In his presentation to a packed audience at the event organised by the African Studies Centre of Oxford University School of Global and Area studies, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo highlighted four important areas with regard to world development in the next two decades. These are population, the environment, output of goods and services and social exclusion, under which rubric comes poverty and human capital development, and its implications for global security. Africa’s success or failure in the four areas highlighted would have profound impact on the world.
Although the presentation covered the whole continent, Nigeria was the primary focus with 20 per cent of the total population of Africa and projected to have a population of 400 million by 2040, making it the third most populous country in the world posing enormous challenges with regard to jobs and the environment.
Osinbajo reviewed a list of human capital development indicators which have been summarised by Amartya Sen as the “ability to live a good life”. Poverty, he noted, was primarily caused by deficiencies in human capital development; Africa lagged behind the rest of the world in human capital development and Nigeria scored very low worldwide, ranking 157 out of 189 countries. While tremendous progress had been made in alleviating poverty in Nigeria and Africa in terms of the proportion of the total population the actual numbers had increased. Two-fifth of Nigerians were illiterate and between six and 55 per cent of children were not at school in the various states.
The key factors cited for low human capital development were poverty, corruption, conflict, inequality, climate change, and inappropriate policies and underinvestment by national governments. He highlighted the Boko Haram insurgency, floods and the contraction of Lake Chad caused by climate change as particularly debilitating factors, citing research by Oxford University academic, Paul Collier, on the devastating impact of conflict on the economy. Human capital development had been negatively impacted by the structural adjustment programmes of the 1990s and illicit financial capital outflows, which the Mbeki report estimated at $80 billion. Tax revenues were often very low, in Nigeria, they amounted to only six per cent of GDP.
The government’s role and moral obligation is to reduce poverty, notably, reduce unemployment with human capital development being a key tool in achieving this objective. Governments typically have challenges relating to social investment, physical infrastructure, and tax and business policies. Osinbajo noted that the Buhari administration had made significant effort in dealing with these issues. It had quadrupled the budget on human capital development, made significant investment on infrastructure, implemented policies to diversify the economy, notably, efforts that have earned Nigeria accolades from the World Bank on ease of doing business, with a very significant jump in world ranking compiled by the bank.
Osinbajo said the emphasis had been on measures targeted at the jobless and that the administration had made the largest social investment ever in the country’s history. Notably, the government has provided credit to farmers through cooperatives, targeting the most vulnerable households. The outcomes have been impressive in terms of outputs, recipients and repayment. The country has reduced its trade deficit in rice, tomatoes and other agricultural products, the uptake and loan repayment have also been significant and encouraged the government to extend the scheme.
As part of the effort to improve financial inclusion, the vice president claimed the government’s measures had resulted in two million people opening bank accounts, bringing them into formal business structures. The government’s school feeding programme, involving 9.2 million children, is intertwined with the agricultural sector because it mandates states to use local produce, increasing enrolment and the market for farmers.
In the last two years, Osinbajo claimed the Buhari administration had trained 500,000 people in its digital skills (empire) programme and the three-pronged education policy aims to: achieve self-sustaining goal by 2030; enrol an additional nine million children in school working in partnership with state governments, religious organisations and other stakeholders and in this process, making use of new technology may mean that children would not have to attend school; significantly change the substance and methods of education with an emphasis on improving Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) uptake and quality. The administration is said to be making use of global brands like Microsoft, Oracle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in developing countrywide curriculum and skills, building on work with the Bill and Melinda Gates and the Dangote Foundations.
Human capital development is part of the administration’s comprehensive economic and social development strategy. The objective is to raise the budget significantly and seek long term solutions that target deprivation and the most vulnerable members of the community. They would be looking at innovative ideas and prioritise good governance.
Osinbajo’s Oxford presentation highlighted the impressive efforts of the administration in addressing crucial issues with some caveats. The projection for population growth is an extremely challenging situation and would require two measures that were not covered. Educating girls has been shown to have a significant impact on development and a reduction in the population growth rate — the current growth rate is not sustainable. Typically, in Africa, education for girls lags behind boys significantly. The Vice President made only a very brief mention of STEM, an area that holds great potential but which Africa lags behind. He did not mention vocational education which is also an area that holds huge potential for the country and continent. The country has seen a huge explosion in universities with many graduates becoming unemployed while at the same time many low and medium level technical positions are filled by technicians from outside the country and continent and/or are not attractive destinations for foreign investment because of lack of skilled manpower. Finally, while Nigeria can do with all the help it can get, major technology brands can only really add value if they are truly in tune with the real needs of the country, which means Nigerians setting the agenda.
Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom