To make school-feeding policy significant
The presidency’s claim the other day that the Federal Government had spent a whopping N49 billion on the school-feeding programme of pupils in primary schools has evoked mixed but predictable reactions.
While the scheme may be applauded as remarkable, there is a sense in which the huge amount so far spent too can be queried – about the evidence of its benefits to the people.
Specifically, how much of the money was actually spent and how many pupils benefitted from it?
The questions quite relevant as the scheme is still at the pilot stage. And so there should be framework for accountability at the pupa stage.
But irrespective of the misgivings and questions raised, there is no doubt that the school-feeding programme is a worthy endeavour that should be supported.
All that is required is to ensure that the scheme is properly articulated for smooth implementation and sustainability to avoid the mistakes of similar schemes in the past.
Special Adviser to the President on National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), Mrs. Mariam Uwais, who disclosed the amount so far spent to journalists in Abuja, said 8,596,340 pupils were currently being fed in 46, 247 public primary schools in 24 states.
The states, according to her, include Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta and Ebonyi. Others are Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara.
She pointed out that through the programme, 90, 670 Nigerians have been engaged and empowered as cooks, while more than 100, 000 local farmers were linked to the programme to supply locally sourced farm produce.
She said a value chain with significant economic benefits to the micro economic development of the states has been created through the programme.
The value chain offers additional benefits of job creation and increased livelihood for both cooks and smallholder farmers.
Uwais further revealed that government has achieved 30 per cent improvement in school enrollment in the country since the commencement of the programme.
She said while the Federal Government budgeted and appropriated N500 billion for the 2016 fiscal year and the same amount in 2017, only about N140 billion was released in 2017 and N80 billion in 2016, noting that other components of the NSIP are N-Power, National Cash Transfer Project and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme.
It is obvious from the foregoing, that the Social Investment Programme has been starved of funds right from the outset.
A situation whereby out of the N1 billion budgeted in two years of operation, only about N220 billion or 22 per cent was released does not augur well for the programme that is supposed to enhance human capital development in the country.
Besides, it is, therefore, not surprising that, so far, only 24 out of 36 states of the federation are benefiting from the national education project.
What is worse, there has been an indication that the programme is facing some challenges in Niger and Benue states, no thanks to alleged corrupt practices by officials who have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for investigation and prosecution.
While questions should be asked about the criteria used for leaving out 12 states out of this programme, it should be noted too that poor funding posed serious challenges to previous school feeding in some states such as Lagos, Osun and Kano.
Government should guard against this and learn some lessons.
It would be recalled that soon after inauguration in May 2015, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo announced that the Buhari administration would give primary school children free meals under the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFG).
He described the scheme as a core project of the Federal Government that would in turn yield about 1.14 million jobs and increase food production to 530,000 metric tonnes per annum and attract fresh investments of up to N980 billion.
We are not yet near the target three years on. That should be noted too by the promise givers.
Without doubt, a well articulated and coordinated school feeding programme that guarantees one good meal a day for pupils would attract hordes of pupils to school, which is one principal objective of the scheme.
By doing this, the Buhari administration would have provided an elixir for the low school enrollment, especially, in many educationally disadvantaged states in the country.
There have been devastating data on out-of-school children all over the country, especially in the northern states.
A number of issues should be considered instrategic planning for the school programme.
The issue of logistics is crucial as it applies to sourcing the food items regularly without interruption. Procurement has to be outsourced to capable and reliablefood vendors.
Meanwhile, there should be monitoring to ensure that the food provided and served are in the right quality and quantity.
That is the only way the scheme can improve nutrition and indeed the cognitive powerof the pupils.
In the main, to make the school-feeding programme significant, policy makers and indeed political leaders should note that the scheme can be better handled by the state governments.
This is one of the reasons we will continue to support any efforts geared towards restructuring of the federation to reflect organic federalism.
Yes, federalism that will enable states to handle their education policies and programmes according to peculiarities, culture and priorities of the people in the states.