By Henry Boyo
BILL Gates, came visiting, once again in March this year: Gates is well known as the founder of Microsoft; the very successful High-tech Company which made him the second richest man in the world at one time.
The story is worth telling that Bill Gates, was a total stranger to Warren Buffet, when he (Gates) first approached the world’s richest man to discuss his vision of bringing improved health care delivery to billions of people worldwide. Remarkably, however, the two super-billionaires quickly bonded and the product of that meeting was that Warren Buffet, soon after, donated $30bn (thirty billion dollars), almost all his wealth to Bill Gates, to pursue laudable health projects and other social interventions, which will touch lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
In a widely reported speech by Bill Gates to distinguished Nigerians in Aso-Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, last week, Gates noted that his initial dream was to make peoples’ life better, by giving everybody computer access, at affordable cost; however, according to the billionaire, “As I got older, travelled more and learned more about the world, I realized that billions of people had a problem that computers couldn’t solve. They lacked the basics of a good life; food, shelter, health, education and opportunity”. Consequently, with the billions of dollars earned from Microsoft “we started working toward a different goal; a healthy and productive life for everyone.”
This vision, according to Gates, is the reason “why I come to Nigeria; and that’s why Melinda and I will continue coming for as long as we are able.” Instructively, the Gates Foundation’s biggest office in Africa is located here in Nigeria and over $1.6bn has been expended, so far, particularly in health related interventions; nonetheless, according to Gates “we plan to increase our commitment!
The chances are that strong arguments were, by competitive interests to locate the Foundation’s Africa Head office, anywhere but Nigeria, and issues of corruption, difficulty in engaging government and its agencies, poor power infrastructure, insecurity etc, would have been cited as impediments to attract the Foundation’s largest office in Africa elsewhere. But No! the soft spoken, self-effacing gentle man closed instead to work in the eye of the storm, and ensure that the national ‘epicenter’ of the polio virus, which the Gates Foundation sought to eradicate world-wide was the congruent location. According to Gates, “I’ve always felt welcome in Nigeria. Nigerians usually greet me warmly. The first time I met the Sultan of Sokoto, I was honoured that he greeted me with the gift of a white horse.”
The Gates’ Foundation has strong relationships with Federal and State governments, businesses, NGOs and Civil society organizations. “We are eager” according to Gates to “support you as you work to make Nigeria a global economic powerhouse, that provides opportunity for all its citizens, as you strive to fulfill this country’s immense purpose”.
The above are words well-spoken, arguably, from a heart that, truly loves Nigeria. Gates’ quiet, unobtrusive and fairly regular trips to Nigeria, are devoted to helping our government and our people and not to make money from government contracts. Conversely the Gates Foundation has actually brought in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of verifiable social interventions.
However, true friends are expected to speak truth to one another, and it would be unexpected, therefore, if Gates sets out to massage the ego of our leaders to please them, without telling it like it is, in his address to Nigeria’s leadership.
Consequently, the gentle philanthropist politely urged Nigerians not relent in the pursuit of growth, but warned, nonetheless that “Growth is not inevitable”. According to Gates, Nigeria has unmatched economic potential, but what becomes of that potential depends on the choices Nigerian leaders make. “The most important choice you make, is to maximize your greatest resource, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive”. “If according to Gates, you invest in their health, education, and opportunities i.e. 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 recognize that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.”
In reality, Gates argued, that if the percentage of fiscal allocations for health and education remain in single digit ratios of annual budgets, rather than the 16% and 26% recommended, respectively, by the WHO and UNESCO, then, of course, the fear is that things could get worse, as per capita GDP will also decline, if current education and health trends continue, with flat per capita growth, ultimately, “economic growth may, not match a concurrent higher population growth rate”.
Gates therefore noted that, “if you commit to getting better results in health and education, if you spend more and more effectively, per capita GDP, will stay on its (positive) remarkable pre-recession trajectory.”
In addition to prioritizing health and education, Bill Gates also recommend the “opening up of opportunities in the Agriculture and Micro enterprises sectors, as proposed in the Nigerian government’s “ Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”; such opportunities, should expectedly create enabling conditions “where Nigerians can reach their goals, while adding value to the economy; i.e. a Win-Win Scenario.”
Regrettably, however, Gates, noted, that “today, more than half of rural children in Nigeria can’t read and write.” The conclusion is therefore, inescapable; as, “Nigeria’s economy tomorrow depends on improving its Schools today”.
Similarly, for health, where the Microsoft founder observed that “Nigeria’s primary health care system has broken to become a shadow of Prof Olikoye Ransome Kuti’s celebrated legacy”; this reality is evidenced by the epidemic of chronic malnutrition or stunting; a condition with very devastating consequences; unfortunately, statistically, in Nigeria, one in three children is, reportedly chronically malnourished and could therefore be at risk.
Incidentally, according to the World Bank, addressing the stunting crisis would add almost $30bn to Nigeria’s GDP. Gates therefore, recommended that the challenge of stunting can be solved with increasing focus on agricultural development, nutrition and primary health care nationwide.
There is probably no better known International public person who has visited Nigeria more frequently than Bill Gates in recent times. Undeniably, his regular visits will encourage other serious international investors and charitable agencies to see Nigeria as a safer destination, rather than a country with widespread insecurity, violence and rabid corruptions, as popularly portrayed in International media. Consequently, we may be well served, therefore, with their clear commitment to our people’s welfare, to formalize Bill and Melinda Gates appointment as Goodwill Ambassadors for Nigeria.