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FG Not Interested In Feeding Rivers’ Pupils — Okah
• Lagos, Rivers’ Farmers Losing Over N2.014b Monthly —PAN
• Lagos, Rivers Would Soon Join Scheme —Akande
The Federal Government’s inability to raise the sum of N336b yearly is responsible for the partial implementation of the much-talked about National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), and the reason why over 14 million pupils are being denied the mid-day meals, which the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration promised to carry out if voted into power.

If the school feeding programme were to be fully implemented, it would have benefitted about 24 million primary school pupils from across the country, a development that would also make it the largest school feeding programme on the continent.

For now, even though it employs 97, 000 cooks, engages more than 150, 000 farmers, provides stable market for some farm produce, and facilitates increased income for famers, many insist that as far as what is in operation falls short of what was promised, it still finds a place on the APC government’s long list of unfulfilled campaign promises. With only six months to the end of the first term of the administration, 10 states are yet to benefit from the partial implementation.

From the initial N336b estimate required to feed 24 million pupils (from Primary 1 to 6) in all public schools, per session, all the government has been able to muster is N651m, which feeds the 9.3 million pupils in 26 states per session.

Programme Manager of the NHGSFP, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, while explaining the inability to fully implement the programme as promised said from the initial computation, the sum of N336b was needed to feed 24 million pupils in Primary 1 to 6, but “starting with Primary 1 to 3 pupils was necessary considering the resources available at the beginning,” adding that despite the ongoing partial implementation, “there are options to scale up the reach of the programme in the future.”

Among other things, the HGSF programme, is part of a N500b funded Social Investment Programme announced by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to tackle poverty and improve the health and education of children and other vulnerable groups.

Its main aim is to provide free school meals with food procured from local smallholder farmers, just as it seeks to strengthen communities across the country by increasing school enrolment and completion; improving child nutrition and health, and strengthening local agricultural economies by providing a school feeding market in which farmers can sell their produce.

On how much was expended on the 9.3 million pupils that are currently benefitting from the scheme in 26 states, she said what is being spent per “session is subject to how many states that have come on board, and how many pupils that are being fed per state. If we feed 9.3 million in a session then we spend N651m for 200 days.”

Speaking on conditions that must be present for the government to be able to feed all primary school pupils she said, “ a team to manage the programme must be constituted and trained cooks must be recruited, medically screened and trained; school enrollment data must be submitted; menu designed; accounts opened with BVN for all cooks; cooks mapped to school, kitted with utensils and aprons with serving plates, and a letter by state government to request for release of funds.”

Adesanmi added that: “As all states are reached and impact evaluations are carried out, necessary scale up would be implemented. Besides state governments were tasked to scale up if able, and Abia, Jigawa and Kaduna states who had done that.”On chances of the remaining 10 states coming on board before the end of this administration’s first term in office, she said, “The remaining 10 states would come up as soon as they have met all the conditions for start up. All of them have teams that have been trained to follow through with the processes on ground. We are ready to assist them as much as we can to fast-track the process.”

She stressed that the programme has so far facilitated increased enrollment and attendance rates, created jobs for farmers and cooks, as well as, the entire value chain, consisting of transporters and ad hoc staff etc.On the flipside, she said some of the challenges besetting the programme include non-compliance to framework by states, financial literacy challenges, monitoring and supervision challenges, as well as data problems.

Despite the Federal Government’s claims, stakeholders are still at a loss regarding why pupils in Rivers State are yet to benefit from the free school feeding scheme. The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Emma Okah, told The Guardian that the Federal Government, for inexplicable reasons has not deemed it fit, or necessary to commence the programme in the state, which has one of the highest number of pupils enrolment in the country.

Okah explained that there was presently no talks between the federal and Rivers State government concerning the free school feeding programme, adding that the state government has not also made budgetary allocation to feed pupils in state-owned primary schools across the state.

Apart from Rivers, Lagos is another state that a lot of questions are being asked regarding its non-participation in the school feeding programme. Lagos was the place where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo first announced the programme as a vice presidential candidateduring the 2015 campaigns

Initially, there were positive signs that the programme would soon happen. For instance, when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode presented the 2016 budget in December 2015, he disclosed that there was budgetary provision for the programme.

Ambode then said the state government would commence the “programme in public primary schools with effect from next year, and it would be done in collaboration with the Federal Government who would provide 60 per cent, while the state government would provide 40 per cent.“This programme promises not only to improve the daily nutrition of our children, it will also create an economy of its own, with opportunities for job creation, income generation, poverty alleviation, and so on,” Ambode said.

But by mid 2016, the Deputy Governor Dr. Oluranti Adebule, who also supervises the Ministry of Education, at an event said the state government is “awaiting the intervention of the Federal Government since the programme is designed to be funded by the federal and state governments on 60:40 ratio counterparts funding. Thus, there is the need to wait on the Federal Government to kick-start the programme.’’

One year later, Adebule while speaking at a press briefing by the ministry to mark Ambode’s third year in office, claimed that the programme has not commenced because of the high number of students in the state, which requires a lot of planning. “Let me state categorical ly that the number of students in Lagos State schools is about the number of students in five to six states put together. We just have to plan properly to ensure that no student is left out.

‘“The Federal Government feeding rate per student, which is N70 is not realistic. After a thorough assessment, we realised that we will need more than N70 to provide adequate meal per student.“I’m happy to announce to you that we have engaged the officer in charge at the federal level, as well as, the state ministries of agriculture and health…we have also commenced the training of environmental officers who will screen food vendors to ensure adequate hygiene and prevent any form of infection. The process that will kick-start the school feeding programme in the state is ongoing and we will commence soon. Lagos State is not known for shoddy programmes and we are gunning for nothing but the best.”

MEANWHILE, farmers in Lagos and Rivers states are recording losses running into over N2b monthly due to their exclusion since the takeoff of the school programme in 2017. Lagos and Rivers are rated among the biggest states in terms of pupils enrolment, which should have given farmers there opportunities to earn extra income like their counterparts in the 26 participating states.

Special Adviser to the President on National Social Welfare Programme, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, recently revealed that nine million pupils across the participating states are fed with 6.8 million eggs and 594 cows weekly. “The programme had created a value chain in the agricultural sector and had also led to employment of Nigerians, thereby creating market for agriculture.”

The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) in both states said they lose close to N2b monthly from unsold eggs forcing them to sell below the market price. PAN Chairman in Lagos State, Godwin Igbede said: “We recently had a meeting with the state Ministry of Agriculture, which promised that the programme would start last September, but when we called them to inquire about it, they told us it had been delayed because of the problem the governor was facing.

“If the programme had taken off, we would have succeeded in tackling egg glut, but now, we sell below our cost price to let the eggs go because it is perishable commodity. We are selling between N800 to N900 per crate instead of N1, 000. Whereas, cost of production is almost N800.”Chairman of PAN in Rivers State, Bestman Wokele said: “It is difficult to actually quantify what we are losing, but it is in the region of about N1b. We are also losing in terms of employment generation. We need this programme to take off because it will boost poultry industry in the state.”I remember one of our members who had 30, 000 laying birds, but this glut made him lose over 150 crates in three days because there was nobody to buy.”

The Guardian learnt that butchers are also badly affected by the delay in takeoff.It was gathered that in Lagos State alone, between 1, 000 to 2, 000 tonnes of beef would be required daily to feed the pupils. Based on calculations, four big cows at the rate of N200, 000 makes a tonnage, which if multiplied by five days will amount to a loss of N4m weekly, and N16m monthly. If calculated from September when it ought to have taken off and now, a period of 12 weeks, at the rate of N4m per week, it will amount to N48m loss.

Chairman of Lagos State Butchers Association (LSBA), Alhaji Alabi, disclosed that after his members’ registration at the Ministry of Agriculture, nothing was heard.LSBA Agege Abattoir Branch Chairman, Alhaji Aremu Raoof, who lamented the loss running into millions of naira daily, said Lagos has the largest market for beef across the country. “Government officials came to us months back, and briefed us about the programme; they asked us if we are capable of supplying them 1, 000 to 2, 000 tonnes of beef daily, which we promised. There are more schools in Lagos and more pupils than other states.”

Also commenting, the Managing Director/CEO Bama Farms, Wale Oyekoya, said: “Lagos and Rivers states with the highest population of students in the country should have been the first port of call, but we were exempted from the programme for reasons known only to them. At least, farmers in these states and students estimated to be in millions would have benefited immensely from the scheme, which would also improve the states’ GDP.”

However, fielding questions from The Guardian, yesterday on the status of the programme, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Vice President, Laolu Akande, informed that Rivers and Lagos states would soon come on board once all the processes and requirements spelt out for qualification in the scheme are completed. “The programme just started in Kano and Lagos is expected to join soon. Once Rivers State also completes the process, it will join the benefitting states.”

The 26 states, which the scheme currently runs include, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo (South East); Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Delta (South South); Osun, Oyo, Ondo and Ogun (South West); Benue, Niger and Plateau (North Central); Kaduna, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto (North West); Bauchi, Gombe, Borno, Jigawa and Adamawa (North East).



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