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Re: Investigation: Under govt school feeding programme

Our attention has been drawn to a story published last Sunday in Daily Trust with the headline, “Investigation: Under Government School Feeding Programme, Pupils Eat…

Our attention has been drawn to a story published last Sunday in Daily Trust 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 its jaundiced attempt to rubbish the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), which has been lauded by advocacy groups and international organisations.

Three years from inception, the School Feeding Programme (NGHSFP) is, without doubt, a success story nationwide.  The NHGSFP continues to improve the wellbeing of 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 addition, the school feeding programme has empowered over 101,000 cooks and over 100,000 smallholder farmers linked to the programme, thus improving the local economy, and reducing post-harvest losses.

Unlike the reporter claimed, the NHGSFP has been very successful in the North Central region generally, leading to increased enrolment of pupils in schools. According to the statistics provided by the states, Niger State saw a 50% increment for the same period; Nasarawa State had 56% increment from 2018 to 2019, while Benue State witnessed 20% increment for the same period. In addition, Plateau State recorded over 100 per cent increment in the number of pupils fed from 2017 to 2019.

It is regrettable that the reporter, Terkura Igidi, mischievously paints a negative picture of the laudable programme by displaying photographs of dilapidated structures and pupils sitting on the floor, while eating. It is important to emphasize that the construction, rehabilitation and provision of school infrastructure is not the mandate of the school feeding programme. The NHGSFP is not constitutionally empowered or funded to address the aspects referred to.

Indeed, the reporter’s exaggerated mention of just one pupil out of hundreds “not enjoying the food” provided, punctures his own arguments, as in the same sentence, he notes that the vendor said she has never received any complaints of the food being served.

In direct response to the reporter’s ‘findings’, the school feeding programme manager of Niger State states: “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 do not have ECCE class in the school. The school has 2 cooks; catering for 117 pupils and 102 pupils respectively. Our menu only has beans porridge and bread. There was no time we have used soya cheese on Thursdays on our menu,”

The NGHSFP focal person in Nassarawa State has confirmed that, “In Obene Primary school, the IDPs stayed in the 3 blocks 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 pupils to be fed, or construct toilets for them.”

Concerning the programme in Taraba State, the reporter 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, Programme Manager, Taraba State, responded that: “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.

Mr Goje further said, “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, which was made open to the general public and she applied following all the due process just like all the cooks in Taraba state.”

Again, in Plateau State, the reporter claimed that meals were not served in many of the schools and that feeding 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.

On the issue of some food vendors not being paid as raised, the Plateau State officials clarified that these are vendors who used thirty party accounts, leading to discrepancies between BVN details and those supplied for the programme. As a policy, the programme does not pay into third party accounts to prevent fraud. Dr (Mrs) Sumaye F. Hamza, Focal Person/ Executive Assistant to the Governor of Plateau State on Social Investment Programme, states that: “The students were fed nutritious meals which spurred more school attendance. 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 cooks must get it right.

The report also wrongly quoted the figure ‘2006’ as the number of cooks employed for the programme in the state. 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.”

In Benue State, the reporter alleged that three ghost schools benefitted from the NHGSFP; 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 he would have confirmed that the schools really exist. Moreover, NKST primary school Abanyi is in Kwande Local Government Area and not Vandeikya, as alleged.

Quoting sources without clear facts or evidence is a poor attempt by the reporter to shove his biased opinions on the readers. Consequently, 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.

To this allegation, Ahmed Saka Bachido, Focal Person, Social Investment Programme, Kogi State, clarified: “It is crystal clear to us that his reports especially the ones that concerns the HGSFP in Kogi State are actually bias (sic) 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,”

The misleading report showed that the reporter was biased and was not based on facts, falling far short of basic investigative reportage.

The NHGSFP welcomes all constructive criticism aimed at improving the implementation of a programme in a country as vast and diverse as Nigeria. Admittedly, there are bound to be challenges in the field that need to be addressed on a timely and regular basis.

Ms. Iquo Ayi, Senior Programme Manager, National Social Investment Office