Buhari’s populist agenda under scrutiny, as states grapple with feeding primary school pupils

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President Mohamhad-Buhari and vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and
Pupils, beneficiaries of the School Feeding Programme

IN the 2015 presidential campaign, one of the carrots offered by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its then candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, was a welfarist agenda, social investments in the people, conceptualised to address, poverty, unemployment and his corruption.

The agenda centered on the populist Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) scheme, while other schemes like the Conditional Cash Transfers, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Scheme (GEEP) and the N-Power programme were thrown in.

The Social Investment Programme (SIP) was sold on the notion of giving back to the people, what rightly belongs to them, as another way of strengthening the process of governance and accountability. It was going to be departure from the past, where corruption thrived in government and officials converted public funds for private use.

Posers, challenges for the Administration

IN its first national budget in 2016, the Buhari administration allocated N500 billion of the N6 trillion budget to the SIP scheme. It was a bold statement to fulfil a promise, despite high reservations. But in the midst of the obvious good intentions of administration, questions about the sustainability, modalities and the governance of the SIP have been raised and calls made for a re-evaluation, have the schemes benefited from key principles and best practices that should normally govern such programmes. Have the managers of the schemes deviated from the realisation of core objectives. Has government ignored its obligation to render a transparent and account about management of the programmes.

It is revealing that some states like Kaduna, have turned their back on the HGSF scheme or designed their own schemes for the same purpose. Most of the challenges hinge on funding, implementation and transparency, equity in distribution of the benefits, lopsidedness, and wild allegations that beneficiaries have to be connected to politicians, exclusion and favoritism in the selection of beneficiaries, absence of both internal and external supervision.

With complaints about the lack of involvement of critical stakeholders to ascertain and confirmation of the identities of the beneficiaries of the schemes, the reality is that the mangers of the scheme might have shunned the unique perspectives of all groups, including youths, women, people living with disabilities and grassroots agencies to be impacted by the intervention.

To ensure that lack of equity in benefit sharing does not become a source of grievance and ultimately conflict, this is the time to rethink overall architecture of the social investment programme of the administration.

As laudable as the programme is, it is obvious that despite its limited initial success, it might be suffering from a perception problem. Is the government equipped to carry on with this programme or is it desirous of proving a point before its critics? Should it engage civil society in a partnership as an option to tone the perception of the scheme as an intervention tainted by political undertones?

Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) Programme

Yemi Osinbajo

THE HGSF programme, is currently ongoing in only seven states, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Zamfara, at the behest of the Federal Government.

The Vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, whose office is supervising the scheme, had said that this project would yield about 1.14 million new jobs; increase food production by up to 530, 000 metric tonnes per annum, as well as attract fresh investments of up to N980 billion.

The World Bank noted that School Feeding Programmes (SFPs) are social safety nets that provide both educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing enrolment figures, reducing absenteeism, adding value to agriculture, as well as improving food security at the household level. The SFPs also have a positive impact on nutritional status, gender equity, and educational status, each of which contributes to improving overall levels of country and human development.

In 2004, Nigeria, through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act, introduced the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFHP) to help in achieving Education for All, and the Millennium Development Goals. The legislation provided that state primary schools must provide at least one meal a day to each pupil.

The phased-pilot scheme, which included Abuja, covered 13 states – Kebbi, Cross River, Enugu, Ogun, Imo, Kano, Kogi, Rivers, Osun, Nasarawa and Yobe and Bauchi. The compliance was at best epileptic until the incumbent government in Osun State set an example with its Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme (O’MEALS). Known as Osun State Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme, it commenced as a pilot programme in May 2006.

Since getting underway last year, the HGSF has according to government gulped not less than N674, 785 for 24 per child, totaling meals on some 1,051, 619 pioneer primary school pupils across the benefitting seven states.

This amount represents the nominal cost on each pupil for the programme, in which the government said it sunk in N7.092b between last year and May 5, 2017, when the budget implementation terminated.

Osinbajo’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, Laolu Akande, explained that in implementing the programme, 25 million meals were served pupils within the period under review, indicating that each pupil received approximately 24 meals if distributed across board at the cost of N674, 785 per child. These figures could not be verified.

Akande believes that the SFP would be revved up as more states are gearing to embrace it. He blamed the shortfall in revenue expectation as one reason the administration’s vision of the entire SIP could not be attained. According to him, instead of a N500 billion expenditure plan, only a paltry N41 billion could be realised.

He said: “A breakdown of the total number of meals served show that 1,051, 619 million primary school pupils are now being fed across seven states – Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, and Zamfara. No less than 11, 847 cooks have also been employed. Altogether 8, 587 schools are involved in those states.

“Soon, more meals would be served as Delta and Abia states are now ready to be paid under the Federal Government School feeding scheme. Delta is expected to receive N63, 366, 100 million to start the feeding of 90, 523 primary school pupils. In the same vein, Abia is also expected to receive N42, 921, 200 million.

“Kaduna has been refunded the N3.4 billion it expended implementing the food programme ahead of Federal Government’s roll-out in the state.”

Opinions Vary

THE Lead Director at Centre for Social Justice, (CENSOJ), a public finance expert, Eze Onyekpere, doubts it’s sustainability, while describing the investment as outrageous.

He said: “There are better cost-effective and efficient ways the government can boost enrolment and sustenance of pupils in schools other than this expensive way. Agreed that the total spend would include overheads spending and other ancillary costs, but the current cost is too high and the government cannot afford to borrow money and be spending it in this manner. The fact that the programme has not commenced in all states of the country, makes it discriminatory, hence a better equitable plan would be preferred.”

He stressed that a cost-effective and sustainable way of improving education at the primary school level should be the building of more classrooms; supply of free books and school uniforms; recruitment of more qualified teaching staff; improved supervision from the inspectorate divisions, and the abolition of all illegal fees still been charged by schools, in a regime of a supposed free and compulsory education in the first nine years of a child.”

A primary school teacher in the FCT, where the programme is yet to kick off, John Akamjung, supports the need to abolish all forms of charges including PTA fees, because due the economic crunch, parents were withdrawing their wards from schools.

He said: “The SFP is vital because we have pupils whose parents can neither feed them at home nor provide them with money for lunch. We have cases of pupils stealing food or money from their colleagues.

“The introduction of school feeding would boost enrolment figures and attention as well. The issue of abolition of sundry fees should be taken seriously because parents are now moving their children and wards from private schools to public schools because of school fees. If government can enforce the free education policy, you can be sure that public schools would benefit from it.”

A development policy expert, Odilim Enwegbara, said: “The SFP is good because most of these school children are so poor that these meals could be the only good meal they would have and they need nutritious meals for their physical and mental well-being.

“And because suppliers would be local, it would undoubtedly improve the economies of the states. I fully support it but my concern is that it should not be used as possible source of easy finance for APC campaign in the 2019 elections.”

ANAMBRA: Late Payment Of Caterers, Poor Ration Hurts Scheme

THE Federal Government kicked off the scheme with Anambra.  Late last year, the state got funding. By February 2017, the state, which is said to have 937 cooks and feeding 96, 489 pupils had received three full funding tranches totalling N188 million to cover 30 school days. The core beneficiaries are pupils of primary one to primary three.

The meals include rice, yam porridge, beans, ripe plantain, moi-moi and the local delicacy okpa etc. Complaints have trailed the quantity of food being served in some schools, and inadequate caterers to make the exercise smooth while caterers have complained about late payments by contractors.

The Assistant Headmistress of Igwedumma Primary School, Amawbia, in Awka South Council, Bernadette Okpara, confirmed that the pupils were fed once on school days.

A caterer in the school, who refused to be named, said that although the school submitted 230 pupils, out of which 185 pupils were approved, they were still managing to feed the 230 pupils “because leaving out those not approved was out of the question.” This perhaps explains the quantity of food served.

The Headmistress of Community Basic Primary School, Amaenyi, Mrs. Eunice Okoli, urged the Federal Government to sustain the programme because “the programme is yielding positive results in my school.”

Meanwhile, the Headmistress of Nkwelle Primary School, Mrs. Caroline Onyekonwu, is concerned with the quantity of food supplied to the school daily, describing it as “grossly inadequate to take care of her pupils.”  She explained that the school was recently supplied with 110 pieces of moi-moi, as against the 143 pupils that are to benefit from the meal.

The State Programme Manager, Mrs. Ngozi Obidike, attributed part of the challenges to increase in the number of new pupils, but is convinced that the challenges were surmountable.

OSUN: Orange-Fleshed Sweet potato Boosts Feeding

Rauf Aregbesola

THE SFP in Osun, which started in 2006 and was redesigned in 2012 by the incumbent administration, has perhaps gained the status of a model programme. Osun feeds about 41, 216 students weekly.

Buoyed by the political ideology and correctness of the Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola administration, the SFP has been designed with the purpose of providing a good meal for the pupils. Cocoyam, because of its value, was staple item on the menu. But when is availability was hampered, alternatives were sought, to boost the nutritional profile of the meals.

The Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) was introduced in January 2015, and consumed by pupils every Wednesdays. The OFSP is a variety of potato rich in Vitamin A, which is deficient in most diets in sub-Saharan Africa, and remains a serious public health issue in the country.

Developed by the International Potato Centre (CIP) and partners in 2014, CIP has pioneered a three-year project in Osun and Kwara states. In Osun, the project intervention entails the inclusion of OFSP in school meals as part of efforts to improve children’s nutrition.

The project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has also trained bakers on the inclusion of 40 per cent OFSP puree (steamed OFSP) in wheat bread.

The Director/States Operations Officer, O-MEALS, Oluwabunmi Ayoola, explained that the pupils took a while to get used to the OFSP in their menu, and its scope has been expanded. “We started with eight schools, but now it has expanded to 186 schools, covering over 17,000 pupils. Aside its nutritive advantages, it improves eye sight and good for diabetics. It is economical, its leaves can be used for producing drinks, and can also be used in bread production,” she said.

She called on other states in the SFP to introduce the new potato to save cost, address Vitamin A deficiency, and encourage farmers to cultivate the “wonder crop.”

The project manager of the scheme, Dr. Erna Abidin added that OFSP roots have a nutritional advantage over white – or cream-fleshed sweet potato roots because they have beta-carotene, and therefore Vitamin A content is higher, as evidenced by the deep orange color of their flesh. “Since cultivating OFSP on just 500 square meters can supply the needs of a family, farmers can still grow other crops to meet their diversified food needs at their household level.”

National Coordinator, Sweetpotato Programme and senior agronomist at CIP, Dr. Jude Njoku, said that since 2012 “farmers in Osun State are growing the “Mothers’ delight” variety, which is very high in beta-carotene. Its dry matter is low, but school children love it since it is sweet and not too hard.”

Enugu: Many Schools Not Captured

ENUGU State flagged off the SFP on February 8, 2017 when the Federal Government released N67, 244,800 for the feeding of 96, 064 pupils, and the payment of 1,128 cooks.

The major drawback for the state is that most of the qualified pupils are not benefitting from the programme because most public primary schools are not captured. The immediate effect is that less than half of the 3, 000 women trained for the project are engaged.

Secretary of the steering committee and programme manager for the state, Ifeanyi Onah, admitted that the development has seriously affected the objectives of the programme, despite boosting the state’s free education programme at the basic level.

He said: “This development is causing chaos in our system. Each day in one school, pupils of primary one to three are being fed, while their counterparts in primary four to six, as well as, those in nursery schools are left out. It is painful for those left out, especially those in the nursery section during meal hour.”

He added that the feeding was encouraging movements between schools and the “it is difficult to know the new enrolment figures because of those moving from one school to the other. Increased enrollment may not be realistic if we do not feed all the schools.”

On the other hand, “we now have a situation where we feed our children with home grown foods. We no longer depend on foreign foods and this has boosted agricultural production. These women go into the market daily to buy food items and their economy has improved. The parents of the beneficiaries gain some financial relief.

“Generally, the children no longer abandon school or complain of hunger while in school with the attendant effect on performance.”

One of the food vendors, Mrs. Veronica Ugwu, at the Igbarim Primary School, who quit her teaching job at a private school to join the programme, said, “one thing is that these pupils are hardly absent from school. Since we started feeding them last February, none of them has dropped, except those who are ill. We feed them pap, rice, beans, yam and egg and we follow the menu strictly.”

Vin Eze, a trader at Ogbete Market, became bothered when her daughter in primary two, always came back with the food in her lunch pack untouched. “I went her school to Achara Layout Primary School to ask and was told the Federal Government is feeding them. She stopped taking food to school. The programme should be sustained.”

 

KADUNA: Govt Abandons Feeding Due To High Cost

 

Nasir El-Rufai

KADUNA became a poor example of the SFP despite the ambition of the state, which decided to take care of nursery pupils as well as their counterparts from primary one to six while trying to check the scourge of the Almajiri with free meals.

But the state dumped the entire project mid way when the Federal Government failed to provide the N6.8 billion the state spent on feeding pupils of primaries one to three, covered in the scheme.

The state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, disclosed that while the programme ran, the state spent N9.5 billion on feeding the pupils. He promised that the exercise would return next month.

El-Rufai said that the “State started partial school feeding in January but stopped in August last year. We have spent at least N10 billion on the school feeding for the eight months. The initial arrangement was that primary one to three pupils would be fed by the Federal Government, while the state government would take care of and primary four to six.

“Since the Federal Government was not ready, we felt it would be unwise to go and feed primary four to six pupils and leave those of primary one to three. So, we fed all pupils of government primary schools for eight months.

“The Federal Government has now paid us N3.4 billion, which is half of the money they owed us. We hope to re-continue the programme next month. We have reworked the logistics, training vendors and the consultants and we have more stakeholders involved. Before we stopped, the scheme employed 17, 000 women and now it is clear that the issue of sustainability is not a problem for us because we have a budget.”

Ogun: Glaring Lapses

Ibikunle Amosun

OGUN, one of the pilot states, has not got its SFP up and running. At the St. Paul’s Demonstration Primary School, Onikolobo, Abeokuta, the Headmaster, Dr. Waheed A. Agbeniyi, who said that only 67 pupils from primary one to six were benefitting from the programme, as against the 110 that are supposed to benefit could not explain why the remaining 43 pupils were shut out

Also, at O. L. A Primary School, Oke-Ilewo, Abeokuta, the Head teacher, David Durowoju, complained that only primary one pupils were being fed. He does not know the reason for this.

Both teachers commended the food vendors for providing quality food. The programme manager and Special Adviser to Governor Ibikunle Amosun on Special Projects, Mrs. Tinuola Shopeju, explained that during the launch of the programme, the governor made it clear that only 874 of the 1,563 primary schools in the state, would benefit from the first phase of the scheme.

Shopeju noted that the Federal Government approved only 1, 381 vendors instead of the 2,968 required to handle the first phase of the programme, because some intending vendors failed to provide their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), one of the major requirements made by the government.

“Through our efforts, more vendors opened bank accounts so we are making efforts to ready them for the second phase,” Shopeju said that each meal costs N70, and the SFP was on course.

Oyo: Partial Implementation

THE SFP started in Oyo on January 30, this year, but its implementation is partial as not all qualified pupils are fed owing to large population of pupils in some primary schools.

In schools with large number of pupils, meals are provided for primary one and two pupils only because not all food vendors have assumed duties since January.

While most schools like the Ebenezer Anglican Church Primary School, Ekotedo; Saviour African Church Primary School, had qualified pupils benefitting from the scheme, it was gathered that it was mandatory for the teachers to taste the meals before the pupils were fed.

The state Commissioner for Education, Prof Adeniyi Olowofela, explained that 168,450 pupils were captured for the programme in 2, 375 schools, and 2, 578 vendors approved to cater for them, but only 1, 332 of the vendors are rendering service to about 100,568 pupils. It means that 67, 882 pupils are left out of the scheme. The figures show that 1, 246 vendors are yet to begin work, while with 2, 375 primary schools in the state, pupils of 1, 151 schools are not benefitting from the scheme.

 

LAGOS Wary Of Hefty Extra Baggage

Akinwunmi Ambode

DESPITE its revenue base, Lagos State, two years into the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration, has not embraced the SFP, in spite of the fact that the governor, in the 2016 budget to listed the feeding programme among projects to be executed in 2016.

He indicated that the programme would be executed in collaboration with the Federal Government, which would provide 60 per cent of the funding, while the state would provide 40 per cent.

Ambode had said that “this programme promises not only to improve the daily nutrition of our children. It will also create an economy of its own, with opportunities for job creation, income generation, poverty alleviation and so on.”

Despite that, the deputy governor, Dr. Idiat Adebule, said the programme has not been activated because the state does not have the right environment in schools for its execution.

 

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