The BILLIONAIRE businessman, Mr. Bill Gates, refused to toe the usual line of guests massaging the egos of their hosts when he was invited by the Federal Government to an expanded National Economic Council (NEC) meeting on Investment in Human Capital presided over by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, recently in Abuja. At the meeting, Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has donated over $1.6 billion to Nigeria, told the government that it had placed projects above people, which he said could hinder the country’s economic growth.
Gates said, “The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies investing in the people as one of three strategic objectives. But the execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital.” He pointed out that to ensure a long-term growth of the economy, “investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investment 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. If you invest in their 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 also warned that if the government did not scale up its investment in the people, not only could this limit the contribution of the populace to the development of the country, it could also result in Nigeria being excluded from foreign support for health and education sectors. Although some government officials scoffed at Gates’ observation, his submission is glaringly unassailable as it is corroborated by the United Nations 2017 Human Development Index report that ranked Nigeria 152nd out of 188 countries with a value of 0.527 which put the country in the low human development category.
It is common knowledge that life is hellish in Nigeria. The country has one of the highest figures of out-of-school children globally. School children learn under subhuman conditions. Infant and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria are among the highest in the world. Public hospitals are in terrible states; people die of avoidable and preventable diseases. Nigeria has one of the largest collections of poor people on earth. All of these problems have rendered its huge population a burden rather than an asset. The point being made by Gates is that in order to reverse the trend, the government has to scale up its investment in human capital development.
Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between a high human development index and economic growth. It has been established that just one per cent increase in government expenditure on education will, on the average, lead to 23.8 per cent increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is unarguable that the development and proper deployment of human capital is sine qua non to economic development. But the country’s leaders do not seem to understand this. Instead of developing the people, they embark on projects that will give them acclaim. They build roads and neglect schools. They build flyovers and abandon hospitals. They build bridges and neglect the people. The founding fathers of the nation did not do that; they invested as much in the people as they did in infrastructure because they knew that it is only when the capacity of the people is well developed that facilities could be well maintained. As a result, the human capital development index was better then. The current leadership needs to take developing human capital seriously. That was Gates’ point.
Smart people don’t argue with facts. So, rather than explaining away or spurning Gates’ observation, the right thing to do is to pick the appropriate lessons and make necessary amends to ensure a more developed people and consequently a more developed country.