Shaming Bill Gates on health and education
I shed tears recently after I confirmed a social media post about the way Argentines systematically eliminated black people from their land who were brought there as slaves. It was too shocking to be true so I got in touch with a former colleague who had spent about twelve years doing mission work in Argentina, and she confirmed to me that it was indeed true, that in the early 19th century more than half the population of Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, was made up of blacks but gradually the black population in the entire country was decimated through direct and indirect measures adopted to expose the men to epidemics, battles and outright slaughter while the women were put through forced sexual encounters aimed at black colour elimination, with some lucky ones fleeing to neighbouring countries to have a meaningful life. The idea was to make Argentina completely white, and so migration from European nations like Spain, Italy, Portugal etc were encouraged, bringing in criminals and all sorts of persons so long as they were white. In the last recorded population Census in 2010, a remnant Afro-Argentine population stood at 0.37% of a total population of more than forty million people.
I shed tears because the black man is the butt of every race, whether it is the Caucasian or the Asian or the Arab. Anyone whose colour is slightly lighter than the black man’s sees himself superior by that very fact. And Nigeria sustains the narrative because despite the opportunities given us by creation (nature), we have only succeeded in turning collective wealth into fiefdoms where we flaunt our assets and expect our subjects to bow and tremble at our mere sight. Where the ancient Greeks made a distinction between the idiot as one who lives for himself and the tribesman as one whose vision and mission is never beyond the good of the tribe and finally the citizen as one who has a sense of the common good and therefore could truly constitute society; we manage only to oscillate between idiocy and tribalism, never aspiring towards citizenship which consciously downplays self-centeredness and clannishness for a broader vision of humanity and society. Little wonder then that Fukuyama the political scientist lamented that the Nigerian State has no moral compass nor technical capacity to deliver development to citizens from a dispassionate and objective manner. It remains indeed a challenge for us to evolve a State where resources are distributed based on need and where living in dignity is seen as the right of every human being.
The irony of it all is that smaller African nations are beginning to realize that the State needs to be in the service of the people. I visited Rwanda in order to pay homage at the Genocide Memorial in December 2017, and I was amazed at the level of infrastructure, including electricity availability. Their ease of doing business is one of the best in the world, apart from their environmental consciousness: no plastic bags in Rwanda! The other thing that took me there was to familiarize myself with their health system. They have an integrated health system, where government factors in the health facilities belonging to faith based organizations in the national health plan. Where a church health facility was existing already, government would not build its own but subsidize the existing one to cater for the citizens, and where a church wants to build a health facility, it plans along with government to ensure that it is not already in the plan of government to build one; the church too does not locate a clinic where there is a government one already. Everyone gets enrolled in the community health insurance scheme and pays a token annual subscription, and this entitles one to treatment, even if it is overseas. In other words, it is not government functionaries alone that could be flown abroad when there is a complication – even the poor could have a chance of going abroad for treatment if need be. I decided to visit one of the hospitals, because I was afraid a lump I had at my backside was cancerous. I was impressed by the facilities, the sanitation and the civility, although I left without the attention as I had forgotten to carry my international passport along. Thank God that later tests at Asi Ukpo medical centre in Calabar revealed it was a lipoma.
Imagine if governments whether at State or at Federal level decided to partner with faith based organizations to ensure the right to health or education of citizens; imagine if the health budget was upped and subventions were granted to coordinating bodies of faith based entities to support human resources, equipment and scarce medicines in faith based health facilities! Imagine if government could partner with faith based entities to kick-start proper community health insurance schemes to increase health access! I know some states have talked about community health insurance scheme, but you could be sure that if it is not mere hype, it would be a Nigerian version where it becomes an opportunity for an official of state to become rich overnight.
What amazes me is that Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly talks about partnerships as a strategy of achieving the SDGs and yet government gives lip service to serious partnerships. Peter Obi gave back, and funded mission schools, and the result was there to see in terms of infrastructure and success rates at WAEC! Why can’t government at all levels be scientific and take note that a case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt?
I am aware of the challenges in Nigeria, because once government decides to give subvention to faith-based organizations, before you know it there would be arguments between CAN and MURIC, and worse of it, every General Overseer will claim that his hugely profit making school or health outfit also deserves subvention whereas I am talking of those health and educational facilities set up to grant access to the poor.
As the level of government we can take seriously at all is the federal, let the federal government go beyond symbolic measures and take radical and concrete steps to achieving the SDGs through partnerships with faith based institutions. Let’s begin by developing the necessary frameworks and initiating phased interventions. The June 12 apology shows that the Buhari government does not want to continue with business as usual. Even if it were an indirect way of compensating the faith based community for its stolen assets in terms of schools and health facilities, let government grant greater access to the poor in health and education by supporting faith based institutions in their noble tasks in these regards. This is some way to answer Bill Gates.
Fr. Bassey serves at the Catholic Secretariat as national director of Caritas Nigeria.