Bill Gates, founder of the Microsoft Corporation and world’s second richest man, says Nigeria’s economy will not grow unless its leaders invest in the people.
He made this remark on Thursday while delivering a speech at a special session of the National Economic Council held at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The event, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, was themed ‘The role of human capital investment in supporting pro-poor and economic growth agenda’.
Gates said the Nigerian people are the country’s greatest resource, and further argued that there would be a limit to economic growth unless the government invests in them.
“Nigeria is now the biggest economy on the continent,” he said. “But growth is not inevitable. Nigeria has unmatched economic potential, but what becomes of that potential depends on the choices you make as Nigeria’s leaders.
“The most important choice you can make is to maximise your greatest resource, the Nigerian people. Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive.
“If you invest in their health, education, and opportunities — the ‘human capital’ we are talking about today — 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.”
Gates also lauded the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan developed by the administration of President Buhari and introduced in 2017, but observed that “the ‘execution priorities’ don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritizing physical capital over human capital”.
“To anchor the economy over the long term, investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people. 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,” he said.
He likened Nigeria to a low-income country from the point of view of the quality of life, and reeled off facts to support this. He noted that the average life expectancy in low-income countries is 62, while “in Nigeria, it is lower still: just 53 years.”
He also noted that one in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished, and the country in one of the most dangerous globally to give birth.
He explained what he means by investing in people as “prioritizing health and education, continuing to open up opportunities in the agriculture and micro-enterprise sectors, as the government has proposed in the ERGP, [and] I mean creating the conditions where Nigerians can reach their goals while adding value to the economy—the win-win scenario”.
“The conclusion is inescapable,” he added. “Nigeria’s economy tomorrow depends on improving its schools today. The same is true of health.”
Also speaking at the event, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who will be hosting the American billionaire today at his daughter’s wedding, said the government needs to focus on investing in youth development.
“The government needs to invest in the youth’s ability to learn and apply new skills in an ever-changing global economy,” Dangote said. “That at its core, is what we mean by human capital; healthy and productive and well-educated young people who are then enabled to succeed, lift up themselves and their families, and contribute to the society through their own ingenuity.”