10.5m out-of-school children in Nigeria – Stakeholders
Initiative has increased enrolment in Kaduna, Niger – Govt
Food vendors: We’ve not been paid since 2019
Payment, hiring of food vendors under state’s purview – Ministry
The implementation of the National Home- Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) may be a hoax as stakeholders insist that the exercise has failed to meet its objectives given the high rate of out-ofschool children in the country
Its introduction and launching in 2016 by the Federal Government, was to address frontally the social challenges and tackle malnutrition due to poverty among Nigerian children and its attendant consequences on education.
These, among other crises besetting education, especially poor school enrolment and retention of pupils at primary school level, and the need to improve nutrition among school pupils and prepare them adequately for schooling, are some of the core mandates the National Home- Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) was set to address.
But, six years later, there are mixed-feelings among stakeholders if the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme instituted by the Federal Government under the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) has really achieved the objective, given the high rate of out-of-school children in the country.
Today, the country is bedeviled by the problem of the high rate of out-of-school children, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges of insecurity, as well as what has been described as shoddy implementation of the school feeding programme. In 2021, there were 25 different attacks carried out on schools by bandits; while 1,440 children were abducted; 16 killed and no fewer than 618 schools were closed in six Northern states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Niger, and Yobe over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and teachers.
Given the closure of schools in the states, which had significantly contributed to students’ learning losses, and other challenges, stakeholders have expressed apprehension as to whether the initiative had resolved the problems of low school enrolment.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in its report had revealed that Nigeria has the world’s highest rate of out-of-school children with 10.5 million children out of school. The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, who stated this in a statement while commemorating the International Day of Education, noted “an estimated 35 per cent of Nigerian children who attend primary school do not go on to attend secondary school, while half of all Nigerian children did not attend secondary school in 2021.
It also stated that millions of Nigerian children have never set foot in a classroom, raising concerns over the crisis of low funding of education by the government, and the problem of COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector. Faced with the problem of poor funding, it will be recalled that the Federal Government in its N17 trillion 2022 budget, 7.2 per cent was allocated to the education sector.
Though it shows an increase from 5.7 per cent in 2021, the education budget is still a long way to go to reach the internationally recommended benchmark that countries spend between 15 and 20 per cent of their national budgets on education.
Conscious of the need to boost school enrolment and retention of pupils in schools, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, recently spoke of plans by the Federal Government to re-invigorate the NHGSFP for optimal benefit to ensure high school enrolment and retention in which every child of school-age will be attracted to schooling with healthy nutrition.
“President Muhammadu Buhari innovatively took proactive and decisive measures by launching the NHGSFP in order to fight the impact of poverty and its attendant consequences on children,” the Minister said.
Therefore, the launch of the National Social Investment Programme, the four unique clusters of the N-POWER, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), National Home- Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) were integrated to provide maximum impact.
According to the minister, apart from the fact that their implementation was strategically designed to fully involve major stakeholders most especially the state governments, the programmes were designed deliberately to specifically target sections of vulnerable Nigerians, including youths and children. NHGSFP’s main objective is to address the challenges of malnutrition among school pupils through one free nutritious meal daily in the school.
Under the school feeding programme, children are fed daily with nutritional foods, such as rice, beans, eggs, meat, bread, jollof rice, porridge and fruits, among others, to tackle the challenges of malnutrition among them based on their menu-table for that day.
According to the minister, the challenge of high level of malnutrition among Nigerian children is being addressed through the school feeding programme. To implement the NHGSFP nationwide, Farouq pointed out that presently over 10 million pupils are benefiting from the one free nutritious meal a day during the school term in over 53,000 schools.
“As part of plans, she noted that the ministry had the mandate to reach an additional five million pupils by 2023 with over 100,000 cooks employed, and more than 100,000 small-holder farmers participating in the value chain.” she said.
Apart from boosting nutrition of pupils, the programme, New Telegraph learnt if well implemented, would enhance local economy as the food is produced and purchased from the local farmers and vendors to create a long value chain. The NHGSFP is being implemented by the Federal Government in collaboration with the state governments.
“The role of the Federal Government is to provide funds for the feeding and to make sure the state governments comply with set guidelines for implementing the programmme,” the minister said. For instance, under the programme over 1,500 public primary schools in Kwara State have been identified and over 96,000 pupils in Primary One to Three spread across the 16 local government areas are already benefitting from the programme.
The State Focal Person, National Social Investment Programme in Kwara State, Hajia Bashirat Abdulrazaq, who spoke of the readiness of the state government for the programme, hinted that over 1,947 cooks on ground would benefit from the programme, while revalidation would be carried out as the programme progresses in the state.
While Abdulrazaq added that the programme would go a long way in boosting the enrollment of pupils and reduce malnutrition among children in the state, she stated that parents of the pupils were engaged as cooks.
The state Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, however, noted that the programme would reduce the number of outof- school children in the state, even as he added that it would also help local farmers and create employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on May 25, 2021 flagged off the distribution of utensils under the National Home Grown School Programme in the North Central Zone, where the Minister presented 15,750 kitchen utensils, including stainless plates and sets of cutlery, as well as 1,000 aprons to the FCT, as balance for the 73,060 utensils and 1,555 aprons earlier distributed in 2020.
Farouq, who described the impact of the school feeding initiative as enormous, said: “I am happy to report that we have so far, recorded feeding nearly 10 million pupils, and engaged over 1,000 cooks, while massive employment opportunities are being created within the school feeding ecosystem.”
According to President Buhari’s administration, the programme is in fulfillment of ensuring that school pupils have the best experience of integrity, hygiene and safety during consumption of the free meals provided by the government.
To further strengthen the programme, President Buhari had on January 26 2021, inaugurated an 18-member Presidential Steering Committee on Alternative School Programme (ASP), where he tasked the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to coordinate and lead the deployment of a National Plan which will address the issue of out-of-school children in the country.
The President had insisted that it was unacceptable to see children abandoning formal schooling by engaging in menial jobs and child labour in the markets, streets and workshops, saying:
“While we continue to sustain our efforts on providing formal and conventional education through the activities of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) under the Federal Ministry of Education, it is still a common sight to notice children abandoning formal schooling to become apprentices in shops, workshops and markets, while many others choose to loiter at markets, become cart pushers and hawkers.
These are not acceptable.” Farouq, who reiterated that the Federal Government was totally committed to school feeding programme as it has prompted its resumption nationwide after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, explained that the government was responsible for funding, policy and formulation of guidelines, as well as conducting close monitoring, while the states carry out the dayto- day implementation including procurement of food items, selection/hiring of cooks/food vendors who prepare, cook and serve the meals to the pupils. Part of the move during the pandemic was the deployment of take-home rations initiative to Lagos, FCT and Ogun states, where over 127,000 households of pupils on the programme were targeted to receive a food basket, comprising of uncooked materials including rice, beans, palm oil and eggs, among others.
On the benefits of the school feeding programme, the FCT Focal Person, Chinwendu Eteyen Amba, who lauded the initiative, however, noted that the programme had brought a robust relationship between government and the FCT to boost school enrollment.
However, further investigations by New Telegraph in Niger State revealed that malnutrition level among school children has reduced significantly as a result of the Home Grown School Feeding Programme.
According to the state Focal Person of NSIP, Mrs. Amina Gu’ar told New Telegraph through the Niger State Programme Manager, Umaru Shaba, that “the nutritional level has increased by 29.7 per cent as at today, while the enrollment of pupils in schools presently stands at 559,903, an increase of 31.2 per cent.
On the level of retention of pupils, which she described as commendable; she noted that no fewer than 2,663 public primary schools across the state are benefitting from the programme.
Also, in Kaduna State, Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai said that with the commencement of the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme in the state, school enrollment had increased significantly in public primary schools from 1.1 million to 2.1 million pupils.
Corroborating the statistics, the state Focal Person for NHGSFP, Saude Amina Atoyebi, said school enrolment in the school communities across the state had risen tremendously through the initiative. Atoyebi, who spoke while receiving utensils donated to the state by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, further noted that “there is an increasing rate of school children registration in schools across the state, which is linked to the success of the school feeding programme.
Meanwhile, a source at the state Ministry of Education, who did not want his name in print, told New Telegraph that “though I do not really have the exact figure, school enrollment at primary schools has really increased. Many of the classes we visited last week were overcrowded.”
“Also, with the Education Marshall going around the streets, it has really stopped children from roaming or hawking on the streets. That too has really helped with enrollment and retention of pupils in our schools.
“Pupils’ retention has also improved over time, but I can say that it is still work in progress. Even on transition from primary to secondary schools, we are seriously working on that so that it will not just be that they only attended primary school, but they can transition to Junior Secondary School (JSS I),” the source added.
When New Telegraph visited the Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School in Kurudu, FCT, one of the schools benefiting from the project, a source who declined to mention her name, however, confided in our Reporter that the programme had no significant effect on enrolment and retention rate of school pupils as the NHGSFP has not been consistent and stopped in the since 2019.
Reacting to implementation of the programme, Bidemi Timileyin Olaitan, a food vendor at the school confirmed the stoppage of the programme, saying that “it has been a long time we supplied food last, the programme started in 2019 and I only supplied food to the school three times because the money given to me was inadequate and could only cover the three supplies.”
She added: “The government only gave us eggs, meat and bread. We were also given a meal-table that we work with daily in preparing the pupils’ food. I was feeding 105 pupils with either jollof rice with meat provided by the government, or beans porridge/bread, rice and beans, and eggs that were provided.
Olaitan, who recalled that they were summoned for training in September, last year, with the hope that the project would continue, expressed regrets that they are yet to hear from the government after the training, tagged: COVID-19 training.
“The government is merely maltreating us. I was paid a paltry N96,000 to cook for the 105 pupils from which I bought food items and fruits since we have to give the children food with fruits.
The government has not been paying us since 2019 when we started the programme, except the initial payment for the three supplies,” she lamented. But, the Special Assistant on Media to the Minister, Nneka Ikem Aibeze, said that payment of the cooks/food vendors falls under the purview of the state governor’s and not the ministry.