By Olukorede Yishau
With graphs, charts and words, his points were made. His words were soft, like blues! His gait was elegant. His charisma was devoid of arrogance. And his poise was simply amazing. So he spoke and we listened. His name is Bill Gates. He is husband to Melinda. And together they have appealed to our conscience through their charity without boundary.
Our colours meant nothing as we took in the sense in the Gates’ and others’ speeches. What mattered was our humanity, which, in the first place, was why the Seattle-born billionaire and his wife run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. From Africa, Europe, Asia and America, the Gates gathered us at the Lincoln Centre in New York for the annual Gatekeepers’ summit. We were there to look at humanity, progress made and what must be done— by government, by the private sector and you, yes, you!
For a man who is one of the richest people in the world, you may expect Gates to go about with uncommon swag; you may expect him to be loud; and you may expect him to be somewhat brash. But the Gates we listened to for two days last week had nothing in common with those traits. His speech mannerisms, in my view, give him out as shy. He is, however, not shy with dishing out cash to make the world a better place.
Hearing Gates talk about our challenges made me wonder if our governments ever listen. It also makes me wonder if my generation will see a Nigeria that is capable of tackling its challenges. Did it make me wish prayers can do all things, including resolving our health and education woes? If only our status as one of the most religious nations on earth can ensure that!
As a billionaire, you will expect Gates to bamboozle his way around men of power but he preferred to deal with them via email until he found out through his friend Aliko Dangote that more could be done through phone calls with Nigeria’s policy drivers.
It didn’t come as a surprise when Dangote, who is Africa’s richest man, said Gates’ life has taught him lessons and opened his eyes to many a thing, one of which is the need to give more of his wealth to solve the problems of the world. Dangote also said he was particularly taken aback that Gates was interested in helping solve the health challenges in Nigeria. This love for Nigeria, Dangote confessed, opened his eyes to the enormity of the challenges back home.
The 2019 report shows that across sub-Saharan Africa, girls have an average of two fewer years of education than boys. In Nigeria, according to the World Bank, girls get an average of 7.6 years, and boys get 8.7 years.
The report also shows that one in three Nigerians live in poverty. That represents 32 per cent of Nigerians. The number of people living in poverty increased from 66.83 million in 2017 to 67.48 million in 2018. Thirty-seven per cent of children suffer from malnutrition. This is 37 per cent of the kids’ population. About half of Nigerians still use unsafe or unimproved sanitation, according to the Gatekeepers’ report.
Significantly too, Nigeria still ranks 43rd of 52 African countries on a recently compiled sustainable development goal index. The implication is that the country has only gone 47 per cent towards achieving sustainable development goals. On another sad note, the Gatekeepers’ report shows that Nigeria still has the second-highest number of deaths of children aged five and under. It tags behind India. The report recommends that “human capital investments should be designed to reach girls and prioritise those countries and districts that have to make up the most ground”.
Interestingly, the report observes that education is not enough to bridge the gender divide. “In some countries where girls tend to be well-educated they are still underrepresented in the workforce because they also face discriminatory norms and policies.”
There is a very striking and instructive point in the report: “Africa’s youth population (people aged 0 to 24 years) is booming while the rest of the world is shrinking.” The median age across Africa is 18; it is 35 in North America and 47 in Japan.
The key issues at the summit were health, education and open defecation. The University Teaching Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan used to be one of the best in the world. The Lagos University Teaching (LUTH) and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital were also good on the global chart. Where are they now? If these giants are no longer centres of excellence, what is there to say or write about our so-called general hospitals or federal medical centres? America, Britain, Australia, South Africa and Canada are now homes to some of our best medical brains. The few that are here do not have the tools to be the best they can be. Not a few of them run private practice by the side when government does not see the need to give them what they deserve as resident doctors and consultants.
Education, education, education! That is the music we should be singing. We should be repeating ourselves like a broken record. For us to have the best in health, education is the bedrock. For us to have the best in economy, education is the bedrock. For us to have the best leaders, education is the bedrock. For us to have the best in all sectors, education is key. In fact, it is the full stop. Once we get that wrong, almost everything else will be wrong. Infrastructure will not be what it should be without well-educated people putting it in place.
Without education, people will see nothing wrong in opening their ‘nyash’ at Osodi bus stop and defecating in the gutter. Certainly, they will feel no qualms defecating opposite the Presidential Villa in Abuja when they are sure no police or soldier is there to shoot them.
My final take: Like Gates, I believe Nigeria is a super-important country and because of this, our primary healthcare system deserves utmost attention. Our education deserves the chunk of our energy and resources. There is no justification why the quality and funding of our education and primary health care system are below some countries with lower-income. We can do better.
Our government, as preached by Bill and Melinda, should also be responsive to our least-empowered citizens, and give more support for farmers to adapt to climate change’s worst effects. Our aches should not concern Gates more than us. A word is enough for the wise!