Bill Gates’s core message is that Nigeria must get its priorities right, and make governance more people-oriented. If Nigeria must grow its potential and make its people happy, Nigerian leaders must develop a sustainable plan for progress, do more for their people and encourage youth development, promote transparency and accountability and reduce alienation. That certainly is not “hate speech.”
“I do not enjoy speaking to you this bluntly when you have been gracious enough to invite me here…” – Bill Gates.
Mr. Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, friend of Nigeria and one of the richest men in the world was in Nigeria recently, but he ended up violating the official interpretation of “table manners” in Nigeria’s corridors of power. When you are a guest in people’s home, you don’t count their nine toes one by one. It is an essential part of African tradition and culture that when people host you in their homes, treat you with courtesy, open their doors to you, even if the dinner they serve you is the worst you have ever had, you are still required to say nice words. Mr. Gates’ recent visit to Nigeria was like a special treat.
He had a special audience with the president. He was also a special guest at one of the most memorable weddings on the Nigerian social calendar: the wedding of Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s daughter to the son of a former inspector general of police, IGP Mohammed Abubakar – from Kano to Abuja, to Lagos. Mr. Gates was also invited as a Special Guest to the meeting of Nigeria’s National Economic Council, and was given the opportunity to make a speech and he simply proceeded to tell Nigerian leaders that they are not doing enough to help their people. This was a collection of Nigeria’s biggest men, the same guys who currently call the shots – so powerful that they can demolish anybody’s house, lock anybody up and classify any critical statement as “hate speech.” In fact, one of these big men didn’t waste time in reminding Bill Gates of the expected “table manners”.
The only problem is that Bill Gates chose to determine his own table manners. He did not come to Nigeria to “eat”. He is not a contractor. He is not looking for an oil bloc. And, he obviously has no plans to take a Nigerian wife. He was, in a manner of speaking, putting his mouth where his money is. “I have been coming here regularly since 2006”, Gates told his audience. He defined his bona fide further: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent about $1.6 billion in Nigeria’s health sector, trying to make the lives of Nigerians better – that’s more than N500 billion and that’s Mr. Gates’ hard-earned money. His words: “…With the money I’ve been lucky enough to earn at Microsoft, we started working toward a different goal: a healthy and productive life for everyone. That’s why I come to Nigeria, and that’s why Melinda and I will continue coming for as long as we are able. Our Foundation’s biggest office in Africa is here. We have committed over $1.6 billion in Nigeria so far, and we plan to increase our commitment. We have strong relationships with the federal government, state governments, businesses, NGOs, and civil society organisations. We are eager to support you as you work to make Nigeria a global economic powerhouse that provides opportunity for all its citizens—as you strive to fulfil this country’s immense promise.”
Mr. Gates’ speech was not just about “immense promise”; it was also about the seeming reluctance of the Nigerian state to confront the hard facts and avoid the risks of failing to commit fully to the development of human capital in Nigeria. He took one good look at the Nigerian government’s “Economic Recovery and Growth Plan” and dismissed it on the grounds that it does little to develop human capital. He also believes that a lot more can be done to develop the health, agriculture and education sectors. I find the following particularly instructive: “This is the scenario we all want: Nigeria thrives because every Nigerian is able.