*Says Buhari’s economic policies lack human face
*To spend $1.6bn in health, education sectors
By Chesa Chesa
One of the world richest men and co-chairman of global charity organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, has described a�?Nigeria as one of the most dangerous countries on earth to give birtha�?.
Gates, who was blunt in his assessment of living conditions in Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), said that the policies lacked human face.
He accused the government prioritising investments in physical infrastructure at the expense of human capital development.
Gates revealed on Thursday in Abuja that the Foundation he runs along with his wife, had committed about $1.6 billion to Nigeria’s health and education sectors, and would continue to assist the country to overcome challenges in those areas.
He bared his mind at the Presidential Villa, Abuja during a special meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. It had as its theme: a�?Role of human capital investment in supporting pro- poor and economic growth agenda”.
Gates noted that investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must be in tandem with investment in people in order to drive the economy over the long term, but that Nigeria’s approach focuses on physical capital over human capital development.
According to Gates, “the Nigerian government’s 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, prioritising physical capital over human capital”.
He therefore tasked the Buhari government “to face the facts so that you can make progress”, stressing that Nigeria will do better with more investment in health and education, rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure.
Gates said that he does not enjoy “speaking bluntly” to Nigeria when the people had been “so gracious enough” to invite him over. He noted that statistical data showed the country “still looks like a low-income country”.
He explained that he was encouraged to be blunt this time by nigeriaa��s richest man, Aliko Dangote’s frank approach to “stressing the importance of accurate data”.
Basing this assertions on comparative analysis of available data, Gates described Nigeria as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth”, with “one in three Nigerian children, chronically malnourished”.
Nigeria, he said, has the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world, only ahead of Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad.
“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”, he stressed.
Nonetheless, Gates said that Nigeria had “unmatched economic potential” and assured that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation remained eager to support the government to make “Nigeria a powerhouse that provides opportunities for all its citizensa�?.
The Chairman, Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, in his remarks, said that for Nigeria to truly compete globally, “we must prioritise investments in the health, education and opportunities for our people alongside other critical areas such as infrastructure. Together, these are the inputs that will make Nigeria richer”.
Dangote suggested that private sector operators should reserve one per cent of their profits towards assisting government in primary healthcare, and other critical infrastructure, especially as foreign donations have been dwindling since Nigeria rebased her economy.
Osinbajo, in his response, reiterated his position that high oil prices and economic growth of previous years did not translate to a better life for most Nigerians because a�?grand corruptiona�? prevented investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure.
He however said that “to put Nigeriaa��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 free-fall, we ramped up investments in infrastructure, as well as our social spendinga�?.
The Vice President said that the administration was prepared to take head-on the challenges which Dangote Foundation as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had outlined.
At a press briefing afterwards, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, insisted that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the ERGP but that the budgeting system should have priorities clearly set out to address human capital development issues.
He stated that what Bill Gates and Dangote told NEC members was that government at all levels needed to do more.
His Ebonyi State counterpart, Dave Umahi, said that the governors “appealed to National Assembly to amend their laws so that we can access the health funds of about 50-50 per cent contributions required by states to access the funds.
“It is quite challenging because of other contending issues like security, empowerment of women and youth, infrastructure decay and other developmental strands of the various governance of the state,” he said.
*Says Buhari’s economic policies lack human face