Friday, July 19, 2019

The tragedy of Nigeria’s arrested development and Bill Gates’ wake-up call

The tragedy of Nigeria’s arrested development and Bill Gates’ wake-up call
March 30
20:36 2018

By now, most Nigerians would be familiar with Mr Bill Gates’ incisive perspective on Nigeria’s development because his speech to the National Economic Council last week has gone viral. So there is no need repeating the fact that he identified health and education as sectors that Nigerian policy makers have to rejig in the Economic Recovery Growth Plan, ERGP, to enable the full realization of our country’s potentials.

This is because he noticed that even if the ERGP boasts of being focused on Nigerian people via investment in healthcare and education which are the critical elements of human development, attention seem to be skewed in favor of physical infrastructure to the detriment of sustainable human development from birth.

According to Gates, for real development that would make reasonable impact on the polity to take place, both human and physical infrastructure have to be developed pari pasu.

To me, Gates’s perspective is a pretty straight forward analogy of the prospects and impediments to Nigeria’s much anticipated lift off from the poverty trap. But such positive optics of mr Gates presentation is not shared by Gov Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state who was part of the audience at the forum. He faulted Gates’s presentation and offered a counter view which is that the ERGP is a great document as it is. He is of the view that it only needs to be adopted at the state level for the vision behind it to be accomplished. His argument is that once the ERGP is implemented at grass roots level, the alarming infant and maternal mortality rate and embarrassingly short life expectancy of the average Nigerian (pegged at 53 years) , as well as the abysmally low funding of the education sector, (responsible for the high level of illiteracy) that Gate’s identified as the key factors responsible for Nigeria’s arrested development, would simply evaporate.

Gov El Rufai’s proposition reminds me of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy,NEEDS and State Economic and Development Strategy,SEEDS policy packaged by prof Chukwuma Soludo, then Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo and later Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor 2003-7.

When the NEEDS policy failed to yield the lofty results that the architects had promised , it was resolved that it needed to be cascaded down to the state level for it to be more efficacious. Accordingly, SEEDS was born and it turned out as another exercise in futility.

Until Udo Udoma led ministry of economic planning came up with ERGP a couple of years into President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, SEEDs was officially Nigeria’s economic policy aimed at leapfrogging development at the grass roots level. El Rufai can’t argue against the fact that it failed to meet expectations. Otherwise a replacement with ERGP would not have been necessary. And
as the saying goes “if ain’t broken, why fix it?”

Which begs the question, why El Rufai is clamoring for the cascading of the ERGP which is more or less a rehashed NEEDS along same failed route of being adopted at the state level as a panacea to the gaps identified by Gates ?

Benchmarked against the highest scientific standards, Mr Gates’s presentation is a well researched document. Apart from himself being one of the world’s best technologists who through his invention (commercialized via Microsoft) revolutionized or democratized the use of computer, he engaged experts from a university in Washington in the study. To localize the report he referenced the works of late Olikoye Ransome Kuti who was one of Nigeria’s foremost ministers of health and Akinwunmi Adesina, another former Agriculture of minister of Nigeria, now chief executive officer of Africa Development Bank, ADB as well as the famous novelist, Chimamanda Adichie.

Apart from the fact that he has physically visited Nigeria on several occasions, the aforementioned references clearly demonstrate that Gates is fully abreast of the local development dynamics in Nigeria. Indeed, how could the technologist/philanthropist not be conversant with a country where he has committed about $1.6 billion to helping prevent or combat diseases and disasters?

To me, and l dare add, every open and fair minded researcher or intellectual , a report that was put through the rigorous process as Bill Gates did, can not and must not be dismissed with a wave of hand or sacrificed on the altar of politics as El Rufai reportedly did by attempting to rubbish the Bill Gates presentation.

If anyone is in doubt about the validity and viability of the report, the most reasonable thing to do is put it in a crucible for further scrutiny before comments can be made. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was also at the event held his peace, perhaps with a view to interrogating the points raised before commenting.

And in my considered opinion that is the right thing to do.

Just to elaborate a bit more on the authenticity of Gates’s presentation, perhaps skeptics need to be reminded that Bill and Millinda Gates foundation-a leading philanthropic organization with focus on health care and education globally is not a mean organization that its report should be discountenanced.

The chairman of the foundation, Gates himself is an institution and a colossus with proven track record in productive entrepreneurship and humanitarian services worldwide . In my estimation, there is no chance that he would have any personal interest , agenda or bias that could have been embedded in his report. What’s more, he is not a politician. Even he was, would he not rather be interested in USA presidency where he is a citizen and a country where celebrities with enough cash and street savvy like the current president Donald Trump could easily attain the position of president?

For those who may have the erroneous impression that Gates might have a subterranean agenda for pecuniary benefits , it should be noted that he has long been retired from Microsoft to serve humanity through his philanthropic organization. So there is no way his activity in Nigeria could enhance the sale of Microsoft products which are, in any case already ubiquitous. In fact, Microsoft products are so embedded in the high tech industry that any organization or entity that ignores it, does so at its peril.

That’s not all.

With a market valuation in excess of $700 billion, Microsoft is at least two folds the size of Nigerian economy . So an avenue for quick money is ruled out. Therefore what could have been the ulterior motive of Bill Gates in his report that prompted El Rufai to antagonize him? My guess is that owing to the fact that the diminutive Kaduna state gov whose Friends fondly refer to as “Giant” is a die-in-the-wool nationalist, he could not resist defending the ERGP, even if there was no substance in his defense.

Is there any benefits to his push back? No real value to Nigeria or Nigerians, but there is political capital for El Rufai who most Nigerians believe courts controversy.

If nothing else, at least, he got noticed hence he is the subject of this article.

However, upon his departure, mr Gates twitted the following thank you message: “I was excited to visit Nigeria and meet with @MBuhari and @ProfOsinbajo to discuss the country’s development goals. We agreed that Nigeria’s bright future will benefit from further investment in the country’s greatest resource: its people.”

Remarkably, he did not acknowledge El Rufai in his tweet. Apparently, Gates was unperturbed by the Kaduna governor’s attempt to ruffle him, as his tweet confirms that his goal in Nigeria is on course.

That’s quite the opposite of the unpalatable experience which Virgin Atlantic airways owner, Mr. Richard Branson took away when he partnered Nigeria airways a few years back.

The soured business relationship left a bitter taste in the mouth mouth of the maverick entrepreneur and thereafter, Branson has used every opportunity to reference the awry experience in most of his public speaking events. In the process. Nigeria’s already unwholesome image continues to get more sullied by such bellicosity.

To the best of my knowledge, the only other countries that Bill Gates took similar interest in the development and prosperity of the people would be China, India, Malaysia and Brazil.

Which is why in my reckoning, thanks to Gates’s warm relationship with Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, Nigeria is privileged to attract the attention of a high caliber entrepreneur such as the founder of Microsoft who has devoted his precious time to researching Nigeria’s potentials before taking time out to share his findings with lawmakers and technocrats.

No matter the prism from which Bill Gates is assessed, his motive in Nigeria is humanitarian and his message and work are altruistic. That’s why, despite the filibustering by a few , most Nigerians welcome Bill Gates’s interest in our country and urge the National Economic Council to take his counsel seriously to enable Nigeria unleash its full potentials.

The people to lead the Bill Gates’s change initiative should be the National Assembly, NASS, which must consider giving up some of their huge monthly take home pay which senator Shehu Sani revealed is a princely N13.5b. It can help improve the depressing maternal mortality rate which according to Gates report, Nigeria is ranked fourth on the button rung of the ladder.

Similarly, governors whom ex governor Peter Obi also revealed allocates to themselves jaw dropping amount as Security Votes (money spent without being accounted for) monthly, should also consider deploying some of the huge sums of money into the education sector where WAEC has been recording woeful results.

Such sea changes, if the aforementioned groups would be gracious enough to make the sacrifices, could have changed Nigeria’s development narrative and thus become a positive reference point.

But typically, such lofty and monumental or epochal events don’t happen in Nigeria.

Rather school girls kidnapping as reflected by the sad ordeal of Chibok and Dapchi girls either still in captivity or in trauma, and mass illegal migration of young men and women who end up being enslaved in Libya or dead in the Mediterranean Sea, now define our country and that is heart wrenching.

Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and former commissioner in Delta state govt sent this piece from Accra, Ghana.


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