By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka & Gbenga Olarinoye, Oshogbo
As FG votes N375 million to feed 700,000 for 10 days in five states
As the Buhari administration proceeds with the implementation of its Social Investment Programmes, the Federal Government, last week, released over N375 million to feed almost 700,000 primary school pupils in five states.
Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Office of the Vice President, Laolu Akande, said the Muhammadu Buhari Social Investment Programmes, SIP, are proceeding at different stages of implementation.
The states to which the money for the Homegrown School Feeding Programme was released are Anambra, Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ebonyi to cover the feeding for 10 school days.
Akande explained that N375,434,870 was paid to 7,909 cooks in those states.
Ogun, according to him, got a total of N119,648,900 paid to 1.381 cooks to feed 170,927 pupils.
Ebonyi got N115,218,600 paid to 1.466 cooks to feed 164, 598 pupils.
Anambra got N67.5 million paid to 937 cooks to feed 96,489 pupils.
Oyo got N72. 2 million paid to 1437 cooks to feed 103, 269 pupils.
Osun got N867,370 paid to 2688 to feed 142,193 pupils.
The money was paid directly to the cooks and cover 10 days of school.
Akande disclosed that those figures would go up when Zamfara and Enugu states are paid N188.7 million and N67.2 million respectively.
In Zamfara, the sum would be paid to 2,738 cooks to feed 269,665 pupils. And in Enugu, the sum would be paid to 1128 cooks to feed 96, 064 pupils.
By then, he noted that over N631 million would have been released so far in 2017 for the school feeding programme in seven states, paid to 11,775 cooks and meant to feed over one million primary school pupils-exact number of pupils by then would be 1, 043, 205
‘Managing to feed pupils’
DESPITE initial hiccups, the school feeding programme took off last week in Anambra State. Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had said during a press briefing in Awka that Anambra was among the five states in the country where the programme took off.
Although the programme was expected to start at the beginning of the 2016/2017 academic session, it was delayed till the beginning of this year in the state due to what officials of the state ministry of education described as contractual problems.
For instance, the plan was for the Federal Government to provide funds for the feeding of pupils of all public schools from Primary 1 -3, but some of the contractors hired for the programme were unable to provide their bank details, including Bank Verification Numbers, BVN, for transferring money into their accounts and so, could not be assigned schools to feed.
The expectation was also that the state government would provide funds for the feeding of pupils in primaries 4 -6 to ensure that every pupil in public schools benefitted from the programme, but that has not begun in any school in the state and it was not clear when it would begin.
Sunday Vanguard investigations showed that less than half of the public schools in Anambra had keyed into the programme, while arrangements were being made for others to join. In fact, most of the schools where the programme had started were mostly in the urban and semi-urban centers, while rural schools said they were not aware of the programme yet.
In the schools where the feeding programme had begun, there was so much excitement among the pupils as they had never witnessed such a thing. The feeding is usually done during break time and the contractors provide the plates used, in addition to the food. The menu also differ from day to day and from school to school.
In one of the schools located in Awka, the menu for Mondays is local beans, Tuesdays, jollof rice, Wednesdays, beans and yam, Thursdays, white rice and stew and Fridays, yam and sauce.
At Igwedinmma Primary School, Amawbia, in Awka South local government area, the assistant headmistress, Mrs. Bernadette Okpara, said the management ensured that pupils are fed a meal every school day. The pupils were also seen relishing their meals during recess, although many of them complained that the food was small. A pupil in the school, who gave her name as Chinasa, said the food was tasty, explaining that she was always looking forward to it. She was however unhappy that her elder sister, Ngozi, in Primary 5 was not benefitting from the feeding.
The two caterers assigned to the school attributed the small size of the food to poor funding. According to them, the amount approved for them was short of the number of pupils in the schools, adding that they still devised a means of ensuring that the food went round.
One of them said: “For this school, Igwedinma Primary School, we provided them names of 230 pupils, but they approved the feeding of 185 pupils only. However, we are managing to feed the whole 230 pupils because it will be unfair to deny some of them the food”.
Another problem facing the programme was the claim by some of the contractors that they were given money for only 10 days’ feeding and they were not sure they would receive additional payments before the expiration of the 10 days. “We have fed the pupils for five days, remaining five more days, which will end next week, after which we will stop, unless they bring more money”, one of the caterers said.
The Executive Chairman of Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board, ASUBEB, Chief Nzemeka Olisa, admitted that there were hiccups facing the programme, adding that it was for that reason that some schools had not keyed in.
He, however, said that the pupils were happy in the schools where the programme had taken off in the state, promising that, with time, every school would participate in the feeding programme.
.He said: “The programme is progressing well in the state. Some schools have not keyed in because some caterers have not been paid because of some banking issues like BVN, but the programme is a welcome development.” He was, however, very optimistic that everything would normalize when the problems were solved and all school covered.
Expressing joy at the smooth takeoff of the programme, Ngige advised Anambra State government to fulfill its part of the obligation by commencing the feeding of pupils from primaries four to six to complement the Federal Government’s efforts.
He urged the people of Anambra to be grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari for choosing Anambra as one of the pilot states for the programme.
In Osun, the take-off of the Home Grown School Feeding Programme did not experience much hiccups even with the non-payment of money to food vendors/cooks recruited for the scheme.
The programme, which started in the state 2005 under Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola administration, was later adopted, repackaged and expanded to cover about 254, 000 pupils in classes 1 to 4 in public primary schools by the incumbent governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola.
The cooks working under the programme were recruited in 2011 through the Local Education Board offices in all the local government areas of the state and after various stages of tests, 3007 cooks/ food vendors were recruited and the same number was retained under the new programme involving the Federal Government.
With the take-off of the Federal Government-sponsored school feeding in the state, our correspondent learnt that the cost of each pupil’s meal hitherto put at N70 has been raised to N100 with the Federal Government paying N70 and the state paying 30.
Before the take-off of the Federal Government assisted school feeding programme in Osun last week, the state government was paying vendors bi-weekly to prepare the mid day meal for pupils.
It was further established that before the take-off of the new scheme, the Osun government was paying N16, 450 for the feeding of 45 to 47 pupils per vendor as allowance per week.
However, the first challenge that greeted the take-off of the scheme was the non-payment of the food vendors working in schools across the state.
A food vendor captured under the scheme in Orolu local government area of the state, who preferred anonymity, told our correspondent that the last payment to them was made on January 16, a week before the official take-off of the programme in the state.
She added that since then, no payment had been made, though she claimed to be aware that with the Federal Government taking over the programme, the vendors’ weekly pay would rise to N23, 500, reflecting the new standard for the scheme.
Findings by Sunday Vanguard further revealed that despite the take-off of the programme last week, the quality of the food served pupils remain the same, the situation that can be traced to the delay in releasing funds to the cooks.
Meanwhile, findings by our correspondent across Osun indicated that there was no much difference in the operation of the school feeding programme from the previous one embarked by the Aregbesola administration and now that it has been taken taken over by the Federal Government.
The deputy governor of the state, Mrs Grace Titilayo Tomori, who supervises the ministry of education, says she will ensure that the quality and quantity of food served to the pupils are of the standard approved by nutritionists.
Some of the food vendors, who spoke with the Sunday Vanguard, said that apart from providing employment opportunity for them, the programme also provided their families of atleast one quality food on daily basis on week days.