Bill Gates Speech And Nigeria Economic Council
What many people would have expected to be a time for analysing Bill Gates’ speech at the nation’s Economic Council has, unexpectedly, turned out to be a polylogue by politicians about progress made by the Federal Government in the past three years. Many of our political leaders and their pundits seem to have focused on what Gates had not said more than on the issues he raised, when he called for more energy and investment in the people of Nigeria, calling on policy-makers to invest as much in human development as it has done in development of physical infrastructure.
From all indications, it is safe to assume that Gates is a friend of Nigeria and many other economically and socially challenged countries in the developing part of the world. But since Gates’ speech, several Federal Government’s image makers have acted in an avoidable hurry to assess and criticise what seems to be an honest but frank advice at a time too close for another round of elections. One year before elections in most countries is not the best time for very important citizens in the world to say their mind about such countries, particularly to a government that appears set for tenure renewal.
By any stretch of imagination, nothing in Gates’ statements implies a criticism of President Buhari’s achievements. But Buhari’s supporters in and out of government believe otherwise. No wonder then that leading members of Buhari’s party and government have chosen to be defensive when they ought to be reflective. All that the august visitor has advised is the need for the current and future administrations to find a balance between competing demands on the country’s resources. For example, when Gates said, “From the point of view of the quality of life, much of Nigeria still looks like a low-income country,” he has not said anything alien to the average Nigerian, including those that are trafficked across the Mediterranean.
Further, Gates did not complain in his speech about building of too much physical infrastructure but about too little effort on an equally important national project; building of human capacity through accessible and effective education and health care. That over 10 million children of school-age are not in school has never been a secret to leaders, long before the current administration and since its coming to power. The country’s performance in respect of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in respect of child and maternal mortality, and functional literacy for children, for example, is already common knowledge to Nigerians. There is thus no pressing reason for government’s supporters and their pundits to insinuate that calls for investment in human development amounts to criticism of President Buhari.
Apparently, there is nothing that Gates had told Nigerians about the slow pace towards realising their country’s huge potentials that Nigerians have not heard before, especially during the campaign that brought the current government to power. Instead of turning a simple advice from a friend of the country into hair-splitting arguments about what should have been said or not said by Gates to avoid giving the impression that his advice is a well packaged criticism of Buhari’s government, a fruitful thing to do is for government to mobilise citizens and especially the private sector to think with the government on how to make citizens healthy and well trained for the challenge of the 21st century and in a competitive global space.
As the fuss over Gates’ admonition peters out, we call on the Federal Government to start a new national dialogue on how to strengthen public education and healthcare in the interest of assured access, equity, and quality. And the government should engage the private sector and citizens in such national conversation. Such dialogue can, like Gates’ suggestion, enrich government’s efforts to make human development comparable to what obtains in other places. Governments’ spokespersons should not encourage individuals preoccupied with pre-election rhetoric to drown the importance of the enviable vision recently returned to the nation’s ideological front burner by the president of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.