Olalekan Adetayo and Ifeanyi Onuba
The Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, on Thursday said the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan was not reflective of the people’s needs.
He also said the country would do better with strong investments in health and education, rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development.
Gates spoke alongside the Chairman of the Dangote Foundation, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, at a special session of the National Economic Council held at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The theme of the event was the role of human capital investment in supporting pro-poor and economic growth agenda.
The council, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has all the 36 state governors, relevant ministers and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria as members.
Gates stated, “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.
“In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68; in low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still, just 53 years.
“The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies investing in the people as one of three strategic objectives. But the execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital. People without roads, ports and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy.”
He added that investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand-in-hand with investments in the people to anchor the economy over the long term.
He noted that Nigeria’s approach placed more priority on physical capital over human capital development.
Gates stated that Nigeria had “unmatched economic potential and what becomes of that potential depends on the choice Nigerian leaders make.”
According to him, available statistics show that Nigeria “still looks like a low-income country.”
He, however, said the country would thrive if the government was ready to invest in health, education and opportunities, warning, “If you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognise that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.”
He assured the government that his foundation was eager to support it to make “Nigeria a powerhouse that provides opportunities for all its citizens.”
Citing the gains Nigeria had recorded in the immunisation against polio, Gates urged the government to pursue human capital development with the same vigour to achieve the desired results.
BMGF invests $1bn in Nigeria’s health care, others
Gates also said his foundation had invested over $1bn (N305bn) in Nigeria’s health care system.
He stated this when he led a delegation from the foundation to a meeting with the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.
Gates said while funds had been spent on vaccination, the results had not been really felt as the health care delivery system needed to be optimised.
He added, “Our foundation has invested over $1bn in Nigeria, mostly in health, and we are very committed to global development.
“We want to discuss vaccine financing and the issue of how we can be effective as partners for the health resources to grow over time.”
He stated that the foundation was working with its partners to extend its current vaccine financing programme in Nigeria from five to 10 years.
Dangote, in his opening remarks, agreed with Gates that for Nigeria to truly compete globally, the government must prioritise investments in health and education, and create opportunity for the people alongside other critical areas like infrastructure.
“Together, these are the inputs that will make Nigeria richer,” he said.
Osinbajo, in his response, insisted that high oil prices and economic growth of previous years had failed to translate into a better life for most Nigerians.
He reiterated his position that grand corruption had prevented investments in health care, education and infrastructure.
The Vice President added that the scourge had robbed government policies of most, if not all, of their intended impact.
Osinbajo, however, assured stakeholders that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was determined to rewrite the Nigerian story for the better.
“We are determined to put Nigeria’s money to work for Nigerians, doing the most with the least. And we have stayed true to that vision, even as oil prices went into a freefall, we ramped up investments in infrastructure as well as our social spending,” he said.
The Vice President added that not only was the administration aware of the issues facing the country, but it was also prepared to take the challenges that Gates and Dangote outlined.
He said Nigeria had strong economic growth and development ambitions encapsulated in the ERGP, which was launched in 2017.
CDHR, PDP, Junaid, others back Gates, el-Rufai disagrees
The Peoples Democratic Party; Committee for the Defence of Human Rights; a northern elder, Dr. Junaid Muhammed; and Health Maintenance Organisations have supported Gates’ observation on the Federal Government’s economic plan.
The PDP said that it hoped that President Buhari would listen to Gates and make amendments where necessary.
The opposition party stated that Buhari had ignored its advice and criticisms, adding that the President would do well to listen to Gates.
The National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, said, “We thank Gates for being able to speak truth to power. We have identified all these before and have asked the President and his team to change their ways, but all that had fallen on deaf ears.”
On its part, the Health and Managed Care Association of Nigeria, the umbrella group of the HMOs, described Gates’ position as apt.
The National Publicity Secretary, HMCAN, Mr. Lekan Ewenla, stated in an interview with The PUNCH, “A healthy nation is a wealthy nation and good education will translate into a structured and sustainable development for the country.
“For affordable, equitable and accessible health care services, the only available option is mandatory health insurance programme. The only mandatory health insurance programme in the country now is the federal civil servants’ health insurance programme. The government should earnestly review the National Health Insurance Scheme Act to make the health insurance programme mandatory for all citizens, and also properly define the roles of all critical stakeholders in the sector.
“The government should also earnestly comply and effect the contribution of one per cent of the consolidated revenue towards health care services as earlier agreed.”
He also advised the Federal Government to review the structure of education in the country, including the curriculum, regulatory bodies and the remuneration package for teachers.Continue reading.
Olalekan Adetayo and Ifeanyi Onuba