Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, co-chairman of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the world’s second richest man is unarguably one of the foremost philanthropists of our time. Were it not for the current outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, how many people knew that, after the USA, which contributes roughly half a billion dollars annually to the financial resources utilised in sustaining the operations of the World Health Organization (WHO) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the second highest donor to WHO.
Isn’t it amazing that not China, nor Japan, which are the second and third richest countries in the world, respectively contribute as much as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to WHO.
According to data from reliable United Nations (UN) sources, while the USA contributes 14.67%, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributes 9.76% to the funds that the WHO deploys in its management of public health care worldwide.
And following the recent threat by US President Donald Trump to suspend further USA funding of WHO based on the suspicion that the global health agency fell short in its handling of information from the Chinese in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped up its stake in the war against coronavirus. As such, the foundation which had previously pledged $100 million in February, has made a further commitment of $150 million, making it a total of $250 million “to support development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines; help strengthen African and South Asian health systems; and help mitigate the social and economic impacts of the virus,”
I can bet that not many people in the world are aware that a major contributor to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is Warren Buffet-founder of Berkshire Hathaway, and fourth richest man in the world nicknamed, the sage of Omaha.
Mr Buffet could have established his own foundation but because he is self-effacing and prefers not to court public adulation, he is a silent partner in the Gates Foundation, hence not many people are aware of his involvement in philanthropy.
Like Warren Buffet, Bill & Melinda Gates are also so self-effacing that you would not see them featured in any media promotion of the activities or good work of their charity organisation.
Fortunately for us in Nigeria, goaded and poked by the Governor of the central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, the deep pocketed amongst us are standing up to be counted by generously donating a fraction of their humongous wealth to the good cause of protecting vulnerable compatriots from the rampaging coronavirus monster.
In a country where the dearth of standard medical facilities is outrageously and legendarily horrific, and outward medical tourism gulps in excess of one billion dollars annually, (N400 billion), as recently revealed by the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, the intervention of the billionaires through their donations now in excess of N25 billion towards the provision of the badly needed medical care facilities, is in my opinion, humbling and quite noble.
In fact, it is an open secret that the gap between medical facilities and the number of Nigerians based on World Health Organization (WHO) standards which is 6.5 hospital beds to 10,000 population is so wide and unrealisable in Nigeria that, in the event that there was serious medical crisis stemming from COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences would be so dire, to the extent that the alarming situation of an average of 1000 death per day in New York, USA at a point, would pale compared to Lagos and Kano, the most densely populated cities in Nigeria.
Nothing illustrates the abysmally poor condition of healthcare delivery in Nigeria more than the fact that not even the hospital in Aso Rock Villa, the seat of power that receives billions of naira from the nation’s annual budget, was good enough to manage the compromised health condition of the late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and even President Muhammadu Buhari, who only three years ago, spent about five months in a UK hospital managing his poor health. So, for stepping up to the plate and watching out for fellow Nigerians by donating their hard earned naira, l’m convinced most Nigerians are fascinated and grateful from the bottom of their hearts for the kind gesture of the modern day Good Samaritans.
But what informed the current parade of our celebrity billionaires and movie stars in advertorials placed on CNN programmes at huge costs, and in the pretext that they are sensitising Nigerians about the deadly coronavirus pandemic?
In my considered opinion, that misadventure is not only immoral, but reprehensible.
That’s more so because the majority of Nigerians that they purport to be enlightening about coronavirus are going to bed daily on empty stomachs because the lockdown has denied them of their livelihood since they usually eke out income on a daily basis, while huge sums of money is being exported to the USA via CNN adverts.
The World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 that even before COVID-19 became an issue he was telling world leaders that 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, and 135 million more people of the estimated nearly eight billion people on earth are facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.
According to him, new World Food Program analysis shows that as a result of COVID-19 an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.
Let’s tell it as it is.
Which Nigerian is not aware that death from coronavirus is real and that the simplest antidote for it, for now is hand washing with soap and social distancing? Does anyone in the CA-COVID-19 team -the private sector coalition against COVID-19, really, truly believe that hearing and seeing ‘big men’ from the commanding heights of the economy and Nollywood stars speak on tv would persuade the average Nigerian who is hungry, angry, unemployed and perhaps homeless to engage in social distancing and observe the shelter at home rule?
Although, so far not more than 25 people (even one death is too much) is recorded to have died from COVID-19 in Nigeria, and over 782 amongst the very few tested so far, are positive, it has dawned on everyone that the threat of coronavirus is real.
If any Nigerian was in doubt about the deadly effect of COVID-19 pandemic, the unfortunate passage in the past two weeks of high profile personalities such as the former CoS, Abba Kyari, billionaire automobiles magnate, and founder of Globe Motors, Willy Anumudu and Ex-Managing Director of PPMC, an NNPC subsidiary, Farouk Achimogu, amongst others from complications arising from COVID-19, has driven the point home by creating tremendous buzz and generating enough awareness amongst Nigerians.Since most of us are people of faith, that the Pope and leader of Christianity has not been holding church services in Saint John Cathedral and Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of the Islamic religion has cancelled the traditional Jumat prayers, speaks volumes.
No alarm about the threat of coronavirus can be louder for Nigerians of both Christian and Islamic faith to hear than those sounded by the Pope in Rome and Saudi Arabia’s leaders.
So, who and what is behind the charade of billionaires and performing artistes preening on CNN?
Were there to be any need for the use of traditional media to mobilise Nigerians, why not concentrate it on Nigerian broadcasting stations? If it’s about taking advantage of the wider coverage area of the CNN, how about syndicating the adverts to local tv stations nationwide back in the rural areas where the bulk of Nigerians reside? Better still, why not produce the adverts in the three major Nigerian dialects of Hausa, Yoruba and lgbo spoken widely by practically every Nigerian from the regions? Is Aliko Dangote, not Hausa, are Jim Ovia and Tony Elumelu not Delta lbo and is Femi Otedola not Yoruba. Wouldn’t it have been novel if they spoke to each of the audiences with affinity to them in their local dialects? Without a doubt, these ‘big men’ speaking English on CNN could have connected better with the folks back in their homesteads if they spoke to them in their dialects?
It was very refreshing for me recently when l saw a video clip of former CNN anchor lady, Aisha Sesay enlightening her people in patois spoken widely in her homestead, Sierra Leone.
She simply stripped herself of the Western garb and climbed down to the level of the ordinary Sierra Leonians at the bottom rung of the ladder by communicating with them about coronavirus in flawless patois.
Is it that the people managing the communications responsibility for the CACOVID have forgotten about the data that indicates that the number of households in Nigeria that have access to DStv/Cable tv is a mere three million compared to the number of households with access to regular tv which is 13 million?
This means that there is a 10 million households advantage of regular tv watchers over DStv/Cable tv that features CNN, etc.
Granted that the three million households that subscribe to DStv may comprise of the premium consumers in Nigeria that are business decisionmakers and have the purchasing power which is critical to fast consumer goods marketing companies like Dangote Group and financial institutions like Zenith Bank, UBA, Access Bank and telcos like MTN, GLO, etc whose adverts dominate CNN, but if the target for COVID-19 enlightenment is the critical mass of Nigerians who are vulnerable, then CNN is the wrong medium or platform through which they can be reached more easily and cost effectively.
Clearly, local Nigerian traditional media channels are better by far for reaching out to the masses.
Also, given that it is a settled principle in mass communication ethos that media consumers are attracted more to news that’s more local to them, before external news, utilising the local tv stations and communicating in local dialects would have been the best options.
And if the excuse for the CNN blitz is to target the elite, the same people are already on social media platforms that is awash with information about COVID-19 pandemic.
It is more likely than not that the billionaire donors were misled by the managers of the communications aspect of CACOVID because most of the donors, Aliko Dangote (Dangote lndustries) Jim Ovia (Zenith Bank) Tony Elumelu (UBA) and Herbert Wigwe( Acess Bank) currently have corporate adverts running on CNN and most of the personalities are not featured in the adverts, except one or two and in corporate social responsibility roles.
So how come they suddenly want to give to the public with the right hand, and appear to be using the left hand to take away the same funds through the personal aggrandisement of being featured in CNN adverts ?
Let it not be that by the time the invoice from CNN for the advertisements on the channel is discounted from the estimated sum of N25 billion so far raised, we may be surprised at how much might have been inadvertently exported out of Nigeria from the CACOVID funds to Atlanta Georgia, USA,CNN’s head office.
Perhaps, it is for the avoidance of the scenario above that our legislators contributed a minuscule part of their income to the private sector driven funds to give them the impetus to start clamoring to be the ones to appropriate the funds.
Their justification for their contention is that as legislators, they are constitutionally empowered to appropriate funds, not only government funds but public/private sector funds, too.
I reckon that they were admonished not to further expose their greed and ignorance by a wise person who has their interest at heart, hence they climbed down from their high horses.
To be fair, the lack of adequate funding for the health sector in Nigeria transcends the government in power. Patience Jonathan, wife of ex president Goodluck Jonathan was known to have literally disappeared from Aso Rock villa for a considerable length of time to an undisclosed location where she was receiving medical care.
President Umar Yar’Adua of blessed memory is also known to have received medical treatment in Germany and Saudi Arabia before he passed away in 2010.
Before Yar’Adua, military president Ibrahim Babangida, IBB also traveled from Aso Rock Villa to Germany to receive medical attention for radiculopathy or foot disease.
Invariably, since the past 20 years of return to party democracy in Nigeria, the legislators who were angling to be the ones to ‘share’ the funds raised in the private sector did not deem it fit to provide adequate funds for the provision of robust healthcare infrastructure in budgets that they have prepared and passed into law from 1999 till date.
The World Health Organization rule that stipulates that at least 5% of national budget should be spent on the health sector, has been largely flouted in the budgeting process, and the lawmakers chose to become meddlesome interlopers when they strove to play the role of alpha and omega in the disbursement of privately raised funds aimed at giving long suffering Nigerians protection from coronavirus, which is the height of absurdity.
And you know what, it is only in Nigeria that such mindlessness is condoned.
–Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA , and a former cabinet member of Delta State Government, sent this piece from lagos.