Stakeholders: Ministry should present database for Nigerians
NUT: We’re after transparency, probity
Programme only raised false hope – Food vendors
Last week’s announcement by the Federal Government that it will spend N999 million daily to feed school pupils under the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) is being criticised by stakeholders
Critical stakeholders in the na-tion’s education sector have kicked against and faulted the N999 million the Minis- try of Humanitarian Affairs, Disas-ter Management and Social Develop-ment said it will spend daily to feed an approximately 10 million pupils across public primary schools, under the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP).
The ministry, under the watch of its Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq, had last week announced that the ministry would spend N999 million daily to feed Primary One to Three pupils in public primary schools.
But, the stakeholders have alleged that the move was another avenue to siphon and misappropriate public funds, wondering how the same government which is saying there is no money would want to spend almost N12 billion a month on school feeding of children.
According to the Vice President (South West) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Salaam Abdusobor, the programme is still part of the entrenched corruption the country has been witnessing before in the system.
He, however, described the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) as “another conduit for corruption,” saying the government has not had its thoughts clearly planned out as this is a sustained conduit for corruption.
He said: “Similar projects have been embarked upon in the past with no accountability and with no evidence that it got to the beneficiaries. Where are the 10 million beneficiaries? N999 million implies N1 billion per day? While there is no doubt that some children may need feeding, which environment are these children schooling in? Is it unsafe, ramshackle and with run down environments? I think the Federal Government has not had its thoughts clearly planned or mapped out and this is a sustained conduit for corruption.”
Meanwhile, a don at the Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Gbadebo Odewumi, who said initially, he thought that the amount could not be true, wondered that this country would never stop from shocking the people.
“Though it is not the ratio N100 to one child that matters, the priority,
transparency, database, fact and fallacy of the programme,” he noted.
He stressed: “Where are these foods being served? What happens to the millions of kids out of school for insecurity that chased them away from school? Have they been forgotten or is there any scheme for them?
“If it is love for education, one would have been satisfied, but just cast a glimpse of outright disdain for the sector that is ravaged by strikes and extreme lack of infrastructure.”
He, therefore, called for a database on the ministry’s website to be presented for stakeholders and media to follow up this.
The Chairman of Lagos wing of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Comrade Akintoye Hassan, said though there was nothing wrong and new about the school feeding programme, what is amazing is absolute lack of transparency and accountability in the government.
He said: “Most of the time, the people are skeptical if a huge amount reported to have been spent or about to be spent will manifest in the life of the target beneficiaries. Rather, it is seen as an avenue to make away with public funds especially when elections are around the corner.
After all, it happens in most of the advanced countries where the operations of the programme have been institutionalised to enhance effective and efficient delivery of the programme. It is a desirable programme, but deserves to be run for the benefit of the citizens and not to enrich the pockets of the politicians and public officials.”
While criticising the huge amount to be spent daily on the programme apart from other logistics by the ministry, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. N. Oluwole, expressed dismay over what he described as the “deceit of the government.”
He insisted that how would the government, which refused to address the crisis in the university system, take joy in spending such an amount on feeding school children.
That means in a year, the Federal Government will spend over N140 billion in a year feeding the children, when the public universities are dying of stifling of funds,” he said, even as he queried the transparency in the spending of the money.
“What do we expect? This is the same ministry that said it spent a huge amount of money to distribute the same free feeding items to pupils during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak when schools were closed and children were at home. How many children and households got the much orchestrated food pack in South-West, South-South and South-East, and in the North? It is time the anti-graft agencies should beam their searchlight on the activities of the ministry on the the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme,” he added.
The National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) was initiated by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2016, while the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was established in 2019 to superintend and oversee the programme, under which the Federal and State Government provide and feed Primary One to Three pupils in public schools across the country with a meal per day.
Besides, the Ministry is also mandated to oversee the amelioration of the suffering of Nigerians, especially disaster victims, and to lift as many citizens as possible from the shackles of poverty through the numerous agencies under the ministry.
However, investigations by New Telegraph on what such amount would be spent on, revealed that some pupils in the targeted class in some benefitting government schools denied the existence of the programme after few months of its establishment, while many of the food vendors/cooks on their part said the programme had become an avenue for public office holders to embezzle public funds as they were not paid what the government promised them.
They also wondered that how many states and schools are the beneficiaries of the programme as several states are not participating in the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, and even when an estimated 18.5 million children, based on a new statistics by UNICEF, are said to be out-of-school due to the activities of Boko Haram, bandits and other terrorist organisations in some part of the country, particularly the North West and East states. Regrettably, Safia Ali, an NHGSFP food vendor/cook at Kershi Government Primary School in Abuja said the programme only raised false hope in her and made life more difficult for her and other cooks under the programme.
She said: “I was engaged in another petty business before what I saw as the opportunity came for me to be a cook under the programme, and because I believed the job was genuine one and would be long lasting, I abandoned my former business so as to give more attention to the work.
“Now, another person has taken over the premises I was using for the business, and the government only paid me for two months when the programme commenced in the school and since then we have not been paid a dime. I have spent all I have, we have complained and written to the ministry but nothing has been done about it. To me, I see the school feeding programme as an opportunity for public office holders to embezzle money to enrich themselves.”
Meanwhile, the Team Lead of NHGSFP, Aishatu Digil, who further explained that the Federal Government would spend N999 million daily to feed approximately 10 million pupils during a stakeholders’ meeting on disbursement modalities for the review of cost of feeding in the programme in Abuja, said 9,990,862 pupils in Primary One to Three under the programme would now be fed with N100 daily for 20 days in a month, which would amount to N999,086,200 million daily.
According to her, the breakdown of the N100 is N70 for the cost of all food items except egg; N14 for cost of an egg to be implemented through the state structures in partnership with the Poultry Association of Nigeria. “We are planning to have Egg Wednesday, where each child in the programme will be giving one egg every Wednesday.
“Again, N10 stipends for cooks, N5 and N6 for micronutrient fortification, payable to cooks and one naira for quality assurance, payable to supervisors, which is optional,” she said. Digil added that the programme would ensure the elimination of poor implementation practices, saying that the ministry was looking out for reforms.
Some of the children, who spoke with New Telegraph, especially a Primary Two pupil of the LEA Primary School, Kurudu in Abuja, Juliana Shiga, however, said that the government no longer serves the school free meal or implements the programme in their school. Though, she lauded the school feeding programme, saying it encouraged her and some of her peers to come to school regularly on a daily basis. Shiga, who lamented that the implementation of the programme didn’t last long in her school after it tookoff with such glamour, recalled: “We really enjoyed ourselves when the school feeding programme was being implemented in our school.”
She added: “We ate food that was well prepared with meat and egg, and we were always looking forward to coming to school at that time, but now that has changed because for a very long time they no longer give us food again as promised. “I miss the fruits that were given to us in the afternoon with the food then. Indeed, I am appealing to the Federal Government to bring back the programme and should not stop it because we were really enjoying the meals then and we were all eager to come to school.”
From its inception in 2016, the core objectives of NHGSFP is to increase school enrolments, retention of pupils, participation and completion, improvement of nutritional status of beneficiaries and stimulation of the local economy through the school feeding value chain.
Currently, the total number of children enrolled in the programme is about 9.9 million across various government schools of the federation. According to 2018/2019 statistics, 22.7 million children enrolled in public elementary schools and about 117,000 elementary schools in the country.
On what or how the N999 million would be spent daily, the Minister, Farouq, who spoke through her Special Adviser on Media, Nneka Ikem Anibeze, in an interview with New Telegraph, explained that the “9.9 million children are being fed at the current rate of N70 per meal.
The minister, who noted that the N100 per meal per child is yet to get off the block, saying: “If you multiply 9.9 by N70 what will you get? And, if you also multiply that by the N100 approved per meal, which is yet to take off, how much will you get?” But, to the states’ Focal Persons, the school feeding programme has led to an increase in the enrolment of school pupils in schools.
Thus, they urged the Federal Government to sustain the programme after President Buhari’s administration. The Programme Manager, National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in Kano State, Mr. Baba Zubair, recalled that the programme had really helped in boosting enrolment of pupils into primary schools, adding that Kano has over 1.2 million pupils it now feeds every day.
He noted: “From inception, enrolment is the most important benefit of this programme. The pupils have increased more than three times. In addition to the state’s free and compulsory education policy, this school feeding programme has really helped in boosting enrolment of pupils, especially in Primary One to Three, the classes where the feeding programme is presently being implemented.
“The economic benefits are so much that the value chain transcends from the producers to the farmers, local women and every part of the economic pyramid. So, with the school feeding taking place, the farmers produce more food, traders sell more, women also benefit from it.
“In Kano State, we have the largest number of school pupils that are benefiting from this, and currently we are feeding over 1.2 million children in Primary One and Three every day. We have 12,258 vendors or cooks. We have 10 aggregators supplying food items.”
The State Nutrition Officer (SNO) on NHGSFP in Osun State, Mrs. Adedeji Comfort, said the number of school pupils has tripled as a result of the programme, but lamented the hike in the prices of food items in the country. “We have witnessed an appreciable improvement in the enrolment of pupils in Osun. So, this programme is encouraging. Every day, we do monitoring in Osun State schools. Our monitoring team visits schools to count the number of pupils, the quality and quantity of meals the vendors bring to the school,” she said. However, Adedeji traced part of the challenges of the programme to the hike of prices of food items, saying before now the vendors were complaining of the high cost of food items, but currently a bag of rice has risen to N40,000; while a Kongo of beans is sold for N1,500.
“We followed the 2018 ginger meal in the menu table and that is what the food vendors also are using. But, now they find it difficult to follow the menu table and hence requested that they should be given more money,” she said.
On the sustenance of the NHSGFP, some stakeholders in March 3, 2022 in Abuja, during a two-day training organised by the ministry, in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), tagged: “Optimising school meal menus,” using SMP Plus (Plus School Menus Tool) for states focal persons and managers from the six geopolitical zones, commended the commended the programme.
Speaking at the training, the Focal Person for Adamawa State and the North-East, Mrs. Mary Yuwadi, said the ministry, through the NSIP, has increased enrolment in the state as the children receive their breakfast daily.
She noted that some children who had already dropped out of school were now back to school because they were encouraged by the meals given to them in the schools.
Despite the story of woe trailing the programme by the pupils and food vendors, the Minister implored state governments to support the Federal Government by feeding the Primary Four to Six pupils in their respective states.