Bill Gate, the Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yesterday faulted the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery And Growth Plan (ERGP).
Addressing stakeholders at the special session of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Gates stressed the need for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to take a second look at the National Economic Plan in terms of its priorities for human capacity development.
He said 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.
“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 noted.
According to him, 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 (GDP).
He said 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, according to the philanthropist, are committed to addressing issues of improved primary healthcare systems, agriculture, financial inclusion, routine immunisation and financial inclusion, among others.
Gates 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.
He 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.
The Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, told the NEC that there was the need for the private sector companies in Nigeria to set aside one per cent of their annual profit to support primary health care development and other critical projects that will grow the economy.
“Since the rebasing of the economy, Nigeria is no longer seen as a highly poor country. Nigeria is going to be 411 million people by 2050. Today, more than half of our population is very young and we should try to educate them and ensure that they are healthy,” he said.
Vice President Osinbajo, however, noted that high oil prices and economic growth of the previous years did not translate into a better life for most Nigerians because grand corruption prevented investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure.
“To put Nigeria’s money to work for Nigerians, is doing the most with the least. And we have stayed true to that vision. Even as oil prices went into free fall, we ramped up investments in infrastructure as well as our social spending,” he said.
Osinbajo told the gathering that the government was prepared to take head-on the challenges which Dangote Foundation as well as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had outlined .
He noted that Nigeria has strong economic growth and development ambitions, encapsulated in her Economic Recovery and Growth Plan that was launched in 2017, but all of those lofty ambitions can only be achieved through the determined application of human skills 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). We are working to guarantee basic education for all persons, whilst also upgrading and modernising the quality of secondary and post-secondary education.
“Because this is the 21st century, we know that it is also important to ensure that our young people are 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,” the vice president said.
Fielding questions after the session, Dangote said: “We have had a very good meeting and one of the things we suggested that will ensure we fund our health sector very well is for the private sector to give one percent of their annual profit.
“That will actually help in raising quite a lot of money because since the rebasing of the economy, we are going to get out of most of these donations we are getting from Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAV), World Bank and the rest of the donors, putting Nigeria as a rich country and not a poor country anymore.
“Nigeria will be almost number three by 2050 in the World’s population. So we have to make sure that we have a very healthy society,” he said.
Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, said it was not the question of adjusting the ERGP but the budgeting system, with priorities set out clearly to address human capital development issues.
He said what Gates and Dangote told the NEC members was that government at all levels also needed to do more.
El-Rufai described yesterday’s NEC as the most important held since the government of Muhammadu Buhari came into power.
He said the economic council had been focusing on the provision of electricity, roads and others without priority for human capital development.
“There is something more important than physical infrastructure like roads, water and electricity, which is investing in the people.”.
According to Governor El-Rufai Nigeria’s investment in education is far low, which is not appropriate.