Bill Gates in Nigeria – lessons for us?


I have been following Bill Gates on Twitter for some time, and one recent “tweet” caught my eye.

“Incredible trip to Nigeria – determined and getting closer to eradicating polio. Government, partners and Nigerians are committed and inspiring”

Then I searched around a bit for more information on his trip to Nigeria….not too difficult! On his website you find the notes from his trip, as well as a film clip that shows him voicing his thoughts and vision for polio in Nigeria. Find an excerpt below.

“I spent most of my first day in Kano, one of the northern states most vulnerable to polio. I met with community leaders, visited a local health center and stopped in at an informal school where students study the Koran in Arabic. On the streets and almost everywhere else we went, I noticed so many young children around. Nigeria has more people by far than any other African country, and more than 40 percent of them are under the age of 15. That makes polio immunization a big challenge. Kano had just begun a campaign to immunize more than 6 million children under the age of five.”

Find a the video here.

Now – I went back to read that tweet again – “Government, partners and Nigerians are committed and inspiring”. How often have you heard that from anyone lately, Nigerian or foreign when referring to the work being done by the Nigerian Government? Something is happening in the deliverance of primary health care in Nigeria, and it might have something to do with the leadership of the National Primary Care Development Agency. We have previously written about the Executive Director who returned to Nigeria after working for the World Bank for several years. Recently, 6 new directors were appointed (some re-appointed) to take forward the vision of delivering the promises on polio and vaccine preventable diseases in childhood. Again what caught my eye in the newspaper article announcing this was the statement…

The new directors were appointed following their success at a recent public service recruitment interview and examination jointly organised by the Federal Civil Service Commission, Federal Character Commission, Governing Board of the Agency, Federal Ministry of Health and a Human Resources Consulting Firm.

Ha? This is happening in our own public sector? 

But let’s go back to Bill Gates and his commitment to public health in Nigeria. Apart from the amounts being spent on global projects and programmes that will eventually affect the health of the Nigerian people Bill Gates is spending millions of dollars directly on programmes in Nigeria. This has led me to wonder about all our millionaires. We hail and celebrate when they break into the list of the richest people on earth. They drive in convoys with police “protection” and fly around our dilapidated airports with their private jets. On the weekends, all the first class seats on British Airways flights out of Lagos or Abuja are regularly fully booked. How much have our millionaires given back to our health, education and social institutions and programmes? How can they sleep at night on all their wealth and drive past (or fly over) all those hospitals and schools all over our country. How do they feel when they see Bill Gates in Nigeria, caring for the same children they just drove past?

As we celebrate Bill Gates for his extraordinary career in building one the most successful companies, and thereby becoming the richest man in the world, let us consider what the biggest lesson in Bill Gates life is for us as Nigerians. I suggest that it is not what you will read in most cases studies for MBA programmes or many of the motivational books on the market.  I suggest that the biggest lesson in his life for us as Nigerians is not that he revolutionised the way we work with Microsoft products in our daily lives, or that he became extremely wealthy in the process, but in his promise that he will give almost all of it away in seeking solutions to the world’s biggest social problems….and God knows we have many in Nigeria.

In 2006, at the International Conference for AIDS in Toronto, Bill Gates made an appearance on the podium for the first time at one of these AIDS conferences. He announced his intention to give upthe day-to-day running of Microsoft, a company that has revolutionized our way of life, and devote the rest of life into work for his foundation: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is now one of the largest funders of research into health issues in the world.  I could not help but think; in 10 years time Bill Gates might be remembered less for his role in the growth of information technology, and more for public health issues? What a story that will be.
Somone was in the process of redefining his legacy. Could Microsoft become a footnote in the Bill’s legacy?

Bill Gates writes of his experience in Nigeria in the Huffington Post.
Follow Bill Gates on Twitter here and follow Nigeria Health Watch on twitter here

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Bill Gates get the concept of questioning and he is hence making his own observations of how well his Foundation is doing in Africa. Africa needs to understand that it is their right to question and do so to make changes to their society. I found an nice post on questioning here: Desouza has also written on his experiences in South Africa –

  2. It goes without saying that in the pursuit of success one is preoccupied with accumulating wealth for self satisfaction… In the short term this may well be self fulfilling. However, to etch you name on the plaques of eternity, we need to move from success to significance. Significance in life entails dedicating our resources to helping others. This is ultimately what we should strive for in humanity.

    Bill Gates has sure taken steps to immortalise himself by his recent steps…I also understand the he is fully behind the recent initiative by millionaires in America to give up half of their estate either in their lifetime or after they pass on to further help the needy.
    In the case of our dear millionaires back home, there is a desire due to perceived norms in society to perpetuate a wealth hierarchy and maintain the superiority status(“I better pass my neighbour”).
    As this seems to be the case, the only chance at philanthropy would be motivated by secondary gain.

    I believe there is still a long way to go in achieving that status with the wealthy in Nigeria…That said, I hope there are lessons to be learned from Mr Gates visit to Nigeria.

  3. While most Nigerian ‘rich’ men and women abhor association with society’s poor and deprived and live in their false bubbles, some are lighting fires of philanthropy. Recently the media carrried the news that Gen T. Y. Danjuma rtd who earned a $2billion from an oil well he did not apply for but was allocated to him set up a foundation with $500million in support of strengthening social welfare services. I do not know him but his act of philanthropy I see as a prick of conscience. Any ideas of what can be done to prick the consciences the super rich Nigerians called ‘money miss road’.

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