Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates

The Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan ERGP, lacks what it takes to address the nation’s worsening economic conditions, as it does not reflect people’s needs, says the Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates.

Gates, who stated this at the expanded National Economic Council on Investment in Human Capital, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday, insisted that investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people, to anchor the economy over the long term. He also expressed regrets that Nigeria’s approach places more priorities on physical capital over human capital development.

He spoke on the theme, “Role of Human Capital Investment in Supporting Pro-poor and Economic Growth Agenda”, urged Nigeria “to face the facts so as to make progress.”

According to him: “The Nigerian government’s ERGP identifies ‘investing in our people’ as one of three ‘strategic objectives’. But the ‘execution priorities’ don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital.”

Gates said the country will thrive better with strong investment in health and education, rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure, to the detriment of human capital development.

Even though World Bank’s World Development Report shows direct link between the level of education and improvements in employment, productivity and wages, Nigeria’s case shows that half of the country’s children cannot read and write.

While admitting he does not enjoy “speaking bluntly” to Nigeria when the people had been “so gracious enough” to invite him, he hinted that statistical data show the country “still looks like a low- income country.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Co-chair said he was encouraged to be blunt by Aliko Dangote’s frank approach to “stressing the importance of accurate data.”

Taking a comparative analysis of data to back his arguments, information technology entreprenuer described Nigeria as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth”, with “one in three Nigerian children chronically malnourished.”

He said that Nigeria has the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world, only ahead of Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad.

“In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68; in low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still, just 53 years.”

Citing the gains the country has recorded in the immunisation against polio, he urged the government to pursue human capital development with the same vigour to achieve the desired results.

The former world’s richest man, however, sees the country thriving if it is ready to invest in the health, education and opportunities – the human capital. “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.”

He described Nigeria as having “unmatched economic potential” and assured that his Foundation was eager to support the Federal Government to make Nigeria a powerhouse that provides opportunities for her entire citizenry

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, who made opening remarks at the event, said Nigeria can truly compete globally, if she prioritise investments in the health, education and create job opportunities for the people alongside other critical areas such as infrastructure.

Dangote insists that together, these are the inputs would make Nigeria rich as against the practice whereby successive governments in the country focus more on physical infrastructure development to the neglect of human capital development.