The comments made by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates during his last visit to Nigeria made the rounds quite a bit, even CNN – the international news network covered it on a number of their news segments. But there are a number of things that Mr Gates did not say either because he is not as neck-deep in the realities as we are, or because he was being polite, and cautious of sounding neo-colonialist as some of his detractors will like us to believe.
Firstly, Bill Gates didn’t need to tell us that given the crop of leaders across all strata of society, his words were going to fall on deaf ears. Nigeria’s political leaders and their private sector co-conspirators have deceived us for long enough with all these massive infrastructure investments that are not sustainable nor are they actually beneficial to society beyond creating conduits for more official corruption and for more billionaires to be made. It is sickening to hear about the amount of investments being made in establishing new Universities and Tertiary Educational Institutions, as well as new Teaching Hospitals when the ones that already exist are run down and pitiful – much worse than Sani Abacha’s reference to them as “mere consulting clinics”. TETFUND invests in new hostels, classrooms and high-rise buildings across our Universities which end up being dilapidated and run-down after a few months. We build fancy secondary school buildings across our States that the Governors know can never be maintained and almost 95% of our internally generated revenue across Federal, State and Local Governments is spent on paying the salaries of an over-bloated and inefficient public service – and still each day we brag about creating employment by the number of Government agencies that are hiring. The real issues in Nigeria like he said are about “soft-infrastructure”– please not “stomach infrastructure”.
It’s about Social Security, Health and Education– the areas that require significant Investment – not by commissioning large buildings, but by looking critically at the root causes of the challenges we have in those areas and addressing them. The problem with almost all these areas is unfortunately human capacity and ethics. Let’s start from Social Security – we still have leaders who beat their chests about their achievements by referencing the number of multi-billionaires and sky-scrappers that they created during their administrations, and unfortunately, many of those scrambling for power in the next electoral cycle seem to have the exact same ultra-capitalist view. They will lie to our morally impoverished electorate again as we build up to 2019 and end up creating more billions for themselves and their cronies once elected. How much is being spent on bridging the knowledge gap all across the country and empowering people with the truth? What are all these new political parties doing? – looking for votes or trying to save a sinking nation? Without this kind of investment in empowering the people – then 2019 and the years thereafter will be “business-as-usual”. What is being done to create pensions and retirement/old -age benefits for the over one hundred million Nigerians who are in the informal sector – is it enough to create an informal pension scheme and expect these low-income earners to save without re-distributing some of the wealth from the billionaires and the coffers of Government to match their savings? Isn’t this a more effective way to spend our money?
How about health? Our hospitals lack basic facilities to even protect our doctors from highly infectious diseases that many doctors are on a brain-drain ticket to Europe, America and the Middle East. I would have thought that by now we should be net importers of doctors to meet the massive gaps that exist in our health services similar to what the Gulf States did years back to develop their Heath Care System or should be looking to attract investments and partnerships to get more quality into our Health System and working through Private-Public-Partnerships to achieve this.
In Education, we are so captivated by certificates and degrees that in spite of the fact that everyone has one, the quality continues going down the drain. For example, our Universities and the Academic Elitism that is pervasive still does not create opportunities for “civilians”: non-academics in professional practice to be Visiting Lecturers and Professors. Yet we keep churning it out more PHDs, each year and still our graduates are at best “one-eighth” baked. Can’t we see that something is wrong! We probably need to start importing talented University Lecturers and School Teachers with that TETFUND money so that they can come and “re-teach” our local teachers in a more hands-on way, since they refuse to take help from professionals within the country.
Of course, these three areas will be better served if we invested more in using technology innovations to drive them – better content in our classrooms delivered through internet enabled classrooms; better medical diagnosis delivered through digital consulting clinics with doctors spread across the world, and a better framework for social security through proper data collection and analysis about the real extent of poverty, and need for wealth re-distribution in our country, as well as the use of new and creative media to empower Nigerians with the TRUTH, instead of turning our airwaves into channels for fostering hate and division that only serve narrow political interests.