The nature of opposition politics in Nigeria is such that matters that should ordinarily generate healthy public debates are often relegated for petty issues or otherwise implicated in mere rabble-rousing. This, in focus, sometimes makes a party in power to be lost in avoidable denial of the obvious.
The recent comment by Bill Gates at the expanded National Economic Council meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja gave a trampoline for the opposition parties to raise their value in the political space by enriching the developmental debate with their findings on the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
Gates, the Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at the meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, urged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to take a second look at the ERGP in terms of its priorities for human capacity development. He stressed that the ERGP, which must reflect the people’s needs, should also give priority to human capital development over physical capital as it is designed currently.
According to him: “To anchor the economy over the long term, investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in the 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.”
Gates added that if the current trends in education and health continue and government spends the same amount with the same results, there will be no economic growth as the country will only be keeping with increase in population without improvement in Gross Domestic Product.
Gates disclosed that his foundation had so far committed over $1.6 billion in Nigeria and was willing to invest more towards making the country a global economic powerhouse that can provide opportunity for all its citizens.
The funds, the philanthropist said, are committed to addressing issues of improved primary healthcare systems, agriculture, financial inclusion, routine immunisation and financial inclusion, among others.
He noted that although Nigeria was approaching an upper middle income status like Brazil, China and Mexico, there was the need for all its citizens to thrive in maximizing the huge potential of the country.
The American lamented that Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad.
In all conscience however, Gates acknowledged the fact that the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan identifies investing in the people as one of the three strategic objectives.
To put the matter in perspective, we can infer from the foregoing that Bill Gates did not totally fault the plan but its implementation. He specifically harped on the string that the investment in young people, in health and education ought to be higher.
Over time, Nigeria has had wonderful development plans but the problem has always been with implementation and ensuring plan discipline. Hence, it is imperative we look at different response and case scenarios to this timely caution and voice of reason from Bill Gates. These scenarios on whether the lessons are lost are presented in a typical multiple-choice format of “Yes”, “No” and “May be.”
The “Yes” scenario: The lessons are lost
In the case that the lessons from the comment are lost, there are certain indications which include: trivializing the comments or reducing it to another national joke as to whether Bill Gates is an economist or not. First, it wasn’t a comment made by a pseudo neoliberal scholar to sly the government of another country. Rather, he was invited to participate in the expanded economic council meeting having considered him worthy of that. Another indication would be whisking away the comment in a cavalierly attitude like “we-are-doing-good-enough.” However, it will be foolhardy to pretend that the investments in young people in health and education in the country are up to the required level.
As a matter of coincidence, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria a week after Gates comment, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Mike Ogirima, said Nigeria had a ratio of one doctor to 6,000 people as against the WHO’s recommendation of one doctor to 600 people in a community. Ogirima decried the lack of facility to absorb almost 3,000 medical doctors being produced annually by the medical schools despite the need for them. According to him, those rounding off their training in medical schools lack places to do their one year training. Yet, those who are engaged are daunted by poor working condition as a result of lack of hospital equipments, poor facilities and understaffing forcing many to seek better opportunities abroad. This, no doubt, will have a serious impact on the quality of health service and the productivity of the people.
In the same vein, no nation can grow beyond its education system. Education is the treasure trove for the human capital of a nation. At a time of critical change, nations always turn to their education sector to serve as the conveyor belt and pillar of support for the desired development.
After the launch of Sputnik 1 as the first artificial Earth satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957, America felt they might be outstripped by their arch rival in space technology. Hence, they overhauled their education system and adopted pragmatism as the new education philosophy. Our education system is yet to receive such a wave of change to lead in the march to greatness. Many emerging economies are investing in their young ones through education.
According to Kishore Mahbubani, educational excellence is a prerequisite for cultural confidence. He asserted that what makes Asia’s rise to be irreversible is the simultaneous successes of China and India. Both countries have the most optimistic generation of young people they have seen in centuries. Nothing can hold down the dynamism and vigour they will bring to their societies and the whole world. For instance, education is one of the key indicators in measuring Global Innovation Index.
The top 25 spots in the list have always belonged to the high-income economies. In 2016, China broke through this barrier and took 25th place and by 2017, China inched up to 22 in the list. If we remain complacent with our education for “meal ticket” system in this innovation driven and knowledge based world, then the lessons from Bill’s comment are undoubtedly lost.
The “No” scenario: The lessons are not lost
If we tick the “No” response scenario, that would amount to a positive attitude and accepting the comment in good faith. The manifestation of that would include factoring in social inclusion measurement and indicators in the periodic assessment of the ERGP especially in relation to the young population in Nigeria. The young people constitute about 60% of the estimated population of 180 million, which makes their case a concern for all. A positive reaction would also require assessing the effectiveness of current policies and programmes aimed at the young people such as the N-Power and school feeding programme.
Importantly, measuring social inclusion is highly relevant in order for countries to assess their performance, to determine the progress being made and to evaluate the impact of their policies. Social inclusion indicators should not only focus on economic growth but also on social spending and access to services. The measurement should cover areas such as poverty alleviation, access to social services (education, health and sanitation), access to job/decent works, social protection, opportunity to participate in decision making process (that affect their lives), housing, empowerment etc.
This would ensure the government’s plans are kept on track as stated in the ERGP to support the economically disadvantaged, create jobs, improve accessibility, affordability and equality of health care across the country and guarantee improved human capital through access to basic education for all.
The “May be” scenario: Not sure whether the lessons are lost or not
This case scenario would be that of finding reasons to justify the current mode of executing the ERGP. The country truly reels under the burden of infrastructural deficit as a result of abandoned projects that have accumulated over time. The infrastructural decadence arising from the mismanagement of past administrations dictates that we must start from somewhere. This is in addition to the fact that we just emerged from a serious recession.
Nevertheless, we would still want to be reassured that we are on course with the implementation pattern of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. Perhaps, the National Orientation Agency will work towards carrying the people along on government policy execution so that we can be convinced that we have not lost focus as a nation.
The NOA is the body tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity and development of Nigerian society.
It should therefore urgently get to work on this all important issue of ERGP.
. Ahmed, a post-graduate student of Defence and Strategic Studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, can be reached via [email protected].