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Visit Egypt and see Nigeria’s backwardness: A 2019 Egypt Total AFCON diary

By Samuel Ifetoye, who was at the Total Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt
06 August 2019   |   3:50 am
From the first moment of boarding the Egypt Air to when the flight landed at the Cairo International Airport, there was a seeming breath of fresh air. Though the atmosphere was charged, the freshness of the environment was welcoming.

Road in Egypt

From the first moment of boarding the Egypt Air to when the flight landed at the Cairo International Airport, there was a seeming breath of fresh air. Though the atmosphere was charged, the freshness of the environment was welcoming.

The wonders of Egypt begin to unfold before you as you approach the edifice at the port of entry to the nation, which is the airport, the road network, the hotels, stadia, tourism, the people, and their economy.

The airport represents an exquisite edifice of what an airport should look like. None of the airports that Nigeria has is anyway near the structure at the Cairo Airport.

But it was not just the Cairo Airport or the road network in the city that blighted the image of Nigerian leaders abroad. It was the tournament: The Egypt 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Though the football fiesta may have come and gone, the memory of the biennial tournament would live long in supporters, journalists, and tourists who were there either on their own or sponsored by Total, the official sponsor of the tournament, to witness the football fiesta in the land of Pharaoh.

Aside from some mouth-watering cash prizes and awards are given to the winner, first runner up and third-placed countries, other participating countries’ football teams, journalists, artists, staff and customers of the firm were also part of the party in Egypt courtesy Total.

All Giza Pyramids

Everyone taken to Egypt was put in a business class, five stars hotel and other allowances paid to make their stay in Egypt a memorable and enjoyable moment.

The tournament was renamed Total AFCON in July 2016, as a result of the oil giant’s eight-year sponsorship deal to help 10 of the Confederation of Africa (CAF) major competitions.

The journey of Total AFCON started with Gabon 2017 as host and Nigeria, three-time winner of the AFCON was missing after failing to book qualification.

The 2019 edition presented the Super Eagles and Nigeria another opportunity to be part of Total’s hospitality. The 2019 edition, initially given to Cameroun, was later handed to Egypt after Cameroun was stripped of the rights by CAF.

So excited about the trip to Cairo, the Executive General Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility of Total E&P Nigeria, Vincent Nnadi, said he came with his wife to feel the essence of Total’s sponsorship.

Speaking about his experience, he stated that Total’s commitment towards raising the standard of football in Africa was real.

“Total is a great friend of Africa and we feel obliged to be part of this development, especially for the teeming youths. One area we need to actually do that is in sports, and in which sport? It is football. So, we will continue to do that, as we know best. It is really a great discovery for my wife and me, being our first time in Egypt. And it is a great discovery to see the level of development in this country.

“It’s an amazing country with amazing infrastructure. We will definitely use this opportunity to feed our eyes and compare it with my dear own country. I have made friends and I will make sure I move around to explore the environment and see what awaits me in this beautiful Mediterranean city of Alexandria. I would have also loved to visit the great pyramids,” he stated.

Well, maybe there would have been a difference, but the Egyptians proved they were ready for the tournament even under short notice. The Egyptians won the rights after a stiff competition from South Africa, which also showed interest to stage the tournament at short notice. The land of Pharaoh then had the luck to be the second host country of Total AFCON and the 36th edition of Africa’s best football gala.

At the signing of the contract with CAF, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Total, Patrick Pouyanné, had said the firm was happy with the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the sport in Africa.

“As a leading multinational in its field, with strong ties to Africa, Total will make a significant contribution to CAF’s initiatives to foster personal and professional growth for young Africans.

“We are delighted to partner CAF because Africa is part of Total’s make up. Through this commitment, we hope to strengthen ties with our stakeholders and customers through exciting, celebratory events that are always popular, including within our own teams.”

A guest at Nigeria versus Guinea encounter was the Guinean music icon, Soul Bang, who said he was thrilled with the atmosphere at the Alexandria Stadium, adding, “It was a great opportunity to be part of the AFCON’s atmosphere.”

Hany El Sayed, who is the designer of the trophy awarded to the Man of the Match prize, said he was grateful for the honour to be one of the organisers’ guests. “The respect accorded me today, as the designer whose work was picked for the Man of the Match award and to also present it to the winner between Madagascar and Burundi is great,” he explained. But what is so special about Total AFCON 2019 and why should Nigeria learn from Egypt?

Despite scarce resources, with little or no rainfall, the country has been able to break boundaries and depending largely on the Mediterranean Sea for drinking, irrigation and the rest.

I was terribly disappointed with Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country that God has richly endowed with human and material resources and yet one wonders what really is wrong with her or the “leaders”.

I had initially thought we had an airport while growing up in Lagos until I came across the one in Cairo. The best description I can give to any of the so-called “airports” in the country is “landing and taking off” centers.

Then one wonders what has become of the money made from oil over the years during the days of oil boom. That was an era in which we were told that “our problem is not money, but how to spend it.”

What a country with the ‘glorified’ airports we have in our midst.

Transportation in Egypt is centered in Cairo and largely follows the pattern of settlement along the Nile. The Ministry of Transportation and other government bodies are responsible for transportation in Egypt, whether by sea, land or air.

But sweet things are good.

I was to be issued a visa on arrival in Cairo from Lagos, as a guest of the sponsor, en route to Alexandria, my point of destination, where Nigeria played her group stage matches of the AFCON. I later realised I had missed my flight to Alexandria that night while trying to sort out my visa.

I, in fact, enjoyed one night of comfort at one of the five hotels in Cairo, the Marriott Hotel by the airline, no thanks to Egypt Air by which I came to Cairo and then offered to travel by road the following morning to Alexandria. My mind was that I had been condemned to a punishment that was akin to driving through Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and through Sango Ota.

But it turned out to be a sweet ride. There was no punishment travelling to Alexandria by road for two hours as against 15 minutes by flight. The journey was fun and an eye-opener.

I was amazed at the road network from Cairo to Alexandria!

I later thanked God I didn’t miss the opportunity to see for myself the great road network Egypt has to offer. I looked at the road we travelled and I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw.

This is a nation that does not even have bitumen and yet could produce such a beautiful 20-lane carriageway from Cairo to Alexandria! There are four lanes facing each other at the extreme of the road constructed mainly for buses carrying farm produce.

I kept wondering if the wax was added to the road that made it look as if it was polished with Kiwi polish.

My journey to Alexandria by road later turned out to be something of a blessing. An experience I would have missed if I had boarded the missed flight to Alexandria. I asked myself what would have become of our roads if Nigeria never had bitumen in the first place.

There are abundant deposits of bitumen in Ondo, Lagos, Ogun, and Edo states and yet, Nigeria can hardly boast a good road network.

If what I experienced in two of the five-star hotels that I spent some nights at was anything to go by, I doubt if Nigeria has a single five-star hotel.

I now know what a five-star hotel is.

Though I worked in two supposedly five-star hotels in the country, my stay at Cairo Marriott Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel gave me a distinct view of what it looks like to have a five-star label. Even the Helnan Palestine Hotel where the Eagles put up in Alexandria was also in the class of a typical five-star hotel like the other two hotels.

Egypt had a very short time to host the 2019 AFCON and yet wowed many with their beautiful architectural designs in all the stadia used for the Total Africa Cup of Nations.

All the stadia had lush green pitches on offer for the players to display their football artistry. Egypt presented seven stadia, which include the Cairo Stadium, Al-Salam Stadium, Alexandria Stadium, Ismailia Stadium, Suez Stadium, and Port Said Stadium and 30 June Stadium for the almost a month AFCON football fiesta for the world to see.

The puzzle about the pitches is that despite being located in the desert, they were topnotch for good football.

According to a retired Egyptian Army Colonel, Mohammed Seif, “rain falls here only once in a year or at most twice. What we do here is to try and maintain the pitches by devising a way of making sure it is wet morning and night continuously. And that is why you see it with lush green. Also, we have a maintenance culture here where things are maintained very well.”

He said the 20,000-seat Alexandria Stadium was built in 1929 but was recently remodeled. The stadium featured Nigeria, Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar matches in Group B of the AFCON.

In Nigeria, aside from the newly refurbished Enyimba International Stadium in Aba, Abia State, no stadium in the country can boast of any of its pitch being lush green. Though some parts of Nigeria experience rainfalls like every other country in the equator, you can then wonder why the stadia are always dry.

Geographically, the southern part of Nigeria experiences heavy and abundant rainfall. Bonny town found in the coastal region of the Niger Delta area in southern Nigeria receives well over 4,000 mm (157.5 in) of rainfall yearly. The rest of the southeast receives between 2,000 and 3,000 mm (118.1 in) of rain per year.

The maintenance culture of the Egyptians as regards the facilities on offer for the AFCON tournament is wholesome. Even some of the stadia used for the competition built in the 1800s still looked as if they were built last month.

This is the area Nigeria has fallen like a pack of cards, as nobody cares for what belongs to the public, except what comes into their personal coffers. We have a long way to go if we must free ourselves from the backwardness in which we are trapped.

Egypt is an Arab nation. It is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt. It is a predominantly Muslim country, albeit with a significant Christian minority. The people are highly urbanised and concentrated along the Nile mostly in Cairo and Alexandria, along the Delta and near the Suez Canal.

The Egyptians are warm people, friendly and polite and this may be largely due to the number of tourists, who flock the country for sightseeing. During my interactions with some Egyptians, who are either staff or tourists at the Cairo Marriott Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel I stayed, I saw a semblance of a people, who are cultured, disciplined and contented. I noticed everyone minding his or her business. This obviously, can be credited to a listening government put in place by the Egyptian Armed Forces.

According to an Egyptian, Mansour Hamed, “Here the government listens and reckons with the people’s requests any time they are dissatisfied over anything, ranging from job creations, welfares, housing, etc. My friend does you know we have estates built by the government for newly wedded couples. They are allowed to stay there until they are buoyant enough to take care of their own accommodation themselves,” he said.

At a time the Egyptians felt neglected by the policies of the first democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi, the people took to the streets, demanding his removal. And because of Morsi’s failure to resolve the political tension against the people’s will, he was thereafter toppled and the Armed Forces returned to governance, a place they had occupied since the monarchical system of government was dismantled in 1952.

Tourist centres
“Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Egypt’s economy. More than 12.8 million tourists visited Egypt in 2008, providing revenues of nearly $11 billion. The tourism sector employs about 12 percent of Egypt’s workforce. Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou told industry professionals and reporters that tourism generated some $9.4 billion in 2012, a slight increase over the $9 billion seen in 2011,” says Wikipedia.

Egypt provides some of the most beautiful sites the world craves for. The Great Pyramid of Giza, Sphinx of Giza, Valley of the Kings, Egyptian Museum, Karnak, Luxor Temple, Abu Simbel Temples, Philae, Alexandria Citadel, Mosque of Muhammed Ali, Cairo Tower, Pyramid of Khafre among others, are money-making ventures for the land of Pharaoh.

The economy
“Egypt’s economy depends mainly on agriculture, media, petroleum imports, natural gas, and tourism. There are also more than three million Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population, limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress the economy.

The government has invested in communications and physical infrastructure. Egypt has received United States foreign aid since 1979 (an average of $2.2 billion per year) and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States following the Iraq war. Egypt’s economy mainly relies on these sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal,” says Wikipedia.

The Egyptian Pound currently exchanges for N21.72, and a U.S. dollar currency equals 16.58 Egyptian Pound, whereas the naira exchange rate equals N360 and then one wonders why the colossal discrepancy in the currencies of Egyptian Pound to dollar and naira to the dollar.

Nigerian delegations to Egypt
I was pleased that delegates from the government were also in Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt to watch the Super Eagles and also witness what Egypt had to offer them to learn and probably replicate them in order to improve the battered living conditions of the people who have long yearned for miracles from those in the positions of authority in the country.

With the presence of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Governors Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos States; the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele; President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Habu Gumel and a representative of the Presidency; Capt. Hosa Okunbo and other dignitaries may be Nigerians should start expecting the manifestation of their trip to Egypt in the not too distant future.

According to The African Exponent, “statistics released in 2018 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2017 reveals Nigeria and South Africa are the largest economies in Africa with a combined GDP of around $750 billion. Conscious pragmatic efforts will have to be made especially in strengthening the non-oil sectors if the continent wants to compete with top economies around the world.

“With an estimated population of 200 million, the West African country boasts of $376.284bn in GDP, making Nigeria the highest GDP in Africa. The country is blessed with abundant natural resources especially crude oil, which accounts for over 70 percent of its earnings. Other non-oil exports include; cocoa and rubber.

In fact, Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil supplier. Not to mention the rich agricultural sector that’s responsible for 18% of the country’s GDP and almost a third of employment. Ranking first in Africa in terms of farm output, Nigeria’s main agricultural exports are cocoa, peanuts, rubber, and palm oil. Its tech industry is also booming, as startups continue to take centre stage.”

Egypt, which is third in the pecking order, was “once a giant by economic and military means, Egypt has fallen off the pecking order after the 2011 revolution. Foreign exchange reserves fell considerably. Reserves fell from $36bn in December 2010 to only $16.3bn in January 2012. The political unrest that ensued also negatively impacted the country’s economic growth, urging the government towards economic reform that’ll focus on sustainable growth.

The GDP in 2017 stood at $237.037bn. Some of the country’s main exports include petroleum, insulated wire, video displays, and gold. The biggest non-petroleum based industries are tourism, textile production, food processing,” says The African Exponent, and yet Nigeria has not been able to translate the huge wealth it has made over the years. What a country, truly a giant in size and but still sleeping!