By Magnus Onyibe
Understandably, owing to the rapid depletion of the nation’s forex reserve, (now reduced to about $27b) the seemingly prohibitive cost of educating Nigerians abroad, and the huge sum expended on medicare overseas are giving the president headache.
Be that as it may, does the situation warrant the decision to plunge Nigerians into the abyss of ignorance and shortening the lifespan of critically ill Nigerians when students are denied foreign foreign exchange, payment of school fees abroad and sick people barred from accessing funds for overseas treatment from tahe CBN?
Before proceeding further, let me quickly invite Mr president’s attention to some pretty disturbing data on where Nigeria currently stands in the new world order with respect to literacy and health care, as captured in CIA World Facts Book.
According to the CIA WORLD FACT BOOK, the average lifespan of a Nigerian male is 52 years, while that of the female is 54.3years. Maternal mortality rate is another kettle of fish at 814/1000 births and infant mortality rate is put at 72.7deaths/1000 births, which is abysmal.
This is unsurprising as govt expenditure on health is a lowly 3.9% of GDP. When Nigerian healthcare conditions are compared to the world standard, Nigeria is alarmingly ascribed no 1, which is the bottom spot and the lowest rung of the ladder.
While the report on education is reasonable, the revelation that Nigeria is at the bottom of the pack in healthcare, is a depressing reflection of our broken health system and, perhaps, a justification for the medical trips to India and Israel for organ transplant etc.
To drive home my point about the great strides Nigeria had made by seeking education abroad,allow me to quote from a New York Times, article under the column WHAT DRIVES SUCCESS.
“Nigerians make up less than 1% of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013, nearly one quarter of black students at Harvard Business School, HBS were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only 11% of whites”.
What’s more, it is some of these same people, who attend schools abroad that constitute the diaspora population, which the World Bank said remitted a whopping $21 billion home in 2015.
What the data above implies is that, although those who study abroad consume forex initially, they eventually end up generating forex for Nigeria in the long run when, as diaspora dwellers, they remit funds back home, making allocation of forex for schooling abroad, a veritable investment with a good return on investment, ROI.
Under the scenarios above, if l were the minister of education or minister of health, these are the hard facts that l would take to President Buhari to make the case for him to rethink his policy of stopping allocation of CBN funds to settle bills for education overseas and payment of medical bills of the infirm in foreign hospitals.
Weighed against the dire situation in the health care sector and viewed from the backdrop of the unsavory condition in the education segment in Nigeria, would the cessation of the augmentation role played when Nigerians obtain education and Medicare abroad, not further exacerbate the already precarious condition?
If the policy of exempting education and health care from official sources of forex is implemented to stem the tide of Forex outflow which is perhaps being abused through arbitrary allocations, President Buhari may be killing corruption, but something else our president may be killing, albeit inadvertently, would be knowledge/ literacy.
By that policy, the president might also be vicariously sending Nigerians who need special medical care, like heart transplants in health facilities abroad, to their early graves.
Conventionally, a product or service is barred from being obtained abroad when capacity has been developed locally but in this case, facts on the ground clearly indicate that local capacity for robust education and special health care facilities are lacking.
Lee Kwan Yew(product of Western education), the former president and father of modern day Singapore, had a deliberate policy of sending that country’s young men and women with leadership potentials to schools in England and USA to acquire the acumen required to sustain the phenomenal development of the small Asian Island country that he leap frogged from Third World to First World, in barely two decades.
Overall, the take away from this conversation is that economies that have a workforce with good education and sound healthcare service are the best candidates for foreign direct investment. So, a policy that discourages rather than encourage the growth and development of her workforce by denying her citizens the opportunity of the gains of global cutting edge education and excellent health care, abroad is doomed.These are questions that the president must mull over in order to arrive at an optimal decision to bar or not to bar education and Medicare abroad from official CBN forxe source.
I share President Buhari’s anxiety as he ruminates over how to conserve and apportion the meager forex left in our vaults and figures out the best option to adopt in order to prioritize development, nevertheless, Nigeria may be in grave danger if the president proceeds with the policy that may appear to help in the short term, but would certainly hurt in the long run.
So, the National Assembly, should weigh in with a view to thoroughly debating the proposed initiative to identify its merits and demerits.
•Onyibe is a former Commissioner in Delta State.