Lockdown School Feeding Programme: When a humanitarian service stirs controversy
“Furthermore, although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during this period without compromising our social distancing policies.”
That was President Muhammadu Buhari’s pronouncement during his broadcast to the nation on March 29, this year; the day he ordered the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states as part of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
To cushion the effect of the lockdown, the president had announced some palliatives, which included the sustenance of the school feeding programme even though the schools remain closed, immediate payment of the conditional cash transfers for the next two months to the beneficiaries, deployment of relief materials to residents of satellite and commuter towns/communities around Lagos and Abuja, and a three-month moratorium on loans to all Tradermoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni beneficiaries. He also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.
Of all the palliatives the President announced, none has raised more doubts as the continuation of the School Feeding Programme while the schools remain shut. Many Nigerians don’t just understand how it will work.
“How is the policy made to work during the lockdown and schools closure? Are the children being fed at home when under the care of their parents and guardians? How do the vendors move about during lockdown in most parts of the country? Who assesses the supposed food quality? And who monitors the distribution?” queried Prof. Oyesoji Aremu of the Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, recently.
Others have also queried how the data of the pupils to be fed and their geographical locations would be generated, who the contractors are and details of their locations.
But the Federal Government through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development has repeatedly justified the sustenance of the programme during this period, saying it would ensure the nourishment of school children at home.
According to the ministry in a statement, the programme, presently nicknamed ‘Lockdown School Feeding Programme’, would begin in Abuja and subsequently in Lagos and Ogun states before it would be extended to other states.
It stated that after consultations with the state governments, it identified the distribution of Take-Home Rations to the households of children in the programme as a feasible method of achieving the presidential directive after exploring several options.
“This is a globally accepted means of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient-rich foods despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding,” the statement noted.
The ministry disclosed that it had requested states to carry out mapping exercises in order to trace the households of the children using all available data sources, some of which include the school-based management boards, community focal persons, cooks on the programme and, most importantly, existing school registers in the local councils where the schools are domiciled.
While flagging off the programme on May 14 at Kuje Primary School in Abuja, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, maintained that despite the skepticisms surrounding the programme, the ministry was working with state governments to ensure that 3.1 million households nationwide benefit from the scheme.
“As we have stated consistently, this programme is funded by the Federal Government, but implemented by the states. Hunger is a serious by-product of this pandemic, which is why, from the outset, the ministry has been evolving strategies to facilitate humanitarian interventions,” she said.
The Programme Manager in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mrs. Victoria Anieoghena, stated last Monday that about 29,600 households would benefit from the programme in Abuja.
According to her, the “Lockdown School Feeding Programme,” was different from the school feeding programme of the Federal Government.
“The difference is obvious. This very programme, described as lockdown school feeding programme, is special because food is not cooked for the school children except that the various households captured with their vouchers simply come forward to receive their items at designated primary schools, unlike the 2019 school feeding programme where food was cooked and served the pupils directly in their various schools,” she explained.
Anieoghena said the distribution of food items to households under the supervision of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was in line with the presidential directive.
“As we speak, 62 wards in the FCT have been captured as household beneficiaries, we ensure that they come up to a designated primary school, show their vouchers and pick up their wallets containing the food items, which simply includes, 5kg bag of beans, 5kg bag of rice, salt, palm oil, groundnut oil, tin tomatoes and a crate of eggs,” she said.
The above explanations notwithstanding, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) see the programme as a ploy to fritter away public resources.
The party, in a recent statement, alleged that the “school feeding claims by the Federal Government, when schools are shut due to COVID-19 pandemic, are a huge scam and a scheme by corrupt All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders and some officials in the Buhari Presidency to siphon a targeted N13.5 billion public funds to finance their wasteful lifestyles.
It described as sacrilegious, wicked and completely unpardonable “the use of innocent school children as cover to steal and funnel not less than N679 million daily to private purses.”
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP regretted that “while it is clear that the APC-led administration’s school feeding programme had always been a scam, the claims to feed school children even when schools are closed are colossal racketeering taken too far.”
The main opposition said it “rejects the ongoing fraud in which school children, who are in their respective homes bearing the brunt of the failures of the APC administration, are being used as metaphors to divert public funds to a few corrupt individuals in the Buhari presidency.”
The Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR) and Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) also expressed a similar view, saying the modified home grown school feeding programme being reintroduced even when the pupils are on forced holiday on account of the coronavirus pandemic was deceit and a monumental fraud.
The school feeding programme was introduced in 2016 as part of the N500 billion-funded Social Investment Programme of the Buhari administration. The projection was that it would provide 1.14 million jobs across the country, including community women, who would be engaged as cooks.
The programme, with the support of state governments, aims to support states to collectively feed over 24 million school children, which will make it the largest school feeding programme of its kind in Africa.
The goals include tackling poverty and improving the health and education of children and other vulnerable groups.
As at February this year, 35 states have benefited from the programme, with Kwara State being the last to join. With the decision of the FG to sustain the programme now mired in controversy, The Guardian reports on the state of the programme pre-COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and presently.
FG Has Our Data But No Palliatives Yet, Says Abia Official
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia
AbiaPrimary Schools Lunch Programme, alias “Abia Free School Meal Initiative,” was flagged off by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu on pilot basis on Friday, June 10, 2016, at Amakpu Ntigha Primary School in Isiala Ngwa Local Government Area. Until the outbreak of COVID-19, which forced schools to be closed, pupils in all public primary schools in the state were served free lunch every school day.
The state Coordinator, Mr Chukwuemeka Alozie and the state Social Investment Programme Focal Person, Mr Chinenye Nwaogu, confirmed this in separate interviews.
Nwaogu explained that cooks were employed to prepare and serve one decent meal every school day to all pupils in all state-owned schools, adding that pupils in primary one to six benefit from the programme.
On the Lockdown School Feeding Programme, Nwaogu said the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs set up a team, which includes state Focal Persons, to fashion out modalities for its implementation.
She explained that under the new arrangement, suppliers would deliver raw foods to designated food centres while cooks would work with Head Teachers of schools to deliver the uncooked foods to the parents of school children in their homes.
Nwaogu stated that the state government has, in line with the Minister’s directive, submitted the list of pupils, schools and households in their wards to the ministry, disclosing that 67, 000 households in 184 wards in the state were captured.
According to him, once these households are identified, a voucher would be issued to the households specifying the dates, time and the designated closest or ward Food Centre where they can take delivery of their food allocation, which would be labeled.
He stated that in line with the social-distancing rule, only 30 persons would be attended to within one hour at the collection centres, saying the collectors’ temperature would be ascertained, face mask given and hand sanitiser applied.
He, however, said the programme had not yet commenced in the state, saying the Ministry has been giving priority to the FCT, Lagos, Kano and Ogun states, which are considered as COVID-19 frontlines.
Commenting on the initiative, parents described it as worthy, saying that it motivates their children to look forward to the re-opening of schools, even as many of them prayed for the end of COVID-19 pandemic.
A head teacher in one of the schools, Mr. Onu Okoro, said that the school meal programme increased pupil enrollment. In contrast, a private school operator said she has lost some pupils to public schools.
“Our pupils ask why we do not serve them meals like others in public schools. We are mulling selling this idea to their parents for consideration, which however would imply paying more in this hard time,” she said.
Programme Still Face Challenges In Enugu
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
Enugu State is among the states benefitting from the Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding programme for pupils. However, since joining the programme in 2017, it has not been able to reach all the primary schools in the state. In fact, those in the nursery classes are yet to be enrolled into the scheme. There is also the challenge of irregular supply of food by cooks to the schools already benefitting from the programme.
Further checks by The Guardian revealed that since the commencement of the programme in the state, only 114,000 pupils of the over 330,000 pupils in public schools are being fed in 791 of about 1,204 schools in the state.
It was gathered that there were technical challenges during the recruitment of cooks for the programmme at inception, which led to inability to enroll all the schools originally billed to be part of the exercise.
Sources said that when the cooks were recruited and asked to provide their personal data, majority provided information that did not agree with their bank account details, including their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). The development reportedly led to the removal of such cooks and the schools they were expected to cover from the programme.
When the programme was operational, the pupils were fed once daily on school days, with the cost of the meal put at N70 per child, while the cooks were paid based on the number of pupils they were able to feed. It was however learnt that some of the cooks were either short-paid or not paid at all, thus increasing the challenges associated with the programme.
Speaking with The Guardian on the ‘Lockdown School Feeding Programme’, the state Coordinator of the scheme, Mr. Ifeanyi Onah, stated that the state was yet to receive anything from the Federal Government.
“We have not received anything in that regard. We are still waiting and expecting. They said they were going to start with Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and some other places. We are having challenges here and there and we are running around to see how we can meet up with all the instructions and waiting for the palliative from the Federal Government. The truth is that since the lockdown, the pupils in Enugu State have not been fed, the cooks have not been paid and there is nothing for now,” he said.
Onah, who could not explain how they intend to reach the pupils who are now at home with the palliatives when they are eventually delivered, added that what was more important was for the items to be delivered to the state. He had at an earlier interview stated that 80 per cent of primary schools in the state are based in the rural areas.
A primary school teacher, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian that one challenge the programme faced was irregular supply of food to the pupils in her school.
“The cook there is always complaining that she is not being paid and therefore the pupils are not fed regularly. Even when they are fed at times, the meal is nothing to write home about. I think the Federal Government should find a way to modernise the scheme so that it will be beneficial to the pupils,” she said.
Asked what she thought about the current modification in the scheme, where foodstuffs would be delivered to the homes of pupils instead of cooked food, she quickly said: “Who will deliver the foodstuff? These are pupils you could not feed when they were in school and you now want to reach them in their homes. Anyway, we will wait and see.”
Speaking about the programme, Executive Director, Dan Ukwu Leadership Foundation, Mr Dan Ukwu, alleged that there was a big fraud in the scheme, stressing that the initiators did not set out to restore the standard of teaching and learning in public schools.
“My stand is that the money being pumped into the programme is a waste. This is because the school environment is not something to write home about. The pupils don’t have library and there are no teaching facilities. It is only when you provide conducive learning environment that learning can thrive and the pupils can concentrate.
“The situation was not like this before, yet the pupils excelled simply because they had materials to rely on. I wish the government could channel the money into facilities to improve learning. What they do with the scheme is to inflate cost of materials for cheap money by those coordinating it. It is basically a smart way to siphon the scare resources. It will make no meaningful impact on education no matter the claim of improving enrolment.
“How can you talk about feeding pupils when there are no chairs for the pupils to sit on in some schools, when the teachers don’t have tables and other materials to work with? Feeding is very important but now, it is a misplaced priority because our educational system has seriously deteriorated,” he stated.
Ukwu stated that the idea of supplying foodstuff to pupils who are at home would end like any other palliative the Federal Government had provided during the lockdown.
“How many persons have benefitted from the Federal Government’s palliatives compared to the huge amount being spent on them? Our people know how to manufacture figures to suit their purposes. So, this one will be like that. They will come up with figures to justify whatever money that has been released. That is why I told you that it is a big fraud,” he added.
We’re Still Expecting Food Items From FG, Says Anambra Programme Manager
From Uzoma Nzeagwu, Awka
In Anambra State, primary school pupils have been on vacation since mid March 2020 following the ravaging coronavirus pandemic.
Commenting on Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding programme, the state Programme Manager, Mrs. Eriken said the pupils were not being fed because schools are not in session.
“There is no feeding of children going on in Anambra. We are looking at a population of 27, 000 pupils to feed. We will start to cook and feed children when schools reopen,” she said.
She said the modified programme would involve the distribution of raw food to parents for their children who are enrolled in government primary schools.
“But Anambra school children palliative has not arrived. We are still expecting the food items and there is no feeding of pupils now. The school feeding palliatives will be distributed to states and some states like Abuja, Kano and Lagos are now receiving,” she said.
A retired civil servant, Mrs Joy Ihueme, told The Guardian that her children have been at home since March, confirming that there has not been any palliative for pupils.
“Even as my children are participating in the state radio education programme for primary and secondary schools, there is nothing like feeding them.
Students and pupils are not in school, how do you talk about feeding them? How do you keep the social distance rules when parents and their children appear to collect palliative. The circulating information on spending several billions of naira on school feeding is unbelievable. Lets not talk about that,” she said.
Also speaking, a newspaper columnist, Polycarp Onwubiko, waved off the programme, saying that it is not practicable now.
“Where and how are they going to feed them?” he asked. “There is nothing like school feeding in Anambra. I have not heard of giving food items to parents for feeding school children nor about the feeding of children in the state. It is a monumental fraud and an avenue to make ‘docks Drakes’ with FG funds.”
He added: “The Humanitarian Affairs Ministry should have given money to schools management, the teachers, town unions or traditional rulers for onward transmission to parents to buy raw food items. Money is more tangible.
“How can trailers carry and distribute food materials at this critical period to parents. Are the pupils not going to be present? Do government have correct data of pupils in every location. How will government monitor its guidelines on social distancing among other emerging conditions?”
Benue Pupils Anxious To Benefit From Programme
From Joseph Wantu, Makurdi
Expectations among public primary school children and their parents in Benue State that they would benefit from the Lockdown School Feeding programme of the Federal Government as they remain at home are high.
However, investigations by The Guardian revealed that the programme was yet to commence in the state.
Benue State is one of the states that had keyed into school feeding programme, which ensured that pupils were given a meal on school days when the schools were in session. This explains why there is so much anxiety about the pronouncement by the Federal Government that pupils would be given foodstuffs instead of cooked foods even as the schools remain shut.
Some public primary school pupils in Makurdi Local Government Area (LGA), who spoke with The Guardian, expressed the desire to get the foodstuffs, saying it would complement the efforts of their parents to ensure that they are well fed while they remain at home.
But they wondered why the scheme was yet to be extended to Benue when the FCT Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States had started benefitting from the programme.
Speaking on the development, an educationist, Dr. Andrew Atema, said the Federal Government was paying lip service to a serious issue like feeding.
He wondered why some states would be enjoying the programme and others would be left behind.
When contacted, the state Coordinator of the Social Investment Programme, Terrie’s Damsa, confirmed that the programme was yet to take off in Benue.
Damsa said his office had only received the guideline for the modified scheme, adding that the office was not given any deadline to meet the guideline.
He revealed that over 100 households across the 276 wards in the state already captured by the office would benefit from the programme when it eventually takes off.
Mixed Feelings Trail Programme In Oyo
From Rotimi Agboluaje, Ibadan
Although the Federal Government said it would continue the School Feeding Programme by delivering food items to pupils in their homes as the schools remain shut following the outbreak of coronavirus, the programme has not commenced in Oyo State.
Meanwhile, many residents of the state who spoke with The Guardian expressed reservations about the move.
Some of the residents, who craved anonymity, said it was illogical to continue with the programme during this period, arguing that the pupils might not be living in the same locations.
A school administrator and public affairs analyst, Comrade Emma Jimo, described the programme as fraudulent and scandalous.
Jimo said: “The intention or motive behind the school feeding programme of the Federal Government is superb in its original form. However, the execution, particularly the COVID-19 era home-based school feeding programme is Nigeria’s 2020 most ridiculous and scandalous government policy, both in intent and execution.
“I think it is a fraudulent policy competing only with Abacha’s plundering of the treasury. This is particularly so considering that this government prides itself on integrity and combating corruption.
“Apart from not having accessible addresses of the targeted children, the cost of reaching them is perhaps twice more than the value of the food items to be distributed.
“The alternative is for children to go to school to collect. How does a 4, 5, 6, 7-year-old pupil get to school this season of pandemic? Is the risk worth the food?
“More than two years after, the Federal Government has not been able to reach all states, not to talk of all schools and pupils of upper primary school. This is a scandalous scam.”
On his part, a former presidential candidate of the National Action Council (NAC), Dr. Olapade Agoro, described the programme as a national disaster.
He said: “The home feeding project is a national disaster of the more you look, the less you see and nothing than home fooling project. By the way, where are the distribution data of those to be fed and their geographical locations? Who are the contractors and there location details? This fooling project is rather a castigation and throwing of black dust on the face of President Buhari’s life of service record.”
Imo Parents Want Cash For Pupils Not Foodstuffs
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
As the Federal Government begins the Lockdown School Feeding Programme, Imo State is yet to take delivery of any foodstuff from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
The Chief Press Secretary/Media Adviser to the Governor, Hope Uzodinma, Oguwike Nwachuku, who reacted to the issue, said: “I am not aware of any in that regard. I hear they said after Lagos, Abuja and Kano, attention would be shifted to other states. For now, we have not seen them and to say we are expecting them like yesterday is an understatement.”
Some pupils who spoke with The Guardian on the issue were indifferent to the modified programme.
Amaechi Chibuzo, a primary five pupil said: “I only heard of it; but we have not seen the foodstuffs in our school. For me, it is not bad if the Federal Government will give us food to eat.”
Some parents, however, cautioned against using the programme to loot the national treasury.
A parent, who identified himself simply as Uzoechi, vehemently opposed it, saying parents should be given cash instead of asking contractors to buy foodstuffs and distribute to pupils.
“For me, in as much as it is a good intention by the Federal Government, I feel that it is a way of making money for some persons and contractors who will supply such items,” he noted.
Kebbi Awaits Arrival Of Foodstuffs, Sets Up Task Team
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi
The Kebbi State Desk Officer in charge of National Home Grown School Feeding Programme in the Ministry of Basic Education, Comrade Issa Umar, has said that a Task Team has been set up for the programme but the implementation was yet to start.
Umar, who made the disclosure while speaking with The Guardian, said households would benefit based on the number of pupils they have in the participating schools.
He said the state had been enjoying the initial school feeding programme before the outbreak of the coronavirus, adding that the modified system would run in the state.
“The programme would run in our state but it is yet to be implemented. I pray that it is going to be successful,” he added.
Distribution Of Palliatives Begins In Lagos
By Gbenga Salau
Lagos State government, with support from the Federal Government, has started distributing the take-home rations for pupils. About 37,589 households with pupils in Primary 1 to 3 have been penciled down to benefit from the modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme.
The programme was formally flagged off on Thursday in Lagos with parents/representatives of pupils in St. Francis Primary School, Maryland taking home the rations for their wards.
At the launch, the Executive Chairman of Lagos State universal Basic Education Board (LSUBEB), Hon. Wahab Alawiye-King said the 37, 589 households that would benefit from the programme would be reached in the next four weeks.
Alawiye-King said the distribution of take home rations was in fulfillment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that school feeding should continue despite school closure. According to him, the distribution would be done in batches across the local governments in 202 centres.
“This programme is fully funded, designed and packaged by the Federal Government with the support of Lagos State government. A lot of work has gone into preparing for the kickoff to ensure that this is done in a transparent and seamless manner,” Alawiye-King said.
He thanked the Federal Government for the laudable initiative and the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, for supporting the cause and ensuring that the project came to fruition.
Alawiye-King, however, asked for continuous cooperation and understanding of all stakeholders to ensure that the food items get to the intended beneficiaries.
One of the benefiting pupils of St Francis Primary School, Maryland, was Favour Daniel, who was represented by her aunt, Idoren David. David thanked the government for initiating the project, noting that it would be a good relief for her and her husband in catering for the feeding needs of her niece.
Speaking at the event, the Special Adviser to the President on National Home Grown School Feeding (NHGSF), Mrs. Titilola Adeyemi-Doro, said given that children’s health and nutrition determine their school attendance, ability to learn and overall development, the Federal Government was not relenting on its deliberate investment into the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP).