Buhari’s Democracy Day speech omits details about school feeding programme amidst COVID-19

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President Muhammadu Buhari addressing the nation to mark the 2020 Democracy Day on 12th June, 2020
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President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday addressed Nigerians as part of activities to mark the 2020 Democracy Day. One of the items in his speech was the implementation of the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme.

But the speech left out details on how the programme was being done amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

He only touched on the official number of beneficiaries of the programme nationwide prior to the lockdown in place to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

In his terse words, “Under the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, over 9,963,729 children are being fed to keep them in school and improve their nutritional status.”

The figures give no clue to how the programme is being implemented in the past month in spite of the schools closure.

Recall that in his maiden national broadcast on 29th March, the president mentioned that his government intended to continue implementing the feeding programme irrespective of the closure of schools.

It was in the same speech he announced restriction of movements in parts of the country to address the rising cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said back then that, “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.”

Slow, opaque implementation

It took more than a month after the president’s initial speech announcing the proposed modified school feeding programme for the ministry in charge of that to come up with attempting to actualise that.

EduCeleb.com however notes that a few days after the president’s initial speech, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq confirmed the intended implementation.

Ms Farouq said she was meeting with state governments to fashion out ways of implementing the programme.

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According to her, the ministry 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,” a statement from the ministry noted.

The ministry justified its implementation as a measure to ensure the nourishment of children.

It disclosed that the programme it christened “Lockdown School Feeding Programme”, would cover the Federal Capital Territory and subsequently Lagos and Ogun states before it would be extended to other states.

The programme did not start until more than a month later.

After eventually flagging it off on 14th May at Kuje Primary School in Abuja, Farouq, revealed that the programme was targeting 3.1 million households nationwide as beneficiaries. She added that the implementation would be handled by states, which she claimed had already developed a database to work around.

The Programme Manager in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mrs. Victoria Anieoghena, said that 29,600 households would benefit from the programme in Abuja.

According to her, what differentiates this from the regular School Feeding Programme is that the 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”.

On the pattern of the food distribution, she said in May that, “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”.

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In Lagos, Farouq was represented by Director, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs in the Ministry, Mrs Margaret Ukegbu when the exercise began there on 22nd May.

She said 37,589 proposed beneficiaries in the state were made up of Parents, Guardians and Caregivers of Primary School children in participating schools.

She said, “The identified and selected households will each receive 5kg bag of Rice, 5kg bag of Beans, Vegetable and Palm Oil, Salt, Tomato Paste and 15 pieces of eggs. These rations have been revealed by nutrition experts to be of good nutritional value and benefit to the children”.

The distribution was coordinated in conjunction with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).

Lagos SUBEB spokesperson, Mrs Enitan Adewunmi told EduCeleb.com that the state was adjudged the best in terms of the coordination of the distribution of the food items.

That of Ogun State was yet to be concluded as at the time of filing this report and efforts to get details from the government has proved abortive.

Criticisms

Part of the major criticisms of the programme is the overt lack of transparency and openness about how much has been spent and what data government depends on to do so.

Busayo Morakinyo of Connected Development said it was not surprising that Buhari could not give details about the programme in his speech.

Connected Development is one of the leading Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria monitoring governments’ accountability.

“What data are we using to get the families of the children that are actually in school?” he asked.

He wondered what happens to the over 10.1 million out-of-school children in the distribution of the palliatives.

He also faulted the unclear methodology of mapping out family beneficiaries as this may be open to some ethno-religious biases.

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“The government has not done enough in trying to fix its own structures, especially the structures that would check issues of sentiments even when its ideals are quite noble,” he added.

Also, national opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) recently described it as a “scam” meant to waste public resources.

Although, the government had never admitted how much it expends on the programme, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan alleged that it was using “innocent school children as cover to steal and funnel not less than N679 million daily to private purses”.

He described this as “sacrilegious, wicked and completely unpardonable”.

Also, the National Parents Teachers’ Association called for the review or cancellation of the modified feeding programme. It wondered why parents were not particularly carried along in its implementation, according to a letter addressed to the ministry in May.

The group also expressed worries about the selective distribution of the food considering that not only children in public schools were held home.

According to its website, the National Home-Grown School Feeding programme was introduced in 2016 as part of the N500 billion-funded Social Investment Programme of the Buhari administration.

The programme is targeted at increasing primary school enrolment while also providing one daily meal to pupils.

It 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 Humanitarian Affairs ministry said that it is active in 35 states as at February this year.

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