- El-Rufai disagrees, tackles Microsoft founder Atiku backs Gates
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Chairman, Bill and Melinda Foundation, Bill Gates, thursday in Abuja criticised the federal government Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), describing it as a document which identifies investment in the people but fails to reflect it in its implementation.
Gates stated this while attending an expanded meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) at the State House, Abuja, with the theme: ‘Human Capital Investment in Supporting Pro-poor and Economic Growth Agenda.’ At the meeting which was also attended by the President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; the business community tacademia, traditional rulers and some multilateral organisations, Gates described Nigeria as one of the most dangerous places in the world for child birth.
He also identified Nigeria as the fourth worst country in maternal mortality rate in the world, saying the largest black population was only better than Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad.
Gates described Nigeria’s fiscal system as one that was built on low equilibrium and hence, produces low levels of service, moreso as people pay low levels of tax, adding that his foundation has its biggest office in Africa in Nigeria with over $1.6 billion invested in the country so far.
Noting that Nigeria has a veritable economic potential, Gates said it was up to the country to maximise such potential by investing in its people whom he described as its greatest resource.
He also admonished the government to invest in healthcare, education and human capital, emphasing that investment in infrastructure on a long-term basis must go hand in hand with investment in people, promising to assist Nigeria in attaining higher equilibrium anchored on transparency through investment in the people.
“The most important choice you can make is to maximise your greatest resource, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive.
“If you invest in their health, education and opportunities-the ‘human capital’ we are talking about today-then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. 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.
“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.
“I urge you to apply this thinking to all your investments in your people. The Nigerian Government Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies ‘investing in our people’ as one of three ‘strategic objectives.’ But the ‘execution priorities’ don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritisimg physical capital over human capital.
“To anchor the economy over the long term, investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people. 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
“Right now, Nigeria’s fiscal situation is at what you might call a low equilibrium. In return for low levels of service, people pay low levels of tax. We hope to help you reach a higher equilibrium rooted in effective and transparent investments in people. This equilibrium would trigger a virtuous cycle,” Gates said.
Also speaking, Dangote challenged the federal government to take the lead in investment in health, education, infrastructure and human capital development, pointing out that it is only when this is done that the country will be able to raise a crop of committed Nigerians, moreso that Nigeria is projected to become the third largest population in 2050.
“For Nigeria to truly compete globally, we must prioritise investments in the health, education and opportunity of our people alongside other critical areas like infrastructure. Together, these are the inputs that will make Nigeria richer.
“You my friends in government must lead. When you do, you will have committed Nigerians like myself joining in the effort. In Nigeria, we have largely achieved growth by extracting natural resources and are now building on that through our physical infrastructure. But we must also remember that it is our young people that will drive our future success.
“By 2050, Nigeria is projected to have the world’s third largest population. For this next generation to thrive as adults and drive economic progress, we need to invest in their health and wellbeing, and in their ability to learn and and apply new skills in an ever changing global economy.
“That, at its core, is what we mean by ‘human capital’ – healthy and productive and well educated young people – who are then enabled to succeed, lift up themselves and their families and contribute to society through their own ingenuity,” he said.
In his own remarks, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who presided over the meeting, said this administration is conversant with challenges confronting the country and is determined to nip them in the bud.
According to him, the government will accept the posers thrown to it by Gates and Dangote, saying: “We have no other choice, because the problem literally grows daily,” adding that the country has strong ERGP whose outlines can only be achieved through human skills and efforts.
According to him, the country is expanding the frontiers of its investment in health, education and young ones adding that for government effort to yield desired results, it must be driven by healthy and educated people.
“And for that effort to be meaningful and productive, it has to come from people who are healthy, educated and feel empowered. It is this realisation that has helped ensure that one of the primary planks of the ERGP is ‘Investing in our people’. And it is for this reason that we are expanding the reach and quality of our healthcare through the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); and working to guarantee basic education for all persons, whilst also upgrading and modernising the quality of secondary and post-secondary education.
“And because this is the 21st century, we know that it is also important to ensure that our young people are being prepared for the economies of the future, not the past. This means that STEM education is critical, and that technology must lie at the heart of every one of our educational offerings…,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, and his Kaduna State Nasir El-rufai counterparts agrred Gates and Dangote on the need to invest in the health and education of the people.
Gates and Dangote were hosted to dinner in the Presidential Villa by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, el-Rufai, said it was incorrect to say the execution process of the ERGP does not truly reflect the needs of Nigerians.
“The Nigerian Government’s economic recovery and growth plan identify investing in our people as one of three strategic objectives. But the execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital,” Gates had said.
He said this priority would lead to a “sharp limit on how much the country can grow”.
El-Rufai, who was among the governors at the meeting where Gates spoke, said the ERGP has enough provision for human capital.
He said what is needed is not an adjustment of the ERGP but for state governments to adopt similar plans.
“On the review of ERGP as suggested by Gates, it is not correct to say that the economic recovery and growth plan does not give primacy to human capital, it is not correct,” el-Rufai said.
“The economic recovery and growth plan has enough provision for human capital, it is a federal government plan, what is needed is for states to have similar plans as well as adequate provisions for healthcare and education.
“Because the bulk of the burden for healthcare and education really rests on states governments. The disease burden of the country is largely at the primary healthcare level and this primary healthcare system is broken completely, we need to rebuild it.
“It is the responsibility of the states rather than the federal government. The federal government incentifies with funding, grants and aids. But essentially, routine immunization, primary healthcare, is the responsibility of the states.
“So it is not gaps in the ERGP that we are looking at, it is appealing to states governments to provide more money in basic education, primary healthcare. It is not the ERGP that needs adjustments, it is the budgeting that needs to be ramped up in these two key areas because these are where the problems are.
“If a child losses equality education, he is done for life. If a child doesn’t get quality healthcare in the first two years, he is destroyed for life. This is the message that we invest more at the lower level, so that we prevent this disaster from happening.”
The ERGP is a medium-term document launched by President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2017 to restore the nation’s economic status after it was hit by its worst recession in 29 years.
But the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has lauded Gates for his interest and support for the country, stating that he shares his concerns on the challenges facing the nation.
Abubakar in a tweet said:: “I applaud Gates for his interest and support for Nigeria. I share his concerns of the challenges we face and believe as he does they can be overcome when we as a nation consciously make requisite investments in our human capital and infrastructure.”