Ideally, it should be consistent, but like almost every government programmes and activities in the country, the homegrown feeding scheme has escaped the scrutiny of the public for too long.
But that can no longer continue, and from the look of things, it is time for the scheme to be put under scrutiny. And the reason for this isn’t farfetched.
At a time when schools are under lock as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, announced plan by the federal government to go ahead with its school feeding programme. This was, perhaps, in adherence to the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari in his March 29, 2020 broadcast, where he asked the ministry to liaise with state governments to develop strategies on the continuation of the school feeding programme.
Caught in disbelief, many Nigerians shrugged at the idea and wondered how the government would feed pupils in their homes when it is struggling with the simplest of things. Trying to convince Nigerians, Farouq explained that her ministry had partnered with the different state government on the scheme and that though pupils are not in schools, they will be reached through a door-to-door voucher distribution system.
Rhoda Iliya, an Assistant Director of Information in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, quoted Farouq as saying “Vouchers will allocate collection time to avoid overcrowding. The vouchers will be redeemed at designated distribution sites.” And last week Thursday, the ministry announced the commencement of the scheme under the new arrangement.
As hinted earlier, beneficiaries would be offered a voucher, which would be redeemed at a designated point, after which they take their rations to their households. Though the scheme is starting in Abuja, after which it will move to Lagos and Ogun, before stretching to other states in the country, the ministry touted the strategy being deployed as “a globally accepted means of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient-rich food despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding.”
On the surface, it sounds good and portrays the government has sensitive to the plight of citizens, especially school pupils, in this period of a pandemic. But when you look deeper, you’ll realize that the scheme is fraught with inconsistencies that raise more questions than answers.
For a start, indications are that the cost of feeding a pupil in a day is N70 and if that cost is spread to the 9.7 million pupils in 53,715 schools in the participating 31 states, it will give a cost of N679 million daily. That is, every day, Nigeria’s government is believed to spend N679 million, and when summing up to a month, it is N13.5 billion naira. That is the presumed cost of the homegrown school feeding programme when schools were open and pupils were served in their classes.
From available information, this cost is bear by both the federal government and participating states at a 60:40 ratio. As much as feeding school pupils is a good initiative, but a key component of governance is grossly lacking– and that is transparency. Just like other programmes that the ministry is saddled with, there have been serious mistrusts in the minds of Nigerians on the numbers usually attributed to beneficiaries.
But Farouq and her team have been lucky to avoid scrutiny on the figures of beneficiaries, because, for whatever reason, the media has given little or no interest to validating the ministry’s claim. Press scrutiny on the scheme rarely exists, and that has hampered the needed spotlight required for public scrutiny. And now that the government is going ahead with the scheme at a time students are not in school, it has brought up a floodgate of questions.
Spending 13.5 billion on feeding school pupils monthly is a good investment to encourage enrollments and beat down numbers of out-of-school children, but almost five years down the line, results seem not forthcoming. Fielding questions from Senators during a ministerial screening last year, Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, put the number of out-of-school children at 16 million– a sharp increase from the 10.5 million it was a few years back before the scheme was launched.
While it may seem unfashionable in this part of the world to ask questions, I’m however persuaded in the public interest to canvass for scrutiny of the scheme so that doubts can be cleared. This scrutiny needs to be thorough and based on two elements– an independent investigator who will provide a clearer picture of things and government interests in truth so that the public will have the right information.
Anything short of that will not make the mistrust that the scheme has created in the minds of Nigerians to go away. Look at the responses of Nigerians in a recent story published by DailyTrust newspaper and you’ll understand why the homegrown school feeding programme must be scrutinized. From Faith Saater to Nwama Ibe, Ahmed Magem to Jamiu Folarin, and others, the consensus of views points to one conclusion– the scheme, though good, but is fraught with anomalies.
By and large, the public is not entirely convinced that investments in the scheme are judiciously applied and that should worry the government. More than ever, the public deserves an answer on how collective resources are expended, and as allowed in every democracy, be able to decide whether it is serving the general purpose or just another avenue to line up private pockets. To be sure, let me emphasise that the time to put homegrown school feeding programme through scrutiny is now.
Written by Oke Umurhohwo, a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org