Thank you Mr. Bill Gates for that wonderful sermon delivered with the candour of those Old Testament prophets sent by God to deliver the word of truth. I hope our leaders whom you addressed at Aso Rock will hear, ponder and turn around to address the issues of great concern to you and to God.
Not since Chinua Achebe’s divinely inspired essay Trouble With Nigeria have I heard anything like this, have I been touched. I have cut out your message and pasted it on my wall to be read every day. I hope our leaders will follow suit.
This is not an ordinary message. This is not the case of Barbarians at the gate. This is Bill Gates at the gate. At our gate. Speaking straight from his troubled heart, from his troubled soul. A man weeping for a country that God has endowed with so much, yet there is nothing to show for. This is Nigeria, God’s own country, yet it is as if God has given up on us, because after all these years of oil wealth flowing from the bowls of our land and generating so much money at the international market, there is nothing to show for it. Look at our infrastructure. Look at our roads. Look at our hospitals. Look at educational institutions and system. Look at our electric power. Everywhere you look, there is nothing like a pass mark. All we have are zeros. Failures upon failures. Governments come and go yet Nigeria is the loser. Nigerians are the losers. Nigeria is on the verge of being a failed nation, if we haven’t already failed.
It is not as if we Nigerians are not smart. In spite of our poor educational system and infrastructure, Nigerians who are lucky to escape from Nigeria to find succour in green pastures abroad turn out to be the best in their fields. Nigerian doctors are the best in America and in other parts of the world where they find themselves. Not just doctors. Our engineers, our students, our writers, our footballers, our teachers, our lecturers at various universities abroad have all turned out to be great ambassadors of Nigeria.
Thank God Bill that you know and have read the works of a young Nigerian writer by name Chimamanda Adichie whom your wife and soulmate Melinda “especially admires” and “who captured the country’s spirit when she said her fellow Nigerians have ‘big dreams and big ambitions’.”
Thank God you know a Nigerian hero the late Dr Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Nigerian minister of health in the 1980s who, in your words, “helped establish primary health care as the global standard.”
Like those prophets of old, you are filled with lamentation: “Tragically, 40 years after Dr Ransome-Kuti helped other countries set a course for the future, the Nigerian primary health care system is broken. The evidence for this can be found in the epidemic of chronic malnutrition, or stunting. As the name suggests, chronic malnutrition is not a disease children catch. It is a condition that develops over time because they are deprived of a diverse diet and the services a strong primary health care system provides.
“The consequences of stunting are devastating. Though stunted children are defined as shorter than average, we’re not particularly concerned about their height. What we’re about is their brains, or what Akin Adesina calls ‘gray matter infrastructure.’ This is picture of the brain of a single normally developing infant. And next to it is a picture of the brain of a chronically malnourished infant. Every brain and every child are different, but you can clearly see the difference in the number of neural connections in these two brains. And once this kind of damage is done, it’s very hard to repair. In Nigeria, one in three children is chronically malnourished and could therefore be at risk. This is a tragedy for each of these children; it is also a huge blow to the economy. According to the World Bank, addressing the stunting crisis in Nigeria would add almost $30 billion to the GDP. So what will it take to solve stunting? It will take a focus on agricultural development, nutrition and primary health care.”
My dearly beloved Bill, I want to call you Pastor Bill Gates, but you are not a pastor. Even though you are not a pastor, you have a heart purer and cleaner than most Nigerian pastors or even pastors anywhere in this world. You are not a pastor but you pay your tithe. Only in Nigeria, you have paid tithes amounting to $1.6 billion so far and you plan to increase your commitment.
The big question is why Nigeria? Why do you keep coming to Nigeria? Why do you love Nigeria so much, even when our leaders don’t love us and we don’t love ourselves? Why do you love the children of Nigeria? Why do you love the mothers of Nigeria, especially the pregnant mothers and the mothers who nurture little children?
As an evangelist and a computer guru who travels around the world doing good, you have “realized that billions of people had a problem that computers couldn’t solve. They lacked the basics of a good life: food, shelter, 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. 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 is here.”
Every time you come to Nigeria, you feel so sad for a country that God has endowed with riches yet poverty spreads like an epidemic with only very few people having immunity against poverty. You came here armed with an appalling data which indicates that in Nigeria, life expectancy is so brief. In fact, the briefest on earth.
“From the point of view of the quality of life, much of Nigeria still looks like a low-income country,” you say. “Let me give a few examples. In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68. In low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still: just 53 years.
“Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world, ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.”
Every prophet of God knows that it is not easy to speak the truth. Truth is bitter. But it must be said! You told us how uncomfortable you feel telling the truth about Nigeria. Again, your words:
“I do not enjoy speaking to you this bluntly when you have been so gracious enough to invite me here. But I am applying an important lesson I learned from Alhaji Aliko Dangote. Recently, Aliko and I were having a conversation with several governors about their states official immunization rates. Aliko’s ways of stressing the importance of accurate data was to tell us ‘I didn’t get rich by pretending to sell bags of cement I didn’t have.’ I took from that that while it may be easier to be polite, it’s more important to face facts so that you can make progress.”
Let me end with a few quotable quotes from your sermon on Nigeria, particularly where you emphasize the need to invest more on people first: “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…Nigeria will thrive when every Nigerian is able to thrive.”
Once again, thanks Mr Bill Gates for telling us the truth. My prayer is that our leaders will have a deep rethink and act on all the things giving you nightmares about Nigeria, a beloved country that makes you cry.
Next week: Mairo Mandara, the woman between Bill Gates and Dangote.