Recently, the chairman, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said that he did not fully appreciate the magnitude of neglect in Nigeria’s health sector until he had a conversation with the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates. Dangote, who spoke in New York, United States, at the 2019 Goalkeepers Meeting of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that since his meeting with Gates, he had become more interested in working to improve children’s access to nutritional food and the health care system in the country.
Dangote said: “Really, it was mind-boggling when we had this agreement to collaborate with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and that really opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of challenges in health. At that time, I didn’t have the opportunity of meeting Bill but meeting Bill changed me into a different person. This is somebody that has nothing to do with us in Africa or Nigeria but he is putting his money and his soul into everything. He is very committed to helping humanity and that really surprised me a lot. I realised that he is a simple person; I never knew Bill would be this simple. He is a very soft-spoken guy and kind-hearted.” The business tycoon added that he hoped to give out a chunk of his $9.2bn wealth to charity, following in Gates’ footsteps.
On his part, Gates said that he would not have had the kind of relationship he had in Africa without Dangote. He commended Dangote for his work in helping children overcome malnutrition in Nigeria through food fortification. Gates also thanked Dangote for being a true friend and teaching him how to communicate directly with people instead of sending them emails. He noted that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was able to do more work in Northern Nigeria with the help of Dangote, who he said personally called six state governors and asked them to listen to him.
To say that Nigeria’s extant challenges in health, education and other critical sectors are daunting would indeed be an understatement. It is, however, commendable that Dangote, Africa’s wealthiest individual and a key player in global affairs, has in the last 25 years been working hard to address poverty by way of corporate social responsibility. In a way, though, the fact that it took an American keenly interested in African affairs to shed light on the magnitude of challenges confronting the country in the health sector shows that the country’s elite are not fully attuned to the reality of things in the country.
With the possible exception of people like Dangote, most of the country’s political elite have been criminally disinterested in the affairs of the vast majority of their compatriots who live in horrendous conditions. Yet it was precisely this kind of alienation and insensitivity that caused the French revolution. To say the least, it is in the interest of the elite to change the system. The conditions in the country are alarmingly unjust and urgent steps need to be taken to reverse the trend. History has shown time and again that those who are not bothered about approaching implosions suffer the cruel fate of watching all that they thought they owned coming to nought.
By virtue of his position, Dangote has an important role to play in talking to members of the elite. It is salutary that he has joined the Global Giving Pledge started by Gates, who vowed to devote half of his wealth to addressing poverty, but he cannot do it all alone. The elite should be galvanised to promote the public cause.