Recently, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development commenced the implementation of the modified home-grown school feeding programme in some states of the federation. So far, it is not certain how many homes it has visited and how many school children it has been able to reach. But since schools are not open due to the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world currently, there are many questions surrounding the implementation of this programme.
For instance, why is the government not implementing it in all the states of the federation? What are the parameters used for selecting the initial beneficiary states? How did they arrive at the children they want to reach? Who are the contractors? And why can’t the government be patient until schools resume, to begin implementation of this programme?
Besides, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), earlier this month, asked the Federal Government to publish the total budget for its home-feeding programme. In a Freedom of Information Request, SERAP asked the government to publish details of suppliers and contractors, procurement rules, including the bidding processes and the designated voucher distribution and collection sites for the implementation of the programme at home. It also wanted to know the number of states that would be covered, the projected spending per state, etc. The group threatened legal action if the government fails to grant its requests within seven days.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, provided some explanations recently. According to Farouk, the Federal Government decided to go ahead with the Home Grown School Feeding Programme because of its commitment and determination to cushion the hardship vulnerable school children face at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. She said hunger, which was a by-product of this pandemic, necessitated the humanitarian intervention.
She added: “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.” Implementation of the programme has reportedly started in the two pilot states of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It will target parents and guardians of children in primary 1 to 3 in public schools participating in the programme. It also targets a total of 3.1 million households. Uber is partnering with the ministry to deliver meals to children in Lagos and Abuja. It is estimated that over 70,000 homes will benefit from this partnership. Eventually, other states will hopefully join.
To ensure smooth implementation, the World Food Programme is said to be providing the technical support while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offence Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau, Department of State Services (DSS) and many other Non-Governmental Organisations and the Civil Society Organisations will reportedly monitor the programme.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in his March 29, 2020 national broadcast, directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to develop a strategy, together with the state governments, on how to sustain the school feeding programme for children already enrolled in the programme during the lockdown. The presidential directive was premised on the fact that many schoolchildren from vulnerable homes may still suffer from hunger even while staying at home during the lockdown.
It happened in South Africa where the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in the suspension of the programme and the consequent hunger that stared about nine million extremely poor South African children in the face.
The Federal Government initiated the Home Grown School Feeding Programme in 2016 as part of government’s Social Investment Programme to provide one free meal per day for schoolchildren. Nigeria is not the only country implementing the programme. In Africa, for instance, such countries as Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa also have a similar programme. A United Nations’ report in 2013 estimated that about 368 million schoolchildren benefitted from the National School Feeding Programme worldwide.
No doubt, there is nothing bad with school feeding programme. Apart from giving children the required nutrients if well implemented, it serves as a motivating factor which makes children to embrace schooling.
However, many Nigerians are sceptical about the transparent implementation of the programme. References have been made on the shoddy way the COVID-19 palliatives have been distributed. Millions of the vulnerable households that should benefit from the palliatives were reportedly left out.
This is where accountability and transparency come in. It is not good to create doubts in the minds of the people regarding any programme of the government. Since fighting corruption is one of the cardinal programmes of this government, it should ensure that it publishes every necessary detail about the programme. It should promote openness and enlighten Nigerians more about the running of the programme.