Lessons from Qatar and Oman

Published on 20th July 2009

I was impressed during a recent visit to two Middle East Countries: Oman and Qatar on a Leadership Mission sponsored by their government. It was an eye opener.  During the trip in April 2009, I had the opportunity to tour the country and meet with some of their government officials such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Central Bank Governor, Vice Chancellor of their university, and so forth.


In 1970, Oman had only 7 km of tarred road; 2 elementary schools and one healthcare center. The capital, Muscat, got closed by 6pm as the gate to the city was locked. Today, Oman has everything. Its per capital is about $25,000 with 87% literacy level, and has one of the most stable and prospering economies in that part of the world. Oman has a water desalination plant that produces 33 million gallons a day above their daily need. Their currency called Rial, exchanges at the rate of RO0.38 to $1.00, meaning one has to have about $3m to be a millionaire in Oman.


Nigeria by 1970 had more than Oman. But where is Nigeria today? A billion naira question. There is no need convincing some why Oman is far in its development compared to Nigeria. Some forget that the size of land and people are no factor when dealing with leadership. Just like the case of money: It is not so much what one makes but how well one manages what one makes. Some see quantity - size, I see quality - leadership.


Nigeria is the only country of its size - 145m+ and resources that has less than $1,000 in per capital income and provides less electricity for her people. What is the excuse when electricity came to Nigeria in 1894; Ijora Power Station? Oman was in total darkness then.


During Obasanjo’s regime 1999-2007, the core Igbo states had a total budget of about $20b, for an area less than 16,000 square miles, and yet, there is no water supply, no electricity, no public elementary school has utilities, roads are hardly paved well, and so forth. The budget per square mile compares well with that of most developed regions of the world.


The land size of Oman is bigger than the land size of core Igbo states. Most of Oman annual rainfall is below 125 mm except in the hills of Dhofar in the extreme south. The core Igbo states get far more water yet none is fit to drink. Because of the limited rainfall and aquifers, Muscat derives its water supply from desalination. The core Igbo states is dotted with all sources of water, yet most Igbos/Nigerians have less than 5 gallons of portable water daily. Muscat, the capital of Oman, gets about 33 million gallons of water from desalination daily for a population of about 600,000 while Lagos, Nigeria with a daily population of about 12 million within its extended boundaries, has less than 5 million gallons daily supply, and Lagos borders an ocean. What is the excuse?


I chuckle at the views offered to condone and console the poor level of outcome in Nigeria. Most Nigerians that live overseas have not challenged their education outside of their core training in an effort to understand how various factors contribute to making a community/country emerge. Their ability is manifest in how their limited exposure running Nigerian organizations, translate to their opinion. It is no wonder what others see as value and benefit; striving for best outcome using best practices, Nigerians see otherwise; consoling their position/condition with lousy 'excuses'.


Saudi Arabia is a large country and has very rugged and challenging terrain. But see how developed it is. In 1959, there were fewer than 1,000 Saudis with college education. King Saud then could not read or write. There were more Nigerians exposed to western institutions/education and ways then than most of those from Saudi Arabia and Oman. But in 1945, when King Saud met President Roosevelt, he was smart enough to grasp from the conservation what Saudi Arabia could benefit by aligning with US and vice versa. So when oil was discovered, he called on his contacts and the rest is history.


In 1959, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who later became Nigeria’s Prime Minister - 1960, met President Eisenhower at the White House; one of the first early African leaders to visit the White House. But today, how is the US-Nigeria relationship compared to US-Saudi Arabia relationship? Note, Roosevelt met King Saud aboard USS Quincy off a harbor in Alexandria, Egypt, while PM Balewa was in the White House. The meeting with King Saud was kept secret as US then did not want to offend British PM Churchill, but the meeting turned to be one of the best relationships US initiated with the Saudis.


So, when some point to size, it is baseless; a product of those with limited exposure and probably no involvement in issues regarding how effectiveness [leadership] contributes to nations' emerging than size. Size may matter, but it does not matter when there is headless leadership as has been demonstrated by Nigeria since it started its journey to be a country struggling to do its best for her teeming and groping populace.


When Nigerians start dealing with reasons and not excuses, it will dawn on them that they are the ones holding themselves down. All the hue and cry about colonialism, tribal resentments, numerous language and dialects should be thrown into the dust bin.


By Ejike Okpa II


Next Generation Fellow, The American Assembly.


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