Despite Nigeria’s population growth, the economy is yet to unlock the full potential embedded in human capital. As the most populous country in Africa and the seventh in the world, the nation’s economy ought to be resting on a gold mine of human capital. But this potential has remained rather untapped owing to a lack of adequate investment and policy blueprint on the part of the government. For instance, the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) focuses on investment in physical infrastructure with little attention on addressing the urgent needs of the people, such as education, health, jobs and skill acquisition.
It is against this backdrop that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, United States in a recent report on countries’ investments in health care and education ranked Nigeria 171st out of 195 countries sampled in the world for her investments in education and health care as measurements of its commitment to economic growth. Nigeria’s ranking of 171st in 2016 represents a drop from its 1990 ranking of 155th.
The study also focuses on the number of productive years an individual in each country can be expected to work between the ages of 20 to 64, taking into account years of schooling, learning in school, and functional health.
It shows Nigeria trailing behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo (170th) and just ahead of Zambia (172nd).
These findings, according to the report “shows the association between investments in education and health and improved human capital and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which policymakers ignore at their own peril – and added that as “the world’s economy grows increasingly dependent on digital technology, from agriculture to manufacturing to the service industry, human capital grows increasingly important for stimulating local and national economies’’.
Sadly, the country spent less than one per cent of its GDP on health. Little wonder then that the country has the worst health indices in maternal and child mortality rates and the notoriety of being the worst place for a child to be born. Added to this, the country’s polio disease incidence is yet to be eradicated. Instead of disputing this ranking, Nigerians ought to see it as a wake-up call on the government to rise up to the challenge of developing and tapping the nation’s enormous untapped human capital potential. Thus, the country needs to refocus attention and resources towards enhanced improvement of, and access to, basic education, healthcare, housing, skill acquisition and employment.
We recall that a World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index 2017 had similarly ranked Nigeria low in 114th position out of 130 countries. This dismal global ranking is not surprising as UNESCO in 2014 said Nigeria had the worst education indicators globally, as it led 37 countries with a system that had “education without learning,” meaning that both the federal and state governments “spend on” education rather than “invest in” education. This can be graphically captured within the context of is building of modern classroom blocks without qualified teachers. For example, in 2010, a survey by the government revealed that 207,818 unqualified teachers were working in the primary schools across the six geo-political zones of the country.
The litany of woes in the education sector are replicated in the secondary and tertiary institutions as basic facilities like pipe-borne water, electricity, modern and conducive lecture halls and libraries and laboratories, as well as adequate and well trained teachers are grossly lacking. This is why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) might soon embark on strike over the non-release of the N200 billion promised to universities annually, as outlined in the 2009 renegotiated FG-ASUU agreement.
In our considered opinion, the above scenario is unacceptable and government must, as a matter of urgency, come out with a blueprint that will return the education sector to its glorious past. Therefore, in order for Nigeria to fully enjoy the benefits related with its growing population, more attention must be accorded to investment in human capital. The most notable examples of countries that have effectively leveraged human capital on the path to development are the Asian Tigers (Singapore, Tai-wan, Hong-Kong and South Korea). Singapore, for instance, with a strong emphasis on developing human resources and massive investment in human capital, has become one of the most developed countries in the world.
Nigeria’s situation urgently needs visionary leadership that prioritises education and health as crucial ingredients in human development and socialisation. There is no gainsaying it that any investments in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are surer routes to effectively coping with the global trend and guaranteeing improved living standards and life-expectancy for humanity.This is a challenge that our government must tackle head-on.
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