Former Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Pate, a public policy expert and a strategic member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) agenda committee, has a passion about improving lives and Nigeria’s public health system. He spoke with Paul Obi about his vision for a better Nigeria, education and how government intervention can be effective. Excerpts:
Since you left office a couple of years ago, there is a foundation which has been linked to you…can you take us through it and your other engagements so far?
The organisation is called Chigari Foundation, its aspiration is to provide world class leadership in supporting communities to implement actions that will positively transform lives and society starting with education, health and bridging the school to work transition for young people in order to ensure that they are actually getting the skills to be employable but also having the opportunity to be employed and contribute to society meaningfully.
It is an indigenous NGO that we formed in 2014 based initially in the North-east part of this country. It is also an effort for us to harness our own resources and the resources of other partners that we can bring together to contribute positively and complement what various governments are doing particularly in the North-east and in Nigeria as a whole. The NGO is currently operating in Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Borno, Yobe Bauchi States and the FCT. We are committed as an NGO that connects the local to national as well as global efforts to develop humanity.
What is the philosophy behind this foundation and your projections?
We believe that Nigeria’s most important assets are its people and that in the years to come, it’s not oil that will be the most important resource of this country; rather it is our human capital. All of our people especially our young people in particular but young people have to go through different transitions in order to contribute in the efforts of national development. First they have to survive birth, childhood, vaccine preventable disease, malnutrition, adolescence, and reproductive health to make the right choices so that they don’t get infections like HIV and to avoid things like smoking and ultimately to live healthy lives and good mental health up to adulthood before they can contribute; otherwise at any point in the health transition they could be truncated in terms of their ability to contribute.
The second transition is the learning transition which is starting from reading, writing and counting, illiteracy and literacy and through primary school from one class to the other to primary school to higher tertiary education and ultimately to learn life longer because the day you stop learning even as an adult then you are not making progress anymore. The third transition is called civic transition, helping young people to be responsible sons and daughters, responsible friends in their classes, responsible citizens in their school, responsible team players within the society where they live and ultimately to grow to be responsible leaders and adults. That is a very important transition that helps to build character but also contributes positively to societal development. For us as a non-governmental organisation, we have a very modest objective. If we can get even 200,000 lives within the next three four years that we have touched positively to put them into the education system to create a path for them, that will be fine.
Global figures like Gordon Brown have projected that there are chances of young people being lifted out of ignorance and poverty through education, and that the gap between the rich and the poor would be breached, so how do you find the synergy to achieve that target?
Education is a great equalizer for everyone no matter your background; if you have access to education you can aspire to higher levels. It is unfair for us to deprive those that are being born today the opportunity to get education by virtue of where they are originating from in terms of social status. There are local governments, state governments and the federal government that they are trying to improve the situation even though in some places it is not enough. Our aim is to advocate but also to find willing partners to catalyse innovative ways that might pull some of those kids that are out of school or that have dropped off from school to bring them back into the education system by providing accelerated learning opportunities.
If we can contribute to roughly 1,000, 2,000, 50,000 or 100,000 children in the North-east for instance to get back into the education system, we will be satisfied that we have made a meaningful contribution to society and we will continue to do that. But we can also provide technical assistance to the states and other agencies that actually need that or we can convene partnership from the global to the regional and local to make sure that efforts of government or development partners actually succeed. So in essence, we are advocates.
You are from the North-east zone where there are a lot of challenges in terms of security and one critical challenge in this crisis is the number of children out of school…do you have a special intervention in that regard?
Yes, I was in several places including Borno, Maiduguri and Damaturu and also some other parts of the country. If you look at the issue of education in the north east, it’s been an issue even before Boko Haram. The environment within which Boko Haram emerged was one that education system was not functioning; it was collapsing in terms of public education. Most people send their kids to private schools even in those states, so statistics from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF shows that there are millions of children that are out of school in Nigeria, and if you look at them by geo-political zone, North-east has the highest proportion of children out of school. More than 50 per cent of children in the North-east were out of school by 2010 even before escalation of the conflict. Also roughly only about 20 per cent have basic literacy between the age of five and 16 and only about 30 per cent has basic numeracy between the age of five and 16. That means that almost 80 per cent don’t have basic literacy and almost 70 per cent don’t have basic numeracy between five and 16.
If you add the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency with the misplacement of populations, you will realise that there is a huge issue. So in the next couple of months we are going to intervene in at least the three topmost states Borno, Yobe and Bauchi which have the highest proportion of out of school children in the northeast compared to Gombe, Taraba and Adawama. To really ride on the back of the public education system we have identified children that can be exposed to an accelerated curriculum to catch up.
So in the North-east in particular, without dealing with health, education and youth employment issue, the security issue will not just be temporary, it will be there for a long time because the restiveness is likely to continue. But when people are educated, they are empowered, they have skills and they are able to find jobs not necessarily government jobs. They create jobs, they can get employed by the private sector, and then you are preparing the ground for sustainable peace.
“When people are educated, they are empowered, they have skills and they are able to find jobs not necessarily government jobs. They create jobs, they can get employed by the private sector, and then you are preparing the ground for sustainable peace”