between the past, present and the future of this city that was a remarkable eye-opening experience for me and it forms the essence of this piece.
Standing in the frame, on one side, you see the old Dubai and looking from the opposite direction, you see the new. The Frame stands between both. It is also clearly indicated that the new Dubai is a product of deliberate envisioning and meticulous execution. But that is not all. As you prepare to exit the building, you are given a video presentation of the future Dubai. Presented in 3D compelling graphics, it projects into a future that captures the leaders’ vision in healthcare, public transportation, space travel and other areas of development. The message is simple and pungent. If what you currently see in the city was produced almost from nothing except vision, the realization of every detail presented in that video is a reality that can almost be taken for granted!
Lesson? Nations and organizations become great when the leaders are driven by an overarching vision to serve a collective and the dedication to make it happen, not when all you have in leadership is a rapacious, predatory leadership that only uses the led as cannon fodders for the perpetuation of its greed and prebendal rent collection. Our hope lies in the emergence of such leaders who are able to define our collective vision to which they first commit and go on to rally the rest of us to follow.
May such leaders begin to emerge, beginning with YOU and ME!
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!