The co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, says the execution priorities of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017, do not reflect Nigerians’ needs.
Gates spoke at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja Thursday at the special National Economic Council on Investment in Human Capital, with the theme, “Human Capital Investment in Supporting Pro-poor and Economic Growth Agenda”.
He said though the ERGP identifies investing in people as one of its three strategic objectives, its “execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital”.
Gates emphasised that investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must involve investments in people.
“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, poets and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy,” he said.
Gates said though Nigeria has unmatched economic potential, what becomes of such potential depends on the choices made by Nigerian leaders.
“The most important choice you can make is to maximize your greatest resource, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive.
He said if the government does not invest in people’s health, education and opportunities, there would be a sharp limit to how the country could grow.
On health, he said Nigeria, “is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnouriahed.
“I believe the Nigerian primary health care system is not adequately funded. But it also doesn’t get the most out of its current funding…More transparency would lead to more accountability which would strengthen governance, leadership and management which would improve quality across the board.
Gates said though Nigeria hasld recorded in polio immunization, the federal government should pursue human capital development with the same vigor in order to achieve the desired results.
He said Nigerian government’s revenue “as a percentage of its GDP is by far the lowest in the world, at six percent. “That makes investing in your people difficult”.
He said his foundation was working with the Nigerian Governors Forum to help states track internally generated revenue.
Gates said his foundation had committed over $1.6 billion in Nigeria so far and planned to increase its commitment.
He said Nigeria would thrive better with strong investment in health and education, rather than concentratile on physical infrastructure,l to the detriment of human capital development
Gates said though the World Bank’s World Development Report showed direct link between the level of education and improvements in employment, productivity and wages, Nigeria’s case showed that half of nation’s children could not read and write.
The chairman, Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, said Nigeria must prioritize investments in the health and education and alongside other critical areas like infrastructure to be able to compete globally.
Dangote told journalists after the meeting that he told the NEC that there was a need for the private sector to set aside one percent of their profits to support primary health care development and other critical projects in the country.
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai said Gates did not call for a review of the ERGP, but suggested a budgeting system with priorities set out clearly to address human capital development challenges.
“The truth is most Nigerians think that the dividend of democracy amounts to see a road pass by your house, water or electricity. Dangote and Gates reminded all of us today, is that there is something far more Important, than physical infrastructure – roads, electricity, water and that is our investing in the people.
Nigeria is going to be 411 million people by 2050. Today, more than half of our population is very young and unless we try to educate them by ensuring that they are healthy,” El-rufai said.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who presided over the session, said Nigeria had strong economic growth and development ambitions, encapsulated in the ERGP.
He said all the lofty ambitions in the plan could only be achieved through the determined application of human skill and effort.
“And for that effort to be meaningful and productive it has to come from people who are healthy, educated, and who are, 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 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.
Osinbajo observed that high oil prices and economic growth of previous years had failed to translate into a better life for most Nigerians.
He said grand corruption prevented investments in healthcare and education and infrastructure as well as shamelessly robbed government policies of most of their intended impact.
He said the present administration was aware of Nigeria’s problems and prepared to tackle the challenges Dangote Foundation as well as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation outlined.
The vice president described the government’s Social Investment Programme as key component of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
Speaking on behalf of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umah, said they appealed to the National Assembly to amend relevant laws “so that we can access the health funds of about 50-50 contributions required by states to access the funds.
“It’s quite challenging because of other contending issues like security, empowerment of women and youth, infrastructure decay and other developmental strands of the various l governance of the state.”