Bill Gates’ comments on the Nigerian economic recovery and growth plan: were the lessons lost?

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 sometimes makes a party in power to be lost in avoidable denial of the obvious. The comments made by Bill Gates at the expanded national economic council meeting on March 22, 2018 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 (ERGP). Bill Gates had said that the execution priorities of the ERGP do not fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital (words which he reiterated in an interview with the CNN). In all conscience however, he acknowledged the fact that the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan identifies investing in 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 fault the plan but, its implementation. He specifically harped on the string that the investment in young people, in health and education is not good enough. Over time, Nigeria has had wonderful development plans but the problem has always been with implementation and ensuring plan discipline. Hence, it is imperative that we look at different responses and case scenarios to this timely caution and voice of reason. These scenarios on whether the lessons are lost are presented in a typical multiple-choice format of “Yes”, “No” and “Maybe.”

The “Yes” scenario: The Lessons are lost

In the case 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 bold to pretend that the investments in young people in health and education in the country are good enough. As a matter of coincidence, in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria a week after the comment, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Mike Ogirima, said that 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. He 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 archrival in space technology. Hence, they overhauled their education system and adopted pragmatism as the new education philosophy. The education system in Nigeria 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 rigor 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 the leadership of the country remains complacent in their 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 by the leadership of the country 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 “Maybe” 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 in government policy execution so that we can be convinced that we have not lost focus as a nation.

 

Kamal Ololade Ahmed is a graduate of Political Science and Public Administration and he is currently a postgraduate student at the Nigerian Defence Academy where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Defence and Strategic Studies.

 

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