It is disheartening to note that despite Nigeria’s consistent population growth, the economy is yet to unlock the full potential embedded in human capital development. Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa and the 7th in the world, its economy ought to be resting on a gold mine of human capital, a crucial asset to a nation’s growth. Sadly, however, this potential has remained rather untapped owing to a lack of adequate investment and policy blueprint on the part of the government. For instance, even the federal economic plan, the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) rather focuses more on investment in physical infrastructure with little attention on addressing urgent needs of the people, such as education, health, job, and skill acquisitions.

It is against this backdrop that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, United States, titled, “Measuring human capital: A Systematic Analysis of 195 Countries and Territories, 1990 to 2016”, published in September a damning  global report on countries’ investments in health care and education  in its international medical journal, The Lancet, in which Nigeria is ranked 171st out of 195 countries sampled in the world for its 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 report stressed.

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, showing Nigeria being placed just behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo (170th) and just ahead of Zambia (172nd). The United States ranked 27th; and South Africa, 144th.Also,the study places Finland at the top with Turkey showing an impressive raise in human capital; and China, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam with notable improvements.

This findings, according to the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Christopher Murray, “show the association between investments in education and health and improved human capital and GDP – which policymakers ignore at their own peril, adding that as“ the world 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 Gross Domestic Product on health. Little wonder then that the country has the worst health indices in maternal and child mortality rates; and the worst place for a child to be born, as well as the country whose polio disease incidence are 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, we need to refocus attention and resources towards an enhanced improvement and access to basic education, healthcare, housing, skill acquisition and employment. The Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, was therefore right when he advised the National Economic Council at its meeting with them

in April as a special guest, urging the leadership and other stakeholders to redirect Nigeria’s development focus to health, education and skills acquisition.

We recall a World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index 2017 similarly ranked Nigeria badly with its 114th position out of 130 countries. This ugly global ranking is coming not as a surprise, as UNESCO in 2014 through its director in Nigeria, HassanaAlidou, 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 made known that 207,818 unqualified teachers were in the primary schools across the six geo-political zones of the country. The litany of woes in the education sector continues even in the secondary and tertiary institutions as basic facilities like pipe-borne water, electricity, modern and conducive lecture halls and theatre, as well as adequate and well trained teachers are grossly lacking. This is why the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, might soon be on strike over the non-release of the N200 billion promised to universities annually, as outlined in the 2009 renegotiated FG-ASUU agreement.

This is unacceptable and government must as a matter of urgency workout a blueprint that will return our education to its glorious past. In Singapore, for example, their teachers are each subjected to 100 hours of professional development annually, according to Vivian

Stewart at the Centre for Global Education. This more the reason countries like Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and Singapore, etc are ranked exceedingly well in HDI, and more reason why the country must remodel its education along the best modern global practice.

It is a sad commentary to note that despite our population growth, the economy is yet to unlock the full potential rooted in such a great asset. This is owing to a number of factors- human capital flight, mismatch between formal education and industry requirements, amongst others. 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, the country has become one of the most developed countries in Asia. We therefore, need visionary leadership that sees education and health as a crucial ingredient in human development and socialization requiring urgent attention. It is our view that investment in STEM —science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are surer route to effectively coping with the global trend, that guarantees improved living standards and life-expectancy for humanity. This is a challenge that our government must tackle head-long.

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