Our attention has been drawn to a story published last Sunday in the Daily Trust Newspaper with the headline, “Investigation: Under Government School Feeding Programme, Pupils Eat Rotten Fish, Stale Bread’.
The story is replete with a startling slew of falsehoods in an attempt to rubbish the National Home-grown School Feeding Programme, a programme that has been lauded by International organizations for meeting its stated objectives.
It is quite unfortunate that a reputable newspaper like the Daily Trust published such a misleading story. This however compels us to address the publication with the real facts, putting it in the proper perspective.
Already, the School Feeding Programme (NGHSFP) is without doubt a success story in the North Central region as it is in other parts of the country. The NHGSFP continues to improve the wellbeing of children by providing a free nutritious meal daily to over 9.5 million school pupils in over 56,000 public primary schools in 31 states, improving their cognitive and learning skills, as well as tackling malnutrition and also boosting primary school enrolment in the respective communities and states.
The programme has also empowered over 101,000 cooks engaged and over 100,000 smallholder farmers linked to the programme. Each week, over 94 metric tonnes of fish, 138,000 chickens, seven million eggs, and 800 cattle are used, as well as large quantities of fruits, vegetables and grains sourced from local farms. This has led to a boom in the local economy as it employs women as caterers, while also mopping up the extra produce of small-scale farmers, thus reducing post harvest loss.
The reporter’s exaggerated mention of just one pupil out of hundreds “not enjoying the food” provided, punctures his own arguments. “Matandi Primary school is one out of the 111 primary schools in Magama Local Govt area of Niger state, and has a total of 230 pupils. Matandi primary school does not have ECCE class in the school. The school has two cooks; catering for 117 pupils and 102 pupils respectively. Our menu only has Beans porridge and Bread. There was no time we used Soya cheese on Thursdays on our menu,” noted Ndashaba Umar, Niger State Programme Manager, NHGSFP.
Again, the report’s claim that the school feeding programme has failed in the North Central States, and has led to a drop-in pupil enrolment, is far from the truth.
For emphasis, the NHGSF has indeed been very successful in the North Central region generally leading to increased enrolment of pupils in schools and decreased absenteeism. The six states in the North Central region has witnessed an appreciable rise in pupil enrolment due to the programme. Niger State, for instance, saw a 50 per cent increment for the same period; Nasarawa State had 56 per cent increment from 2018 to 2019, while Benue State witnessed 20 per cent increment for the same period. Also, Plateau State recorded up to 100 per cent increment in the number of people fed from 2017 to 2019.
It is important to emphasise that the provision of school infrastructure like tables and chairs, is not the mandate of the school feeding programme, as the reporter, Terkura Igidi, tried to project, but that of state governments.
On the issue of Internally Displaced People, IDP, found in some schools in Nasarawa State. IDP is a humanitarian issue that the government is working hard to resolve. It would however be unfair to the pupils of those schools if they were denied meals based on the presence of such. And most of the IDPs have now been relocated to other areas.
The NGHSFP focal person in the state confirmed that, “In Obene Primary school, the IDPs stayed in the 3 Block of dilapidated class rooms not being used by the school far away from the main building where the pupils attend school. I don’t have power to evacuate them away from that vicinity simply because there are pupils to be fed, or construct toilets for them.”
For the records, the reporter’s claim that pupils in LEA Nursery/Primary School, Lokogoma, and St. Luke’s Nursery and Primary School, Model ll, Adankolo, both in Lokoja, Kogi State, were served rotten fish or stale bread is outrightly false. Quoting sources without clear facts or evidence is a poor attempt by the reporter to shove biased opinions on the readers.
“It is crystal clear to us that his reports especially the ones that concerns the HGSFP in Kogi State are actually bias and malicious in nature. The HGSFP in Kogi State is working assiduously in line with the defined template of the programme as one sure way to improve on the enrolment of primary school children in Nigeria and also motivating the pupils to go to school,” Ahmed Saka Bachido, Focal Person, Social Investment Programme, Kogi State, clarified.
With regards to the programme in Kogi State, the report alleged that pupils were fed with rotten fish and stale bread at one LEA Nursery and Primary School located at Lokogoma, Lokoja, on February 11, 2019 for two weeks. This is also false. The period quoted in the report was during the first pilot test of the program in February 2019. Hence the food menu was carefully followed by all the caterers as this was a period of intense supervision. The caterer could not have served rotten fish during this period under the strict watch of the programme supervisors. The programme has in fact been successful in the state, feeding 62,559 pupils in 447 schools with nutritious food.
Concerning the programme in Taraba State, the report alleged that three ghost schools in Takum LGA benefitted from the programme even though it failed to mention the names of the schools. Idris Goje, PM, Taraba State, painted the true picture: “These schools existed in 2015/16 UNICEF annual Schools census, MOE & SUBEC schools’ data, they were allotted with cooks based on the NHGSFP guidelines. Currently the communities were displaced due to communal crisis & banditry activities hence the cooks were transferred by the Education Secretary Takum LGEA to the allocated area of the displaced communities, the pupils continued with their school activities in other primary schools in their host communities.
“Mrs Christy Chiban mentioned in the report as NHGSFP cook met all the requirements and was recruited based on merit, as a matter of fact, none of the state multi-sectorial team knew who she was during the recruitment exercise. She applied following all the due process just like all the cooks in Taraba State.”
Still the report copiously makes several false claims. In Plateau State for instance, the report claims that meals were not served in many of the schools and that it was not sustained beyond one month or one term in many. These claims are false. Feeding of pupils in fact rose from 1,418 schools in 2017 to 3304 schools in 2019 in the state. The students were fed nutritious meals which spurred more school attendance.
Dr (Mrs) Sumaye F. Hamza, Focal Person/ Executive Assistant to the Governor of Plateau State on Social Investment Programme, clarified: “Feeding continued up to 2019. The issue of mismatch for those not paid is true because there is no payment through third party but must be the actual service provider. Payment is end to end hence the cook must get it right.
On the issue of some food vendors not being paid as raised in the report. These are vendors who used thirty party account leading to discrepancies in BVN details and those supplied for the programme. The programme however does not pay into third party account to prevent fraud. The report further quoted the figure ‘2006’ as the number of cooks employed for the programme in the State. However, as Hamza also noted, “The number of cooks quoted is stale because we have gone up to 2800 cooks paid and fed 220,000 pupils as at last term in the school calendar. It is unfortunate that the reporter is presenting 2018 information in mid-year of 2019 when tremendous improvement has been recorded.”
Concerning the programme in Benue State, the report alleged that three ghost schools benefitted from it; namely LGEA primary school Maduen, LGEA primary school Adamu, and NKST primary School Abanyi, all, supposedly, in Vandeikya Local Government Area of the State. The reporter clearly failed to consult the Benue State Office of the NSIP as they would have shown him that the schools really exist.
LGEA primary school Maduen is in Vandeikya LGA. It goes by the name of Maduen-Mbatia. On our template, it is captured as Mbatia. It is located in Mbawuar Council Ward of Vandeikya LGA, off the road between Vandeikya and Ihugh towns.
Also, LGEA primary school Adamu is in Konshisha Local Government Area and NOT Vandeikya LGA. It is certainly not a ghost school. While NKST primary school Abanyi is in Kwande Local Government Area and not Vandeikya as alleged.
Indeed, the School Feeding Programme is achieving its main objectives of improving pupils’ nutrition and health, and improving agricultural production and creating jobs. The evidently misleading report showed that the reporter was biased and not speaking from facts, which falls short of basic investigative reportage.
Ms Iquo Ayi is the Senior Programme Manager, National Social Investment Office