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Human capital over oil — has Bill Gates been reading Oby Ezekwesili?
Bill Gates, the world’s second richest man, picked holes in the Economic growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP) of the Muhammadu Buhari government when he addressed a special session of the National Economic Council (NEC) at the State House, Abuja, on Thursday.
In fact, Gates stopped short of prophesying that the plan is destined to fail, if the government does not review its priorities.
“The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan identifies investing in the people as one of three strategic objectives. But the execution priorities don’t fully reflect people’s needs, prioritising physical capital over human capital,” Gates said.
“To anchor the economy over the long term, investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investment 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.
“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 recognise that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow.
“The conclusion is inescapable, Nigeria’s economy tomorrow depends on improving its schools today. The same is true of health.”
His speech has since generated a national conversation about the value of human capital to the country. However, as frank and spot-on as Gates was, he did not say anything new: these exact sentiments have been espoused by Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, at local and international forums in recent years.
Speaking at an annual youth programme of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), titled ‘SHIFT’, in May 2017, Ezekesili had argued that Nigeria’s greatness did not lie in its vast natural resources but in its people.
“The more we emphasise education, talents, diligence, values, the more we have youths that can face competition with the rest of the world,” she said.
“Youth are the present leaders of the country; if we don’t prepare them to become people who are able to actualise their utmost potentials, what happens will affect them.”
Earlier in 2013, while delivering a keynote address during the 42nd convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, she had called for increased government interest in education, pointing out that 4.3 percentage of Nigerian youths with an opportunity for tertiary education was way too low a statistic.
“Economic evidence throughout numerous researches proves that one key variable that determines how fast nations outgrow others is the speed of accumulation of human capital, especially through science and technology education,” she said.
“Due to profligacy we have dismal human development indicators which are inconsistent with the scale of our earnings.
“For example using life expectancy as a proxy measuring how we score on human development, 51.4 years for Nigerians falls far short of the 80 years for citizens of Singapore and South Korea, 78 years for citizens of Chile, 73 years for citizens of Malaysia and 72 years for citizens of Brazil.
“There is no better example of the cost of the imprudent choices than what has happened to education.
“Countries invest in the human skills that can help their citizens use modern technology and eventually rise to the stage where those same citizens can develop their countries’ own technology. A country’s educational system is the key to its long-run development.”
In the 2018 appropriation bill currently awaiting passage by the National Assembly, N340.45 billion, representing a paltry 3.9 percent of the total N8.6 trillion expenditure plan, was voted for the health sector.
Similarly, the sum of N605.8 billion was allocated to the education sector, representing 7.04% of the entire budget.