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.
Muhammed, on his part, said the Federal Government must listen to Gates’ recommendations because its economic blueprint had not led to more jobs and enterprise creation.
Muhammed stated, “This government has never been a listening government. The highlights of the government’s so-called capital projects have not translated to the creation of more jobs and enterprises for Nigerians.
“I believe Gates’ observation is apt and the Federal Government must listen to him. This is what economists have essentially said over the years. Even if we had the best capital development policies, they can be derailed if the people who are meant to enjoy the policies through wide consultation don’t have it.”
Also, the CDHR said the Federal Government must invest more in the development of the citizens.
The President, CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, stated, “It is unfortunate that it takes a foreign expert to discover the fundamental economic flaws of the present Federal Government. Gates has made his mark around the globe and that will mean that he has been diligent in analysing economic programmes.
“However capital development is a foundation for human development. The urgency of now demands that we create an enabling economic environment to be able to drive the needed human capital development.”
A former President of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr. Sam Nzekwe noted that Gates’ observation was right, adding that Nigeria’s education was in a poor state.
“Bill Gates said it almost exactly as it is right now in Nigeria. In our country today, the educational system is nothing to write home about. You have dilapidated classrooms, poorly equipped laboratories, uninspired manpower, inappropriately funded tertiary institutions and many negative attributes,” he added.
However, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, faulted the claim of Gates that the ERGP did not reflect the people’s needs.
El-Rufai said in an interview with State House correspondents at the end of a special session of the National Economic Council, “It is not correct to say that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan does not give primacy to human capital; it is not correct.
“The plan has enough provision for human capital; it is a Federal Government’s plan. What is needed is for states to have similar plans as well as adequate provisions for health care and education, because the bulk of the burden for health care and education really rests on states governments.
“The disease burden of the country is largely at the primary health care level and this primary health care system is broken completely. We need to rebuild it.”
The governor stated that emphasis should be to appeal to state governments to provide more money for basic education and primary health care.
He added, “The United Nations recommends that we should set aside at least 26 per cent of our total budget for education; many state governments are doing that or near that.
“Kaduna State has done averagely 35 per cent in the last two years. The World Health Organisation recommends that we budget at least 16 per cent of the total budget for health care; some of our states are doing 12 per cent and 16 per cent, and so on.
“Kaduna is doing 16.1 per cent; we moved from three per cent in 2016 to 16 per cent today. So, the states government are scaling up their investments in health care, but we need to do more.”
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