Knocks for FG’s home feeding programme
NUT, NAPTAN: Unions, teachers, parents not consulted, involved
NANS condemns programme, threatens ‘mother of all protest’
PDP: It’s a ploy to siphon N13.5bn public funds
As the Federal Government commences the newly launched ‘Take Home Ration (THR)’ for primary school pupils nationwide during this COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, barrage of criticisms have continued to trail the exercise from various stakeholders, who condemned the process for lack of transparency and a ploy to fleece the nation’s wealth
ritical stakeholders have raised concerns over the Federal Government’s school feeding programme for primary school pupils in country, criticising the process for lack of transpareny and riddled with flaws.
The Federal Government had Thursday, last week, commenced the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme in Abuja with 29,000 beneficiaries, and subsequently in Lagos and Ogun States for children in Primary 1 to 3 in public schools the programme participating in the school feeding intervention.
Under the intervention, which will be subsequently extended to other states of the federation, the Federal Government is to spend N13.154 billion, while no fewer than 3.132 million households or children will benefit.
According to the government, each household is expected to receive a Take-Home Ration (THR) valued at N4,200, made up of 5kg bag of rice, 5kg bag of beans, 500ml vegetable oil, 75ml palm oil, 500mg salt, 15 pieces of eggs and 140g tomato paste.
The globally accepted programme is part of efforts by the Federal Government at supporting children as they are at home to have access to nutrient-rich foods despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding due to the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19).
Some international organisations, including UNICEF and UNESCO, have raised concerns over the health, nutritional and educational implications on pupils not having access to free meals at school, as a result of the compulsory lockdown of schools to contain spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Worried by the development, President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, had in March 29, directed the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, to liaise with state governments to develop strategies on the continuation of the school feeding programme.
The Federal Government Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, launched few years ago, was captured under the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) initiated to boost enrolment and retention of public primary schools through free meals to improve children nutrition.
Flagging off the programme in the Federal Capital Territory on Thursday, the Minister described the feeding programme as one of the social interventions initiated by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Umar-Farouq, although, school children are at home following the shutdown of schools as a result of the pandemic, the ministry in consultation and collaboration with state governments identified the distribution of Take-Home Rations (THR) to the households of the children on the programme as a feasible method of achieving the directive after exploring several options.
On its implementation modalities, the Ministry said states were requested to carry out mapping exercises in order to trace the households of the children using all available data sources including the School-Based Management Boards, community focal persons, cooks on the programme and most importantly existing school registers in the LGAs where the schools are domiciled, which is the primary source of data of beneficiaries used by the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme.
On the second level of verification, the ministry is to deploy the door-to-door voucher distribution process for efficient implementation of the programme across the federation.
The vouchers, which are QR coded, serialized as well as the date and time-stamped, identified households that will be able to access the Take-Home Rations from the distribution centres.
Already, over 6,000 schools, the ministry pointed out, would serve as distribution centres for clusters of communities, except in some states with unique security and safety issues where other structures will be used.
“The provision of Take-Home Rations will, therefore, be carried out based on data provided and structures put in place by the HGSFP over the years, with the Federal Government providing funds to the states for implementation,” the Minister noted.
The uncooked food items, it was learnt, had been assessed and approved by nutrition experts as adequate for the children.
Under the programme, the Ministry is receiving Technical Support from the World Food Programme (WFP), which argued that for millions of children around the globe, the meal they get at school is the only meal they probably get in a day.
“As a result there are tendencies that such children due to the coronavirus lockdown and increasing hunger, are at risk of falling sick, dropping out of school or losing their best chances of escaping poverty,” the organisation added.
But, following the technical partnership with the WFP, a joint document on “Safe Distributions during COVID” had been developed and to be shared with the state governments before implementation.
The ministry had also incorporated rapid sensitisation into all the phases of this model so that people are equipped with the knowledge required to stay safe and maintain social distancing while accessing and delivering this service.
For effective implementation, the ministry said it would deploy resources to provide oversight for the processes towards ensuring equity and accountability, with field personnel and monitoring teams already set up.
To ensure equity, transparency and accountability, anti-graft agencies, such as EFCC, ICPC, the Department of State Services (DSS), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as well as civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations, and field personnel and monitoring teams had been engaged to monitor contractors engaged in the programme.
The Minister said: “As an extra layer of monitoring the processes, the Ministry has requested other agencies of government including the Department of State Services (DSS), EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and a host of Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations to help in the monitoring.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for FCT, Hajiya Ramatu Aliyu, had said the essence of the modified programme was to ensure that despite the lockdown, pupils do not look malnourished before the reopening of schools.
In the FCT, the FCT Administration has deployed 400 teams across 62 distri bution centres across the wards in the six area councils to distribute vouchers to qualifying households.
Giving more insight on the programme after its kick-off on the floor of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Umar-Farouq, however, said the idea behind the home feeding was for the food vendors, who were earlier engaged before the advent of COVID-19 to deliver on their contract which they had already been paid.
“Asking them to return funds already paid to them would be difficult,” the Minister said, adding that measures had been taken to ensure that the contractors especially food vendors deliver on their mandates as their lists had already been submitted to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for monitoring should they default in their contractual agreement with the government.
But, barely few hours to its take-off, barrage of criticism from various stakeholders, as well as the opposition political parties and unions had at different fora trailed the programme, tagged a fraud.
Firing the first salvo, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), while querying the process, however, raised concerns over the absence of school administrators, among other lapses claimed to have abhor transparency of the process.
Secretary General of the NUT, Dr. Mike Ene, who said the home feeding for school pupils was a good initiative considering its health and educational benefits, noted that the union was uncomfortable and skeptical over the process which sidelined the teacher’s union, school proprietors, headmasters and teachers, who have direct link with the pupils and their parents in the implementation of the programme.
He noted that engaging the right stakeholders in any activity was paramount not only to achieving success, but also shows proof of transparency and accountability, saying NUT had expected that since school feeding programme is being carried out in schools for pupils, the teachers and school administrators should be involved to authenticate the true identities of parents receiving the THR on behalf of the children or wards.
Ene said: “This is why stakeholders have queried the transparency of the process. I wondered how the ministry got to know the phone numbers of the parents of the pupils. It is expected that if you want to undertake an activity you should reach out to those that are directly involved in order to receive the desired assistance.
“For instance, we expected that in such an exercise, the NUT should have been properly consulted. Teachers, who are the real practitioners, and who have the bio-data of every child domiciled in their schools and in the registers should have been consulted.
“How are we sure that those so-called parents they claimed to have called or related with are truly the parents of the pupils that were given the food packs.”
The union lauded the government for assisting parents by not stopping the school feeding programme, but the Minister should have told us how transparent the process is in view of the fact that anyone could claim to be parents of any of the child.”
The teachers’ union further argued: “We doubt the method they have adopted, and we are not happy with that method. NUT is kicking against the procedure because if we were consulted there are things we could have suggested to make the process more transparent for Nigerians to believe in what government is claiming to be doing.”
According to the NUT, there were clear indications given the Minister’s comments that the government seemed not to be ready to engage critical stakeholders in the education sector in the THR programme.
Also, the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), which through its National Public Relations Officer of the association, Dr. Precious Ekundayo, condemned the exercise for lacking transparency, called for a review or cancellation of the school feeding programme by feeding the pupils at their homes during the period of lockdown.
NAPTAN frowned at a situation in which parents, a critical stakeholder in the nation’s education project were not involved in the policymaking as well as the implementation, thereby paving way for the lapses being experienced, saying it felt that a review or total cancellation was necessary based on keen observation of the programme implementation in Abuja.
NAPTAN, which demanded details of the programme, threatened that the association would direct parents and children nationwide to reject the food.
“It is now expedient for us as good parents to react to the Federal Government’s gesture, especially in such times when many parents are not working or find it difficult to make ends meet. We are grateful and appreciate the efforts of the Federal Government to ameliorate the burden of parents,” the association further said, but criticised the programme, especially during the lockdown.
NAPTAN added: “Though, we realise that the policy is good, our investigations proved the implementation otherwise and this called for review or total cancellation if our primary objective is to be achieved.”
“There is no way parents’ body and teachers can be excluded to have the desired results if not to create rooms for corruption,” NAPTAN said, claiming that before the lockdown, not all schools in the states where the school feeding programme was being implemented were benefiting from the initiative.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), however, kicked against the exercise, alleging that the feeding programme for pupils at home during the coronavirus pandemic was a ploy by the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and some officials in the Presidency to siphon the N13.5 billion, using the children as metaphors to divert public funds.
In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party described the move as a “scam,” saying that the use of innocent school children as cover to steal and funnel about N679 million daily to private pockets was “sacrilegious, wicked and completely unpardonable.”
According to him, the Minister had failed to provide details of how she intends to reach the 9.7 million school children, who are now in their homes in different locations since the closure of schools, even as officials continue to muddle up required documentations in a bid to cover their tracks.”
This was as the party, which noted that it had nothing against efforts to provide succour to Nigerians, particularly the children, at this critical time, however, stressed that if officials handling the scheme meant well, they should hand over the funds to the Ministry of Education in the respective states for appropriate dispensation to properly identified and documented vulnerable children.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which expressed discomfort with the THR programme, has threatened to mobilise its members nationwide in what was described as a “mother of all protest,” if the Federal Government should go ahead with the school feeding programme while schools were shut down.
The National President of NANS, Danielson Akpan, who queried the source of the budgeted N13.5 billion to be spent monthly on the programme, further stressed that the decision was a reckless spending on the part of President Buhari-led administration.
The union, therefore, described the Federal Government programme as fraud, misplaced priority and a discreet attempt to fleece the country of its hard earned resources mostly needed at this time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
NANS, which insisted that the funds could have been used to revive the collapsed education system and fund infrastructural projects in institutions of learning including public primary schools mostly grappling with gross neglect, said: “We condemn in totality the plan to feed school children at home. We see it as an avenue to perpetuate corruption and fraudulent activities.
“We also frown at any attempt by some people to further loot our national treasury. The continuation of the school feeding programme at this period that schools are closed is sheer fraud. If the Federal Government goes ahead to implement the programme, we will have no choice, but to mobilise our members across the federation for a mother of all protests.”