Updated: February 26, 2021
American billionaire, Bill Gates, on March 22, 2018, told Nigerians what virtually everyone else, from experts at the World Bank to the ones at the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, as well as journalists, intellectuals and activists in Nigeria and around the world, had repeatedly said in the past few months and years, that Africa’s most populous nation should invest in its people to see real economic progress.
At the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in October 2017, experts repeatedly said for Africa, Nigeria included, to develop, investments in human capital development were necessary. The world was changing and technology, knowledge and innovations were driving the global economy, the experts said. No one in Nigeria and Africa seemed to listen as budgetary allocations in most sub-Saharan African countries continued to decline in human capital initiatives.
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Why it matters: But Mr. Gates’ message captured national headlines this time, many believe, because of three reasons. First, it was delivered by Bill Gates, an American billionaire whose foundation (The Bill and Melinda Foundation) is said to be spending $1.6 billion in Nigeria to heal the sick and the train the weak. Second, the message came months to a presidential election in 2019 that promises to be highly contested. Third, it was delivered at an event with the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in attendance at a time his popularity had dwindled around the country because of hardship Nigerians were experiencing with high unemployment numbers, a weakened currency and a clear lack of economic blueprint.
President Buhari receives in audience Bill Gates, Co-Chairman Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside Alhaji Aliko Dangote in State House in Abuja on March 22, 2018.
President Buhari with Bill Gates, Alhaji ALiko Dangote and Chief of Staff Abba Kyari as he receives in audience Bill Gates, Co-Chairman Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside Alhaji Aliko Dangote in State House
Mr. Gates told the gathering that included Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, that “while it may be easier to be polite, it’s more important to face facts so that you can make progress”.
He said Nigeria needed to invest more in education, healthcare and especially in its people. The message was cast by Nigeria’s opposition as a vindication that Nigeria under Mr. Buhari was on the brink of collapse, while the ruling party tried to defend its records, pointing to the fight against corruption and the recent good news on the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
President Buhari with Bill Gates, Alhaji ALiko Dangote and Chief of Staff Abba Kyari as he receives in audience Bill Gates, Co-Chairman Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside Alhaji Aliko Dangote in State House in Abuja 22 March 2018
In an interview with CNN after his remarks, Mr. Gates said he wanted to speak out to implore Nigerian politicians to focus on human capital and its large youth population.
“The current quality and quantity of investment in this young generation in health and education just isn’t good enough. So I was very direct.”
Although his remarks were nothing new, they had an impact, or at least started a conversation in Nigeria.