Lockdown and home grown feeding: tackling the distrust
The Federal Government, penultimate week, began the implementation of the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, despite the controversies that have continued to trail the project.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in his first national broadcast regarding government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to come up with a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during the lockdown.
The move has, however, been criticised by some Nigerians who see it as a means of siphoning public funds, with a number of them questioning how the administration aims to execute such a plan considering that pupils are all in their various homes.
For instance human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, describe the plan to continue the school feeding programme during the lockdown as insensitive and an insult to Nigerians.
Falana reportedly asked the Federal Government to, “stop insulting the collective intelligence of the Nigerian people. For goodness sake, are the school children being fed in their homes by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs?”
The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, had also condemned the federal government’s plans to spend N13.5billion on feeding school children during the lockdown period.
NANS in a statement, signed by its National Public Relations Officer, Comrade Azeez Adeyemi, described the Federal Government’s decision to continue with the school feeding programme at this time as an avenue to ridicule the country and further drain its lean resources.
“The Federal Government’s insistence to go ahead with the school feeding programme despite criticism by Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the education sector has shown that the programme is another way of perpetrating a fraud on another large scale.”
But despite the uproar from different quarters, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Farouq, insists that the Federal Government in conjunction with states would go ahead with the feeding of school children in their respective homes since schools have been shut down.
Farouq at the kick-off the programme in Kuje Area Council of the FCT, said the initiative is targeted at feeding a total of 3.1 million households nationwide.
“We have made progress in the overhauling of the home-grown school feeding programme and sensitisation has already begun in the three frontline states of Ogun, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory for implementation.”
Over 29,609 households within the FCT are expected to benefit from the programme.
According to the minister, her ministry has all the information it requires to ensure that the Take Home Rations, THR, reach the targeted beneficiaries in primary 1 to 3 who are already on the scheme.
The minister had explained that the school feeding would be using a door-to-door voucher distribution system to feed the pupils, explaining that the vouchers would be redeemed at designated distribution sites to avoid overcrowding.
She stressed that government will not be taking food to the pupils' homes, instead they will be sharing food vouchers to the parents/caretakers of primary school pupils already benefiting from the programme.
“Existing aggregators will provide the food items. Distribution sites will be situated within the communities and in some states within the schools by hand washing points. Safety and hygiene precautions will be observed,” she said.
The food package THR comprises of 5kg of rice, 5kg of beans, 500ml of vegetable oil, 750ml of palm oil, 500g of salt, 15 pieces of eggs, 140 grams of tomatoe paste.
Already, NGOs and civil society groups are indicating interest to monitor the distribution of food item to ensure effectiveness and accountability.
The groups claim they would complement government efforts and would share their findings at different levels for learning and decision-making purposes.
Hopefully the Minister’s explanation puts paid to the debate over continuing the Home Grown School feeding through the lockdown.
From her explanation, it’s clear that the idea is to ensure that vulnerable pupils do not lose the nutritional gains due to the lock down.
However the mode of execution was not made public at the onset thus casting doubt on government’s intentions.
Before now, Home Grown School Feeding Programme has been rocked by scandal. In some states the issue of ghost vendors have threatened the credibility of the initiative. It is therefore not surprising the level of mistrust that went with the Home Grown School Feeding Programme in the lock down.
Social Investment Programmes like the Home Grown School Feeding Programme is only as strong as the citizens’ interest. States and federal governments should therefore avoid and issues that would cast doubt on the process.
While we applaud government for the initiative, we must emphasise that there is room for improvement. States can build on it by contributing to scale up feeding and quality of food given to the children.
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