Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates has criticised the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), saying it does not reflect people’s needs.
Mr Gates’ criticism of the ERGP lines up with preceding warnings by the World Bank Group that the country’s economic recovery is “fraught with a high degree of fragility and risks”.
The World Bank had said this when Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, and her Budget and Planning counterpart, Udo Udoma, presented the ERGP to the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF had expressed dissatisfaction with the ERGP, saying “Much more needs to be done” on the plan.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed well over $1.6 billion with the foundation’s biggest office in Africa located in Nigeria.
The foundation which is committed to making lives better for poor people globally, is also planning to increase its Commitments to Nigeria, Gates said.
Gates stated this at the expended National Economic Council on Investment in Human Capital, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the State House Conference Center, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
While submitting that investment in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people, to anchor the economy over the long term, however noted Nigeria’s approach places more priorities on physical capital over human capital development.
“The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies” investing in our people” as one of three ” strategic objectives”. But the” execution priorities” don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital”
He said at the event with the theme; “Role of human capital investment in supporting pro- poor and economic growth agenda” Gates urged Nigeria” to face the facts so that you can make progress”
He said the country will thrive better with strong investment in health and education, rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure, to the detriments of human capital development.
The World Bank’s criticism of the government’s ERGP had indicated that there was the need to include a “sound macroeconomic management and stability for growth (in the plan) while confirming that inflation, government consumption, and currency misalignment (overvaluation) are negatively correlated with growth.”
The Bank had warned the Nigerian Government that the non-inclusion of macroeconomic indicators in the ERGP may cause the recovery process to lag.
In its 2017 bi-annual economic update on Nigeria, the World Bank stated that the country’s GDP growth rate “failed to keep pace with those of more developed economies” because oil continued to dominate its growth pattern.
The Bank had also said that the instability of oil-dependent growth hindered the country’s progress in social and economic development.
It noted that for Nigeria to boost its recovery, the country must strengthen its macroeconomic policy framework and implement the “structural reforms needed to diversify the economy and break out of a boom and bust cycle”.
In essence, the World Bank noted that the country cannot have an economic blueprint without macroeconomic indicators.
Even though the President Buhari government went back to the drawing board to make changes to the ERGP, recent reports indicate that the recovery plan remains a shabbily done job as the government failed to include the macroeconomic indicators.
The implication, however, is that the president, being the leader of the country, does not have a full grasp of where he wants to lead the nation economically.
The IMF, which had previously declared the ERGP as “fragile”, warned recently of a possible relapse of the country’s economy back to recession if the government should fail to implement a more robust economic recovery plan.
The Fund said unless the President Buhari regime implements a growth-friendly fiscal adjustment and ambitious tax policy measures, the country’s recovery from economic recession will remain under threat.
Meanwhile, 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
Gates who said he does not enjoy “speaking bluntly” to Nigeria when the people had been “so gracious enough “to invite him, however hinted that Statistical data show the country “still looks like a low- income country”
He 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, he described Nigeria as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth” , with “one in three Nigerian children, chronically malnourished”
Nigeria, he said 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”
Gates 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 recognize that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.”
Gates who sees Nigeria as having “unmatched economic potential” assured that his Foundation is eager to support the government to make “Nigeria a powerhouse that provides opportunities for all its citizens.”
Citing the gains Nigeria has recorded in the immunization against Polio, he urged Nigeria to pursue human capital development with the same vigor to achieve the desired results.
The Chairman, Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, in his opening remarks, said for Nigeria to truly compete globally, we must prioritize investments in the health, education and opportunity of our people alongside other critical areas like infrastructure. Together, these are the inputs that will make Nigeria richer.
Osinbajo, in his response again said that high oil prices and economic growth of previous years had failed to translate into a better life for most Nigerians.
According to him, instead grand corruption prevented investments in healthcare and education and infrastructure, and shamelessly robbed government policies of most if not all of their intended impact.
Osinbajo however assured that the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration determined to rewrite the Nigerian story, for the better. “To put Nigeria’s money to work for Nigerians, doing the most with the least. And we have stayed true to that vision, even as oil prices went into freefall, we ramped up investments in infrastructure, as well as our social spending.”
He reiterated that not only is the administration painfully aware of the issues facing the country, it is prepared to take the challenges Dangote Foundation as well as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have outlined head-on. “And we have no choice, because the problem literally grows daily.”
The Vice President noted that Nigeria has strong economic growth and development ambitions, encapsulated in her Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, launched in 2017.
He however stressed that all of those lofty ambitions can only be achieved through the determined application of human skill and effort. “And for that effort to be meaningful and productive it has to come from people who are healthy, educated, and who are, and feel empowered.
“It is this realisation that has helped ensure that one of the primary planks of the ERGP is ‘Investing in our people’. And it is for this reason that we are expanding the reach and quality of our healthcare, through the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); and working to guarantee basic education for all persons, whilst also upgrading and modernising the quality of secondary and post-secondary education.
“And because this is the 21st century, we know that is also important to ensure that our young people are being prepared for the economies of the future, not the past. This means that STEM education is critical, and that technology must lie at the heart of every one of our educational offerings.”
Osinbajo said the Social Investment Programme launched in 2016 – comprising a jobs scheme for unemployed graduates, a feeding programme for public primary school pupils, a micro-credit scheme for small businesses, and a cash transfer scheme for our poorest and most vulnerable households, is a key component of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
He said the school feeding programme, for example, is to “our achieving better health, nutritional and educational outcomes for Nigerian children.”
The school feeding programme which he said has increased enrollment by 30 percent, currently serves over 7 million school children, across 22 of Nigeria’s 36 states, and continues to grow as more States sign up for it.
“Apart from the health outcomes – children free from malnutrition and stunting – there are also important educational and economic benefits as well. By guaranteeing one hot meal a day to these children the scheme has pushed school enrolment rates upwards in many of the communities in which it is being implemented.”