By Henry Boyo
Bill Gates, came visiting, once again in March this year: Gates is well known as 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 a meeting that was probably expected to last less than an hour, easily crept well into the night. The product of that meeting was Warren Buffet, donation of $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.
The odds are clearly not great that such nobility of character and the human spirit is common anywhere. Nonetheless, hopefully stupendously well endowed Nigerians and Charitable persons and organizations from elsewhere may be also moved to borrow a leaf from these extremely rare human beings. In view of the enormous trust and responsibility reposed on his vision, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hands on, full time. Invariably, Microsoft’s loss has clearly become gain to millions of poor people who have no one to speak for them.
In the widely reported speech by Bill Gates to distinguished Nigerians in Aso-Rock, Abuja, last week, Gates confessed 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 already, over $1.6bn has been expended, so far, particularly in health related interventions locally; 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 elsewhere. But No! the soft spoken, self-effacing gentle man chose 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.
Mr Gates and his wife, Melinda, have been coming regularly to Nigeria since 2006. According to the Microsoft man “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, clearly, from a heart that, arguably, 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 by exploiting the greed of some public officials. Conversely the Gates Foundation has actually brought to Nigeria hundreds of millions of dollars worth of data verifiable social interventions.
However, true friends are expected to speak truth to one another, and it would be unexpected, therefore, if Gates also set out to massage the ego of our leaders, without telling it like it is, in his address to Nigeria’s political and business leaders, even if his observations were repetitions of what we all already know.
Consequently, the gentle Philanthropist, politely urged Nigerians not to relent in the pursuit of economic 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’; 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 practice, 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 percent and 26 percent 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”.
Conversely, Gates therefore noted, “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 remarkable positive pre-recession growth trajectory.”
In addition to prioritizing health and education, Bill Gates 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, would include more intensive financial inclusion, for over 37 million Micro enterprises and Small scale farmers to create enabling conditions “where Nigerians can reach their goals, while adding value to the economy; i.e. a Win-Win Scenario”. “Unfortunately, the Executive priorities of the ERGP don’t fully reflect peoples’ needs, as it prioritizes physical over human capital”
Regrettably, however, Gates noted, in his speech, 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 will depend on improving its Schools today”.
Similarly, for health, where Gates observed that “with the fourth highest maternal mortality rate, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places on earth to give birth”, “Nigeria’s primary health care system is broken and become a shadow of Prof Olikoye Ransome Kuti’s celebrated legacy”; this reality is as 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 has therefore, recommended that the challenge of stunting can be solved with increasing focus, nationwide, on agricultural development, nutrition and primary health care.
There is probably no better known International public figure who has visited Nigeria more frequently than Bill Gates in recent times. Undeniably, his regular visits should encourage other serious International investors and charitable agencies to perceive Nigeria as a safer destination, rather than a country with widespread insecurity, violence and rabid corruption, as popularly portrayed in International media.
Consequently, we may be well served, therefore, with their sincere commitment to our people’s welfare, to formalize the appointment of Bill and Melinda Gates as Goodwill Ambassadors for Nigeria.