It was former American President, Jimmy Carter, who first showed an unusual love for Nigeria. He used to come to Nigeria in the years after he left office when he was still strong, and he had taken on humanitarian works through The Carter Centre.
President Carter was concerned about the devastating impact on Nigerian children of diseases such as Guinea worm, river blindness, malaria, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, and trachoma. He and his Centre worked hard, putting in human and financial resources to try to eliminate or reduce the scourge of these diseases. Each time he came, he met with government officials, appealing to them to work harder to eliminate the diseases; and to invest more in healthcare for the benefit of their people. These appeals often fell on deaf ears.
Last Thursday, the American billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, along with his friend, and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, were special guests at the National Economic Council meeting, chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja. Bill Gates, like President Carter, through his and his wife’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are heavily committed to a number of causes, particularly healthcare.
We think Nigeria is a lucky country, blessed by God specially to have people like Jimmy Carter, who at 93 and frail in health may not visit Nigeria again, and Bill Gates take interest in the wellbeing of Nigerians. It is auspicious the world’s richest man, until two weeks ago, had the floor to make a presentation and speak to our leaders, including Osinbajo, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara. His presentation was without malice, but very pertinent was the point he made about the lesson he had learnt from Dangote when they had an audience with some governors.
“I do not enjoy speaking to you this bluntly when you have been gracious enough to invite me here,” he said. “But I am applying an important lesson I learned from Alhaji Aliko Dangote.” The lesson he learnt from that encounter was that “while it may be easier to be polite, it’s more important to face facts so that you can make progress.”
Bill Gates told members of the National Economic Council that he had been coming to Nigeria since 2006 and in the time he had been coming, someone had been bold enough to ask him, rather very politely, “Why are you actually here?”
He provided the answer in his presentation to the NEC, by stating the following:
“When we started Microsoft 40 years ago, we wanted to build a successful business, but we also wanted to make people’s lives better. We believed computers could revolutionize the way people lived and worked. But back then only big companies could afford them. We wanted to give everybody access.
“As I got older, traveled more, and learned more about the world, I realized that billions of people had a problem that computers couldn’t solve. They lacked the basics of a good life: food, shelter, health, education, and opportunity.
“And so I started my second career with my wife Melinda. With the money I’d been lucky enough to earn at Microsoft, we started working toward a different goal: a healthy and productive life for everyone.”
It is very easy to mistake Bill Gates presentation at the NEC for criticism, which was a line taken by many newspapers and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. We think differently. We see it as an attempt by a man concerned about humanity, and seeing Nigeria, not just this current government, failing to place the expected higher value on its citizens, felt a need to draw attention to this anomaly.
Bill Gates is 62 years old, a billionaire forever and, like he said about most of his fellow American technology guys, they do not wander around Nigeria learning and intervening with their money on its health care system just to make life better for the citizens. For someone, who has been coming to Nigeria for the past 12 years, and learning about our health care system, he must know a thing or two, which government officials know about but pretend not to do.
Government is often quick to try to defend itself against criticism. The ministry of Budget issued a statement trying to clarify that Bill Gates did not fault the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). We think there is an underlying deeper meaning in Gates presentation than the simplistic interpretation of seeing this from the narrow view of fault finding.
Nigeria is governed by arrogant men and women in power. This arrogance is often taken so far as to demean citizens and reduce them to nothing in the equation. At the heart of Gates’ position is that this arrogance must be replaced by a better display of care, that the human being, the Nigerian, is the central reason for the existence of government.
Governance must carry with it compassion, care, and concern for citizens wellbeing. That emphasising infrastructure above citizens health, citizens education, citizens social and economic wellbeing, is anathema in the government citizens’ social contract and relationship.
There is too much arrogance around government circle. This arrogance, borne out of greed and selfishness, can only be the reason to see Bill Gates comment as criticism. For indeed, if those who supposedly lead this country do not know that citizens see them as uncaring and vampires who would continue to suck their blood until they pass out, then we are clearly on a long road to doom.