By Rotimi Fasan,
The ill-timed initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria to provide meals at this time of global lockdown for pupils in schools should be called by its proper name: force-feeding.
We all know what it entails to force-feed a child in our part of the world. For those who don’t, this is what happens when a child for one of several reasons, usually loss of appetite due to ill-health, refuses to eat.
After all petting and cajoling had come to an end and there is nothing left more to do to persuade the child to eat, the stalemate is broken when the child is force-fed. It is a last-resort tussle of desperation for which my mother holds a black belt in the heavyweight category.
In practical terms a child being force-fed is held down, turned almost upside down, limbs held and hands tightly locked behind its back. Equally locked are the nostrils and jaws that are intermittently unlocked to allow the ingestion of usually liquid food. Force-feeding a child, it should be clear from my brief description here, is not at all an easy move. Nor is it something to be indulged in indiscriminately.
It is, in fact, a dangerous move for which reason medical experts have advised against it. But a child who is seriously ill needs to be fed in order to take necessary medication. Which is why such a child is fed, dole, as a matter of survival.
Should Abuja put a halt to its so-called homegrown school feeding programme now, what would happen to the children who are the supposed beneficiaries? What are these children likely to lose now that they have not lost before? I can’t see what the desperation is about feeding these pupils who have like everyone else been forced home, if not indoors, by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than serving these children, the government’s insistence to go ahead with the programme can only complicate and make worse an already bad situation. Going by how Nigerians have thrown caution overboard in their effort to get their share of the foods and groceries that are being distributed across all parts of this country in an apparent effort to palliate those in need, going by how all safety cautions have been violated, taking trailer loads of food to depressed communities could well aid the transmission of the pandemic in the communities.
Only the Federal Government knows what it wants to achieve by its rigid commitment to the execution of the programme at this time. But let it be reminded that Nigerians are quite clear in their minds that this feeding exercise is not about the school children. It is all about the greed of the executors of the programme.
About their crass desire to fritter away scarce resources at a time of desperate need. There is far more to this exercise than meets the eye and rather than mobilising the security as well as civil society agencies to help monitor the distribution of the food items, as the Federal Government has said it would, it is the government itself that Nigerians need to probe closely to find out why the prosecution of this feeding programme is so important to it at this most inopportune a time as any.
For one, the school feeding programme was designed to provide cooked, nutritiously balanced meals to pupils during school session. But Nigerian public and private schools have been shut since March 23 and the pupils sent home.
Rather than save what they have for when the schools will reopen, Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of the Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Ministry and other officials of her ministry chose to go on a fool’s errand of chasing these children of no known address to their homes. This would be done through vendors that would take the food items to designated points for delivery to the parents of these children.
By one ill-digested move, attention has been shifted from the children to their parents and instead of cooked food what is now been distributed are raw, bagged foods, trailer loads of the likes of which as so-called COVID-19 relief packages are under the supervision of this same minister being diverted to be openly sold at profits in markets.
That the food suppliers or contractors have been paid in advance cannot be enough excuse for this wasteful exercise that could only enrich a handful of Nigerians at the expense of the majority, especially our defrauded children. Since the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry has chosen to distribute raw rather than cooked food, what is wrong with storing the items until the schools reopen?
What is the sense in taking the food to the children in their homes where their parents have not abdicated their responsibilities as parents?
In the end, a close investigation of the exercise will no doubt reveal that most of the food would have been delivered at the wrong address to the wrong people and that much if not most of the money earmarked for purchasing the food items was expended on ‘logistics’, transporting and distributing the food to ghosts.
Is this too cynical or pessimistic? Certainly no. Not as cynical or pessimistic as the mindsets that chose to defraud mere children of what we were told was designed to make their lives a bit easier.
Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, it seems, is unable to steer clear of needless and avoidable controversies. If anything, she appears to have honed her capacity for taking one disastrous decision after another. Before now, it was her ministry’s ghastly handling of the COVID-19 palliative distribution that exercised Nigerians for a period.
While the dust raised by that is yet to settle, she has moved on to distributing food meant for school children to their parents. There is nothing nearly salutary about this drainpipe that will deplete Nigeria’s treasury to the tune of about N679 million daily or N13.5 billion monthly in the heat of a health crisis that has destroyed our revenue balance and left the government with begging bowls, as it goes about seeking assistance to fight the pandemic from both private businesses and individuals.
At the best of times, Nigerians were sceptical of the school feeding arrangement which they thought was a scam. The determination to feed children at home with their parents at a time of a global pandemic that demands caution – to go ahead with this plan with all the confusion that comes with it can only point in one direction: corruption.
There is no reason why anyone should believe the explanation of Abuja that the feeding programme will not gulp up to the amount reported in the media. The action of the government lacks logic and integrity and ultimately belies any claim to transparency.