There is no doubting the fact that the federal government really meant well when it initiated the Home Grown School Feeding Programme as a Social Investment Policy in 2016. The technical support the programme received at launch also gave it a boost as it was even flaunted as Africa’s largest programme of its type.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo could not help but praise the support given to the laudable programme of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration by Dr. Lesley Drake of the Imperial College London’s Partnership for Development while speaking at the launch in Abuja.
PCD’s Country Director, Abimbola Adesanmi, was also highly optimistic of the impact of the programme, saying: “Research on school feeding programmes from around the world shows that school feeding improves the education, health and wealth of whole communities.”
Expressing great confidence in the programme, Adesanmi added the “The launch of the HGSF strategy is very significant because the roll out of this national programme will improve the lives of millions of families across Nigeria.”
Such was the big dream and expectations from a populist programme the World Bank defines as “targeted social safety nets that provide both educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing enrollment rates, reducing absenteeism and improving food security at the household level.”
However, four years into the implementation of the programme that was projected to provide 1.4 million jobs across the country, the Nigerian factor seems to have set in. Serious complaints and allegations of fraud surrounding the project are capable of defeating the laudable goals and objectives of the programme expected to provide help for over 24 million children.
From Kaduna State where some contractors were said to have made away with almost N700 million meant for the feeding of about 336,000 school children to Akwa Ibom where some of the schools captured by the programme do not in fact benefit in any way, it is evident that the Nigerian factor has really set in. Reported cases of inconsistent supplies also abound as some vendors were also said to have protested openly over alleged hijack of the programme just as some cooks complained of non-payment of their allowances over official bottlenecks.
The Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, was also reported to have reacted to the substandard food being provided by some vendors as he had to force the principal and teachers of a school in the state capital to eat the substandard food being served to the students while on a visit.
Now, the presidential directive that the programme should continue even with the COVID-19 lockdown has further increased the fears of a total hijack of the programme for selfish reasons and other pecuniary gains by those in charge of its implementation. With 31 states already covered by the programme said to be catering to the needs of nine million vulnerable children in selected public primary schools out of the 24 million targeted, about 3.1 million households are said to be covered, currently, at an estimated budget of N679 million daily and N13.5 billion monthly.
The apparent confusion that initially met the presidential directive by the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farooq, on how to go about the implementation of the programme for school children who have been at home for more than two months now, was just too evident. Her inconsistent and incoherent public statements on the way forward also betrayed the fact that the project may have been turned into another drain pipe that might not achieve its aims, especially in a country with no proven statistics and data of its targeted population.
The mode of selection of the beneficiaries now, especially with the so-called ration vouchers, is surely prone to abuse by those in charge, considering the fact that most of the states could not even handle the various COVID-19 palliatives’ distribution properly. The fear of a total hijack for political reasons cannot therefore be ruled out.
Stakeholders in the education sector have continued to query the rationale behind the continuation of the programme, even in its modified form, when schools are closed with children now at home with their parents. They are also worried that the programme shouldn’t have been limited to public schools alone.
We therefore call on the Federal Government to effect a total overhaul of the programme. The manner in which figures are being dished out with little or nothing on ground to show for the huge amount of money being claimed to have been spent is totally unacceptable. It is doubtful if Minister Farooq, in fact, has a full grasp of what to do to make the programme a success.
Nigerians are not in any way impressed by the announcement of humungous figures of amount said to have been spent so far. Vulnerable Nigerian children should not be used as a channel for some greedy government officials to continue ripping this country off of good money that should have been used to develop the education sector.
As Nigerian children joined their counterparts in other parts of the world to celebrate Children’s Day on May 27, we hope the government will reassure them of a good future by not allowing issues concerning them to be subject to further manipulations and programmes targeted at their welfare should not be turned into a conduit pipe.