CO-CHAIR of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates has harped on the need for Nigeria to invest in its human capital.
Gates, who stressed that Nigeria has unmatched economic potential, said growth would come naturally when Nigeria maximises its greatest resource – the people.
He spoke yesterday at the expanded National Economic Council (NEC) meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the old Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja.
The multi-billionaire and Dangote also visited the Emergency Operations Centre for polio in Abuja.
Gates, whose foundation has invested more than $1.6 billion in Nigeria to date, is in the country to see first-hand the progress in primary healthcare provision, polio eradication, nutrition and financial inclusion.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Gates urged political leaders to maximise the country’s resources which are its people as a way to help it to thrive.
He said: “But growth is not inevitable. Nigeria has unmatched economic potential, but what becomes of that potential depends on the choices you make as Nigeria’s leaders.
“The most important choice you can make is to maximise your greatest resources, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive.
“If you invest in 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.”
Gates added: “You see this risk in the data. From the point of view of the quality of life, much of Nigeria still looks like a low-income country. Let me give a few examples.
“In the 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.
“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 do not enjoy speaking to you this bluntly when you have been gracious enough to invite me here. But I am applying an important lesson I earned from Alhaji Aliko Dangote.”
Noting that his foundation with the largest headquarters in Africa is sited in Nigeria, he said that he has also committed the sum of $1.6 billion in Nigeria with a plan to increase the amount.
Making a PowerPoint presentation of a model of the trajectory of Nigeria’s economic growth, relating to health and education, Gates observed that if the present trend continues, the country cannot keep up with its population growth.
On his recommendation for Nigeria’s ERGP review, he said: “The recommended percentage is assuming a higher level tax of collection than is taking place in Nigeria. So, it’s up to Nigeria to decide how much percentage tax they can allocate to that.”
Osinbajo again blamed the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for allegedly failing to transform the lives of Nigerians despite making huge money from crude oil.
According to him, grand corruption prevented investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure.
He said the last government shamelessly robbed government policies of most, if not all, of their intended impact.