Sunday, 3rd December 2023

States lament as FG’s school feeding programme flops

By Iyabo Lawal, Gbenga Salau (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt), Murtala Adewale (Kano), Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure), Timothy Agbor (Osogbo), Tina Agosi Todo (Calabar) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
13 May 2022   |   4:20 am
In 2016, when President Mohammadu Buhari-led government launched the school feeding programme, the idea was to address the growing number of out-of-school children, tackle malnutrition due to poverty among Nigerian children and their attendant consequences on education.

Pupils feeding during school hour

• 114, 261 pupils benefit in Enugu schools • Programme stopped last July in Oyo
• Review current N70 per meal per child to reflect current realities, FG urged
• In Osun, pupils decry reduction in food quantity
• Spends N11.9bn in 140 days in Kano • 108,842 benefit in Ondo

In 2016, when President Mohammadu Buhari-led government launched the school feeding programme, the idea was to address the growing number of out-of-school children, tackle malnutrition due to poverty among Nigerian children and their attendant consequences on education.

These, among other crises confronting education, especially poor school enrolment and retention of pupils at primary school level and the need to improve nutrition among school children, were some of the core mandates the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) was set to address.

From inception, the NHGSFP had the core objectives of increasing school enrolments, participation and completion, improvement of nutritional status of beneficiaries and stimulation of the local economy through the school feeding value chain, with over 127,000 cooks currently engaged in the programme, along with 100 aggregators mopping up protein items.

Also, thousands of other service providers in the school feeding value-chain are participating in the production, processing, preparation and delivery of these free meals to the targeted beneficiaries.

In 2019, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was created with Sadiya Umar Farouq as minister.

With the appointment of Farouq as pioneer minister, different programmes hitherto handled by the office of the vice-president were transferred to the ministry, including the NHGSFP.

But, six years down the line, stakeholders have lamented that the scheme, instituted by the Federal Government under its National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP), has failed to achieve its set objectives, given the high rate of out-of-school children in the country and complaints from both pupils and contractors handling it.

Currently, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children, with the COVID-19 lockdown, challenges of insecurity, especially in the north as well as poor 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 618 schools were closed in six northern states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Niger, and Yobe over fears of attack and abduction of pupils and teachers.

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, said, “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.”

Conscious of the need to boost school enrolment and retention of pupils in schools, Farouq announced plans by the Federal Government to re-invigorate the NHGSFP for optimal benefits, ensure high school enrolment and retention in which every child of school-age will be attracted to schooling with healthy nutrition.

“President Muhammadu Buhari took decisive measures by launching the NHGSFP, 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 designed to fully involve major stakeholders, especially state governments, the programmes were designed 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, to tackle the challenges of malnutrition.

To implement the NHGSFP nationwide, Farouq said currently, over 10 million pupils are benefiting from the one free nutritious meal a day during the school term in over 53,000 schools.

She stated 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 smallholder farmers participating in the value chain.

Apart from boosting nutrition of pupils, the scheme was aimed at enhancing local economy, as the food is produced and purchased from local farmers and vendors to create a long value chain.

The project is being implemented through collaboration between Federal and state governments. While the FG provides funds for the feeding and ensure that state governments comply with set guidelines for implementing the programmme, states get the vendors.

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 the National Coordinator of NSIP, Dr Umar Bindir, the ministry spends N12billion monthly on feeding school pupils.

“As we speak, we are feeding an average of 10 million children with the potential of that number increasing to 12 million probably in the next months.

“Based on the impact of the programme – attracting children to school, ensuring the children are healthy, the children of the poor and vulnerable attending school it is necessary that the programme is sustained,” Bindir said.

However, the school feeding programme, has been experiencing serious challenges across the states. These challenges have led to the halting of the programme in some states to clarify funding and implementation issues.

ENUGU State currently feeds about 114, 261 pupils in 799 public schools in the 17 local government councils of the state.

It was learnt that about 1,500 cooks were employed by the Federal Government to prepare meals for pupils from primary 1 to 3 on school days, a figure considered insufficient for the schools involved.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that pupils are fed once daily in accordance with the menu assigned to the different schools.

When she visited the state in the third quarter of last year to assess the programme, Farouq had announced plans by the Federal Government to expand the scheme, so as to accommodate more pupils.

The development was in response to several appeals for more pupils, especially in rural areas, to be captured in the programme. Public primary schools in the state have continued to reel under poor enrolments, hence, the introduction of the programme to resuscitate interest of parents in public schools.

Farouq, who was represented by Ms Adanne Wadibia-Anyanwu, Team Lead of Monitoring and Enumeration, had stated that the exercise was purely for “enumeration and biometric data capturing of pupils enrolled under the programme, getting feedbacks from cooks and head-teachers.”

It was gathered that the government was spending about N8million daily to feed the pupils.

Although it is uncertain if the Federal Government would increase the number of beneficiaries in the programme for the state, inquires by The Guardian indicated that the scheme has continued to run in the state.

Mr. Ifeanyi Onah, Secretary, school feeding programme in the state, said for the programme to run effectively, 34 cooks, drawn from 17 councils in the state were recently trained, and they would, in turn, share the knowledge in their various local governments to avoid any lacuna in the preparation of meals.

Onah added: “The Federal Government has released cooking utensils, branded plates, buckets, spoons and knives to schools benefiting from the scheme.”

Onah, who could not speak specifically on some of the challenges faced by the programme, however noted that the mere fact that more cooks were being recruited meant that what was available at the moment was barely enough to sustain the scheme.

A source, however, confirmed that irregular payment in addition to meddlesomeness of contractors, have continued to create challenges for the cooks. While many of them have dropped, others are being owed for services already rendered.

“So, what you see is a situation where cooks used at a session don’t return for the next session because they are not sure they would be paid at the end of the day. This is supposed to be a programme where cooks are mobilised at each session; but this is not possible until the end of a session. This is part of the problem.”

She added that because most of the cooks go to the market and buy items at exorbitant rates, it affects the quality of food they serve pupils at the end of the day.

A parent, Mr. Vincent Eze, whose child is in Primary two at Obiagu Primary School, Ogui New layout, said: “The boys do not like missing school and I attribute this to the kind of meal they serve them in school. I have stopped buying biscuits, Okpa, or any other kind of lunch for him while in school. It is a good way of making pupils stay in their classroom and not move here and there during the school period.”

He, however, stated that the programme would serve its intentions better if it could accommodate those in higher classes, stressing, “as far as it does not include those in senior classes, you cannot say it is improving education standard. I say this because; there are so many families that still patronise private schools, despite the high fees charged by these schools. We must try as much as possible to address feeding and teaching patterns in public schools so as to encourage parents to send their children there. I was trained in public school but now, when people see you going to public school; they will think that you are doing so because your parents don’t have money to train you in a private school. It is wrong.”

FG Spends N11.9bn in 140 days in Kano
THE Federal government’s home grown school feeding programme in Kano may have attracted less interest perhaps because of credibility issues, but the impact of the huge public fund being dispensed on the scheme calls for concern.

According to managers of the programme in the state, the Federal government has so far disbursed about N11.9bn to feed pupils of public primary schools between June 2021 and April 2022.

About 2, 225, 804, pupils of public primary schools drawn from 44 councils of the state are currently benefiting from the intervention, The Guardian has learnt.

Essentially, N1.7bn is set aside for feeding of pupils in primary 1 to 3 in 20 schooling days, equivalent to a feeding circle.

Available data received from the school feeding desk in Kano, however, indicated that only five feeding circles (100 days) was implemented in 2021, while two circles (40 days) has so far been carried out in 2022.

Speaking on the Ievel of implementation of the project in Kano, coordinator of the programme, Aminu Zubair, explained that the initiative has positively impacted the lives of pupils and boost economic activities of thousands of Nigerians who rendered essential services around the feeding corridor.

Although, Aminu agreed that like other schemes, the school feeding initiative is still battling with challenges, including limited scope of beneficiaries, issues around leakages of resources and outright diversion of raw materials, he was optimistic the contending issues would be put to rest in due course.

“Considering the strategic position and population density, Kano was chosen among states where the programme started as pilot scheme. Prior to Covid-19 pandemic, the programme had started smoothly but stopped in 2020, in the wake of the pandemic and lockdown.

“ It was kicked started again in July 2021. We carried out five circles in 2021, which means feeding was executed during the 20 school working days each and for five times giving us about 100 days. In 2021, we implemented two circles-40 days and the next circle will commence as soon as schools resume after Ramadan holiday. So far, 2,225,804 pupils are currently benefiting with 12, 258 vendors and 10 aggregators are also on the list of economic viability of the programme,” Aminu said.

However, the programme is still struggling to meet government expectations because of poorly executed plans occasioned by acute corruption and other related tendencies.

One of the cooks alleged that larger percentage of the money being sent directly to them from Federal Government ended up in the hands of middlemen who only credited them with stipends for cooking.

According to him, instead of receiving money directly from Federal Government, it is paid to other people’s account, who, in turn, negotiate what should be or should not.

Reacting to the allegation, Aminu, who debunked the claim explained that the introduction of aggregators between the cooks and middlemen before now was to cut the trend of corruption in the system.

He equally raised concern on absentee cooks who constantly receive money from Federal Government, but will never show up to execute the feeding system. Essentially, Aminu said over 471 vendors were found liable of fraud in Kano.

He said: “Our challenges include corruption, which is affecting the standard of the system. We realised diversion of raw materials by the cook, we then introduce aggregators who supply the raw materials.

He also instituted committees, “so, we have evaluation and monitoring committees from state, local and community level to supervise and report any negatives to us for quick action. We are also working on increasing the number of beneficiaries through the office of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).”

IN Ondo State, there has been significant improvement in the programme, which keeps hope alive for 108,842 beneficiaries.

In July last year, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development took a deliberate step to revitalise the programme and expand its scope of operations.

Since the programme commenced three years ago in the state, it has experienced some challenges, ranging from operation and logistics problems, which has threatened its success.

Shortly after the commencement of the programme across the 18 council areas, noticeable shortcoming that threatened the programme ranged from poor nutrition, shortage of cooks, paucity of funds and poor hygiene.

A headmistress who spoke with The Guardian confirmed that vendors are no longer coming for the programme.

“They said they wanted to add more money for the programme.

Vendors have not come this term. We have not seen them since we resumed. Even last term, they didn’t come for about two weeks till we had holidays.”

Senior Special Adviser to the governor on Multilateral and Intergovernmental Relations and Ondo State Focal Person, Mrs Bunmi Ademosu, said the programme has recorded significant improvements.

“The number of beneficiaries is supposed to be reviewed every four months and that has not been done in four years. The numbers have increased and the food is not up to the numbers again.

Speaking on delayed payment to food vendors, she recounted that some of the women engaged for the programme as vendor caused some logistic problems in the use of bank account, names and Bank Verification Number (BVN).

She said there are 1,460 cooks across the 18 councils and a total of 108, 842 beneficiaries. Listing the menu, she said pupils eat beans porridge, plantain, beans porridge with corn, boiled rice with vegetable, beef sauce, boiled yam, jollof rice, boiled egg, rice and beans, fish sauce with fruits from Monday to Friday.

SOME teachers in Rivers State have attributed the increase in public primary schools in the state to the free feeding programme by the Federal Government.

The Head Teacher of the State Primary School 1, Borikri, Mrs. Oronne Ohariarebu, admitted that it has improved school enrolment since it kicked off in her school.

“It is an excellent initiative. Before the scheme started, children would hardly come to school, but because they now look forward to getting a meal everyday, they are eager to come to school and I am proud of the food vendors assigned to us, they are giving their best to the job.”

However, the food vendors lamented effects of high cost of foodstuff and cooking ingredients in the markets and appealed to the Federal Government to review the current N70 per meal and per child arrangement to reflect the current realities.

A vendor Blessing Iyalla, said: “I feed over 140 children every school day, (20 days in a month). I cook and serve with my own plates but the greatest challenge we have now is high cost of foodstuff, before now we buy a custard rubber of beans at N1,200 but currently we buy it at N3, 000, sometimes I add my money to ensure the children are well fed.

“We appeal to the government to look into the funds to enable us continue feeding the children with the right meal.”

A visit to some schools in the state revealed that the programme is on but inadequate funding or payment of food vendors, posses a great challenge to the sustainability of the programme.

At the State School, Omofo, Rundele, in Emohua local government area, a teacher, who pleaded anonymity commended the government for the programme and called for its sustenance.

The teacher said: “The government is trying, just that the vendors are complaining of financial challenges.”

Parents, who spoke with The Guardian at St. Andrews State School, Diobu, in Port Harcourt City local council, applauded the government for introducing the programme, saying it relieves them.

Farouq said at least, a total of 124,000 children from 963 government primary schools in the state are currently being fed, while 148 food vendors have been contracted.

PARENTS and pupils of public primary schools in Osun State have decried the reduction in the quantity of food being served to the young learners.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that the nationwide increase in prices of food items has negative effects on the quality and size of meals being served the pupils.

Some pupils who spoke with our correspondent said the quantity at inception of the programme in 2016 was better than now.

“The food being served is not sufficient. The fish being served with the rice is very small. Government should intervene and feed us well,” Sodiq, a male pupil of St Andrew’s Primary School, Oke-Baale, Osogbo, said.

Also, Toheeb, a pupil of All Saints Primary School, Osogbo, said: “The food being served is not enough for me. It was unlike before when we used to eat apple and chicken. Now, they no longer give us fruits.”

Meanwhile, some of the parents have urged the Federal and State Governments to improve on the scheme in the interest and health of the pupils.

A parent, Mrs. Mercy Akinola, urged government to increase its budgetary allocation to the scheme in view of the hike in the prices of food items.

On its part, the state government said despite the harsh economic reality, the programme has not been stopped in the state.

It, however, lamented that lack of sufficient monitoring due to unavailability of vehicles and irregular payment by the Federal Government are some of the challenges confronting the scheme.

Mrs. Folake Olaniyan, Senior Special Adviser to the state governor on Osun Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme said the scheme caters for about 95,460 pupils.

When contacted, the official in charge of the state feeding programme, Mrs. O. O. Fabusuyi, said the reduction in the quantity of food was as a result of the hike in prices of food commodities.

THE a-meal-a-day started in Lagos State five years after the Federal Government commenced the implementation of the project in other states.

Before the programme commenced in Lagos in May 2020, several dates were picked, but failed to see the light of the day.

National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme

Unlike in other states, the programme started with feeding pupils within school environment, but in Lagos State due to the lockdown and COVID-19, when the programme started, it was home rations that were done.

And 37,589 families of public primary school pupils benefitted. This is despite the fact that there were over 500,000 pupils in the state primary schools.

When the in-school feeding started, vendors complained that N88,000 they got to feed 100 primary pupils was too small.

A vendor said: “The money we get to feed the children is too small. In my school, I was given N88,000 to feed 100 children. It is too small. I want to appeal to the government to help us increase the money.”

A number of stakeholders in the education sector, especially in the primary school sector, said the scheme has not been having a smooth run and its being implemented haphazardly.

Also, many claimed information about the programme was hoarded, doubting government’s claim that pupils in over 908 primary schools in over 1,000 public schools are benefitting from the scheme.

Two years after the project kicked off in Lagos State, efforts to get the state government to x-ray the programme on the success stories and challenges did not yield fruits. When the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) was contacted, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the agency said the state focal person for the project, the Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Mrs. Yetunde Arobieke, would be in a better position to speak.

But Arobieke declined comment when she was contacted. She said SUBEB has all the details and should be able speak on the issues.

PRIMARY schools in Cross River state have lamented over the poor quantity and quality of food served to pupils.

The Guardian learnt that since the second phase of the programme that started June 28, 2021, the quantity and quality of food has dropped, in some of the schools. Out of seven vendors only one or two supply food to the pupils on daily basis.

Some of the pupils told The Guardian that most times, they served only small bread and sometimes one egg each.

During a visit to Presbyterian Primary School, at Ishie Town in Calabar Municipal local government, the Headmistress, Mrs. Inyang Edem, complained to other teachers over the attitude of a vendor who brought spaghetti in a 10-litre butter container, lamenting that she was supposed to use a cooler.

She said: “I don’t know why they do this, look at the container she put the food, is it not supposed to be in a cooler? And she did not bring plates and spoons, am I supposed to be the one to dish the food in the plates and serve the children? My job is to test the food when they bring and serve it, but they are making this difficult for us here.

“Last week, they brought food only on Monday and Friday. The first week, they started, they gave on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. This Monday they served just bread, on Tuesday, they served jollof rice and chicken. On Wednesday, it was only one woman that came with bread and eggs and today (Thursday), it was only one woman out of the seven vendors that came with spaghetti in a 10-litre butter container.

“For the jollof rice, it was well prepared because I tested it, but the chicken was not sizable and I won’t blame them, they are given one life chicken each to prepare the meals. If you are serving 60 children with one chicken, you have to pieces it so that it will go round for everyone. Another challenge is that the quantity of food is very small. What they use as serving plates are these transparent ice-cream plates.”

“The people running the programme are not doing the right thing because they are supposed to come around and monitor what they are serving to this children, they can disguise just to be sure that what they are paying for is what the children are receiving,” Mrs. Edem stated.

Head Teacher of Immaculate Conception Primary School, Ikot Ansa, in Calabar, Mrs. Theresa Okon, also identified poor quantity and sometimes poor quality of food as challenges in the school feeding programme since they started the second phase.

According to her, the number of pupils benefiting from the scheme has been reduced from 120 to 70 per vendor.

Mrs. Okon stated: “We have six vendors and all of them bring food every day, but the only challenge is the quantity of food. The first phase of the programme, one vendor was feeding 100 to 120 pupils, but now, they said government gave them a flat rate of 70 pupils so they have to manage it for it to go round.

She called on government to do better by increasing the quantity and quality of food served to the children.

Two of the vendors, who pleaded anonymity, complained that they only prepared the quantity of food given them.

The state Programme Manager, Mr. Gabriel Okulaja, who later replied to text message demanded for the name of the vendors and schools that are complaining. He said the reason was to identify where the problem was coming from and correct them.

THE programme kicked off in Oyo State on January 30, 2017. At the commencement of the programme, FG promised to disburse N72.2million to 2,578 vendors who would cater for 158,450 pupils.

It was learnt that when Governor Seyi Makinde assumed office, he allegedly sacked contractors handling the project and employed new ones.

Findings showed that when the Federal Government resumed payment of contractors in charge of NHGSFP nationwide, those employed by Makinde were not paid.

The Guardian learnt from the state Office of the programme that about 200,000 pupils were being fed before the scheme was stopped last July. However, the state programme manager, Miss Adejoke Adewusi, said the scheme was still on, but the state government would continue when the Federal Government pays.