Opinion: Gates, Obi And The Nigerian Development Imperatives By – ESIN SUJI


Two of the acknowledged hallmarks of effective leadership are the ability & courage to identify & harness available human and material resources or assets to fulfil its mission, role or mandate – and these assets include constructive criticisms designed to help improve the quality of results. The basic assumption here is that the leadership has a programme of action; and is focused & committed.


Easily one of the world’s most innovative and successful entrepreneurs, Bill Gates is a man of vision and mission. As a people-oriented entrepreneur and philanthropist, his credentials can hardly be faulted. Over the years, he has committed a lot of his time and resources to the service of humankind — with passion and dedication. In developing countries, including our dear own Nigeria, he has initiated and funded several programmes that have impacted positively on the socio-economic well-being of millions of people. That cannot be said of majority of our wealthy compatriots and those holding the public trust.


On a recent visit to Nigeria, Bill Gates had observed to the nation’s National Economic Council [NEC] that the Government’s Economic Recovery & Growth Plan [ERGP] was “prioritizing physical capital over human capital” even as it identifies the latter as one of its three strategic objectives.Not mincing words, he urged Nigeria’s political leadership to wake up to the responsibility of promoting the welfare of the people, especially through decent investments in education and health. In an interview later on the subject-matter, he also drew attention to the gross neglect of the teeming youth population: “The current quality and quantity of investment in this young generation in health and education just isn’t good enough”.


Predictably, some of those in the public trust – in their erroneous posture of omniscience – demonstrated a lack of charity to appreciate the merits of what they blankly assume as antagonism against the incumbent administration. A State Governor, for instance, literally retorted that the ERGP truly reflects the needs of Nigerians. In his wisdom, he ought to know, especially after he sacked thousands of public officersin his State! There followed a condescending, if not insulting,comment from a Minister of the Federal Republic that the Nigerian media “misunderstood the context” of Bill Gates’ address.


Previously, two retired Generals-cum-former Heads of State had made similar observations on the lack of people-focus being exhibited by the current administration. If theadministration contends that those gentlemen were ill-intentioned [bad belle in local parlance], would they say that Bill Gates was also running it down? Among other human welfare projects, his Foundation has expended billions of Dollars to combat such critical threats as HIV/AIDS and Malaria. It is the same Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that is paying off a US$76 million loan Nigeria took from Japan to combat the Polio scourge.


Arguably, Bill Gates was stating the obvious and spoke for many. Good Governance is about the people whose welfare is the primary responsibility of Government. At the sub-national level, this reality has been amply demonstrated by the likes of Lateef Jakande in Lagos State [Baba Kereke] in the 2ndRepublic and more recently, Peter Obi [Okwute] in Anambra State. Take the case of Peter Obi’s programme of action for the people of Anambra State:


With his cognate and successful experience in corporate management, the Obi administration domesticated the then Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] into a multi-faceted Anambra Integrated Development Strategy [ANIDS], which enabled the attainment of commendable strides in varied people-oriented initiatives and projects.

Under Peter Obi, Anambra became the first State to conduct a Poverty Mapping revealing that poverty was aggravated by inadequate access to the rural areas, which produce most of the agricultural products. As part of its Poverty Alleviation programme, several roads were constructed to facilitate linkages between the rural and urban areas; and hence boost incomes and well-being among especially the rural populace. The then Minister of Works and Senate Committee on Works affirmed that the State had the best road network in the country.


On Education, the administration’s momentous decision to return schools to their original Missionary proprietors gave rise to a novel & highly-successful Government-Church partnership – backed by massive investments in structures, staff and students’/pupils’ welfare. In effect, Anambra State consistently earned the first position in most national examinations, with the added value of raising productivity in different walks of life. Impressed by this unique initiative, the World Bank commissioned a study led by Oxford University’s Professor Collier to explore its adoption by other Governments.


Focusing on Youth Development, the Obi administration collaborated with some public-spirited NGOs to undertake a youth re-orientation & empowerment programme [ANSYREP]. Today, several of the programme’s beneficiaries own and operate successful enterprises as ICT service providers, beauticians, fish & poultry farmers, fashion designers/dress-makers, video-photographers, GSM repairers, builders, POP & tile producers, welders, interior decorators, electricians, painters, confectionery-makers, event managers, among others.


In the Health Sector, the Obi administration – also in partnership with the missionaries — resuscitated many Schools of Nursing, Midwifery, & Health Technology to enhance capacity building. Existing hospitals were rehabilitated and revamped through huge investments in facilities and staffing. Primary and Maternal Health Centres were also established in rural communities across the State; while a fully-equipped Teaching Hospital came on-stream for tertiary health education and healthcare delivery. With the significant reduction in maternal & child mortality ahead of the MDG 2015 target, commendations came from the MDG Office in The Presidency as well as an Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Immunization.


In addition to concerted efforts towards Environmental Sustainability, the Obi administration also vigorously pursued Global Partnership for Development. During that tenure, Anambra State was among the top-most recipients of foreign direct investments and development partnerships in Nigeria – with such global giants as LG Electronics of Korea, which first phase is construction of the LG Electronics, CISCO, UNDP, UN-Habitat, The World Bank, IFC, UNESCO, UNFPA, WHO, IFAD, EU, JICA, CIDA, USAID, AfDB and DfID.


The fore-going illustrations indicate that Good Governance could, indeed, be delivered to the people by a focused and committed leadership – at the local, State and national levels. As Peter Obi observes, “Good governance is common sense; not rocket science”.


In a country where the hapless majority have continued to wonder whether they are cursed or condemned, it behoves on those who can summon courage to speak out to do so. Bill Gates has indeed drawn attention to the Nigerian development imperatives. Grudgingly or willingly, we should use the advice of this great man who has consistently been dedicated to the noble ideals of meeting the disadvantaged and under-privileged at their various points of need. Whatever the impressions to the contrary, the reality is that an increasing proportion of the Nigerian citizenry is steadily sliding into the vulnerable groups subsisting under the poverty line; so help us God.

  • Esin Suji sent in this piece from Owerri.