ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria needs to boost investment in social infrastructure to lift its population out of poverty and achieve a higher income status, billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told Reuters on Thursday.
Gates said in an interview that his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $1.6 billion so far in Nigeria to fund pilot projects targeted at healthcare, agriculture and financial inclusion, its biggest investment in Africa.
But the government needs to boost spending. “That’s what drives the country towards self-sufficiency,” he said after addressing Nigeria’s highest economic policy advisory body in Abuja.
Nigeria officially became Africa’s largest economy in 2014 after changing the way it calculated the size of its output. As a result of the increase, it faces shrinking aid money, which means it has to mobilize its own revenues.
However, it remains a low-income country and investment in infrastructure has not kept pace with a rapidly rising population, let alone spending on health and education.
Gates told the Nigerian Economic Council that neglecting investment in human capital would limit how much Nigeria can grow.
Nigeria is set to become third most populous nation in the world by 2050 with around 400 million people. It emerged from its worst recession in a quarter century last year and launched a reform program to rebuild its finances.
Some economists see the births of 11,000 Nigerians every day as new consumers feeding an engine of prosperity, but others fear they will create a crisis of poverty and unrest.
Gates said his foundation was pushing vaccination against polio in conflict-hit northeast Nigeria and Chad. Nigeria has had one case in the last two years.
“We want childhood death to go down, we want malnutrition to go down, we want malaria deaths to go down and we want agricultural productivity to go up,” he said.
Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha; editing by David Stamp