By Denrele Animasuan
The Young shall grow
The foolish can become wise
The downtrodden shall be elevated— QinisoMogaleù
This is no war cry. It is, however, a defining moment that our young, who are our most valued assets have been ignored and underinvested for decades. No one in his right mind would stand by and watch his most prized possession go to waste. Our leaders have done this for far too many years with reckless abandon and they consistently ignored that a country is only as good as its most vulnerable. They, instead, clung to power by feathering their nest with our commonwealth and by grandstanding with sporadic scattering of cosmetic edifice and surround themselves with stupendous trappings of their instant wealth.
Six years ago, I wrote in Generation X, in which desperate parents were sending their children to neighbouring countries, in order that they can get a decent but expensive education and it is at places like this that three young men met their grizzly end: We have always prided our people as having some moral code, a modicum of cultural modernity and backbone that somehow, excluded us from the mob mentality. We have been in denial for far too long and continue to do so.
The morality valve has been lacking, eroded over time and we all have ourselves to blame. We took our eyes off the ball, we fail to understand that, what affects one, affects all of us. We have in the past espoused the adage; that it takes a village to raise a child. We have not collectively raised our young people. That is the truth and sadly so. We have not prepared majority of our young people for a positive future, rather they are desperate, uneducated, ill equipped, despondent, physically and emotionally fragile of other than a dim existence. We have successive governments that have lost the capability to lead and only protect their own self–interest.
So, here we are and it takes a non-Nigerian and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, to lock heads with our leaders publicly and tell it like it is. Truth is bitter but worse still, is hearing the truth from a stranger. He did not mince his words -that Nigeria is facing a critical moment; “While it may be easier to be polite, it’s more important to face facts so that you can make progress,” the philanthropist told a room of Nigeria’s government elite that included the president. Well, tell us something we don’t know Gates! It is the most uncomfortable truth and it had to be said. Now, if I were them, I would use this revelation as fuel to make the changes that is desperately needed and they must not look the gift horse in the mouth.
This is indeed a defining moment. Gates was brazen in an exclusive television interview with CNN, he said, he wanted to speak out to implore Nigerian politicians to focus on human capital and its large youth population. He said that, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigeria child is chronically malnourished.
“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. “The current quality and quantity of investment in this young generation in health and education just isn’t good enough. Yeah, he said it, so I was very direct. Rightfully so and he knows how it is on the ground, after all, he has a first hand, decade long firsthand knowledge of many of our improvised communities, this man has invested his hard earned money, his foundation spent $1.6 billion on health programmes in Nigeria. Gates comments could not have come at a better time and he definitely said it; that it is time for Nigeria’s government to do better but Gate’s message isn’t new, it has been expressed by millions of Nigerians. The sad thing is far too many Nigerians believe they do not have a voice and that nothing will change. The systematic culture has overwhelmed millions that, in the end, they give up and stay quiet.
There have been many who have tirelessly raised their concerns and presented their programmes to respective ministries for investments only to be met with walls of corruption and dishonest officials demanding money from would be investors. They have no clue of the potential of investing in people or potential of economic growth for many. If only they understand that social philanthropy billionaires like Ted Turner and others started this in the 1980s and have helped millions and millions by giving back. This is a new concept in the Nigerian psyche. It is about time that rich Nigerians familiarise themselves with the concept.
Presently, Gates intends to work together with Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man and has been a close partner of the Gates Foundation. If the Nigerian government does a few things differently, then the country is poised for lift off, “I really think that of all the countries I have seen, it really hangs in the balance. If they can get health and education right, they can be an engine of growth, not just for themselves but for all of Right now, Nigeria can no longer continue to limb along in to a barren future and reducing many to penury. This has got to be addressed and there is no better time than the present. Nigerians should not have to wait until the coming presidential election next year and a promise for a better future. They have lived on empty promises and nothing will change if this continues.
The Emir of Kano once recounted a conversation he had with a politician, who said; Nigeria is rich because of the number of private jets! It is always about grand standing and self serving.
Yes, of course there are cosmetic scattering of high- rise buildings, real estates and fancy cars but the majority of the population has not seen positive changes to their standard of living. In fact, this has got worse and the gap continues to widen.
Gates, typically merely followed his point with statistics and they are dismal; that Nigeria is still one of the most dangerous places to give birth and the country’s very young face chronic malnutrition. One in three Nigerian child suffers from malnutrition. Nigeria has perpetually been rated as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. There is little opportunity to grow businesses in Nigeria, most businesses; are very small and are unable to get financial help with loans from the banks. Gates noted that these obstacles have hindered Nigeria from living to its full potential. And according to the University of Washington modelling, commissioned by Gates, it is estimated that if investment isn’t increased in health and education, then the per-capita GDP, rising steadily for decades, will flat line. This is the fact.
So why has Gates spoken out now? He said he wanted ‘to spark action and debate’. That he has done most succinctly too. 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. 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.” I for one, applaud his candour and his frankness. Now is the moment for our politicians to be brave and step up to the plate. Our young people deserve a future worthy of their potential.