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We’ll deploy community ownership to aid transparency in school feeding programme – Dr Adeniji

President Bola Tinubu on January 12 ordered the suspension of all programmes being implemented by the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) for six weeks.…

President Bola Tinubu on January 12 ordered the suspension of all programmes being implemented by the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA) for six weeks. The four programmes administered by NSIPA are N-Power Programme, Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme and Home-Grown School Feeding Programme. Nine weeks after the suspension, the school feeding programme, among other programmes, has yet to resume. In this interview, Senior Special Assistant to the President on school feeding, Dr Yetunde Adeniji, gives insights on what Nigerians should expect from the new and improved home grown school feeding programme to be re-launched soon.

It’s been over nine weeks since the school feeding programme was suspended alongside other social investment programmes by the NSIPA. What’s the update?

Government is looking to ensure that the school feeding programme goes well. And what you see as delay is actually government ensuring that all i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. Government wants sustainability within the programme and we cannot rush into anything.

We have to ensure that the policy that would come up would be reviewed properly and whatever changes will be made to the programme will be for the betterment of the country and communities that will benefit from the programme.

As it is, nothing good comes easy. Things take time. And in order for something to be sustainable, you have to plan it well. And that is what the president wants. He wants a situation where when the programme kicks off, it will kick off bigger, better and larger without any constraints or issues.

So, it’s not an intentional delay. It is to ensure that it is perfect.

Despite its shortfalls, data shows the NHGSF significantly improved enrollment of primary pupils across Nigeria, thereby reducing the number of out-of-school children. What improved modalities should we expect to build on its success figure?

One of the things we’re going to deploy this time around would be technology. We are going to ensure that technology plays a huge part in home-grown school feeding programme. And this would enable us to have real time data.

We will ensure that states that will be imputed on the dashboard or whichever system we would finally agree on would be able to see what is being given to these kids, real time, real data. We also want to ensure that the health and safety measures are top notch. Health and safety inspectors would be on ground to give adequate report on whatever is going on in those locations or in those schools. We’d be able to communicate better, and also have an avenue for individuals, parents, especially of those kids, to see what is been given to their children. They would be able to send messages to most of the platforms concerning the quality of the food. So, there’ll be an opportunity for feedback, and from those feedback mechanisms, we can improve.

It’s a whole new dimension coming this time around.

Since assuming office you’ve visited a number of states, meeting with key stakeholders. What are some of the peculiarities found in these states and how will they be incorporated to have a robust school feeding programme?

We’re still basically on tour. We’re still going to states. We haven’t covered half yet, but we’re getting there. And for the states that we have visited, we’ve been able to identify some of the issues that are associated with the programme in those states that are peculiar. What happens in state ‘A’ might not happen in state ‘B’. What you feed children in the north might not be what you feed kids in the south. There’s a difference in that aspect. So, you have to put into consideration the terrain, culture and the people themselves.

As it is, each state understands their peculiarities, but so far so good. Most states we have been to have been able to identify their problems. They’ve been able to identify the issues they have and they have been noted.

Most importantly, what we’re trying to do this time around is to give a sense of responsibility to the local government. The local government, which is the grassroots itself, has to take ownership of this programme because it is actually meant for them. So, if there is no ownership, then how do you quantify a lot of things within the programme itself? Where’s the feedback mechanism?

We’ve been going to the grassroots, talking to key stakeholders, religious leaders, the emirs, and explaining to them that the programme is for them. It’s for their children. So, there’s a sense of ownership that has to be taken at that level. If anything is wrong, they have to be the ones to take responsibility. And that is how we can have sustainability of the programme across board.

The programme had initially pegged the cost of a plate of meal at N70 per pupil. With the current realities, give us an insight on the new calculation.

As it is right now, the Minister of Finance, Mr Wale Edun, is working tirelessly to ensure that the policies as regards this programme comes out perfect. Not only in the school feeding programme, but in most of the other programmes that has to do with the NSIP, he’s ensuring that most of the problems are addressed. Alongside the other coordinating ministers; Minister of Budget and Planning, Minister of Youth, Minister of Health, Minister of Communications, they understand what they have to do. So, you have these eggheads coming together to ensure that these programmes are done properly and all these issues addressed.

I can’t tell you that there is a figure right now. But irrespective of that, we would succeed.

Corruption and lack of transparency contributed to what led the programme to be suspended, what measures are being considered to prevent a repeat?

Mr President is passionate about this programme. He’s passionate about children, and he’s ensuring that no stones are left unturned. As it is, we are working with other development partners to ensure transparency.

What the president wants is to ensure that every child is fed with a nutritious meal once a day. Technology will play a huge part and we will be monitoring the programme to ensure that there’s transparency from A to Z. And when you have people from different backgrounds being a part of a particular process, you can be rest assured that the programme itself would be secured. It will be hitch free, and there would be transparency and accountability because you’re working with people who would have to give reports at one point or the other, and everything has to be documented.

We’d also be working with people from different ministries, who are knowledgeable about the programme. We have people from the health sector, as well as from humanitarian and education sectors. These people will come together to ensure that there is transparency. We are also working with development partners and NGOs, so it’s a collective assignment.

As I said earlier, there has to be a sense of ownership from the grassroots, because the people at the grassroots level will ensure that this programme goes well within their communities because they don’t want to fail. Everybody has to come together, even the private sector, to ensure that it goes well.

What we’re aiming at is not for today, it’s not for after the dispensation of this government. We’re talking about many years to come. It should run itself.  

What other messages would you like to add?

In order to achieve greatness in a society or in a community, people have to come together, irrespective of political or ideological differences, tribe, religion, to ensure that our nation is great. And one of the things that we can do together is to ensure the wellbeing of our children.

There are a lot of out-of-school children, and the president is concerned about that. That’s the reason why he just appointed a new Executive Secretary for the Almajiri and out-of-school children.

Mr President wants a situation where every child will be off the streets and back into the classrooms. Giving them a healthy meal will also ensure that. It’s a long road, but it can be done.

President Asiwaju is capable of ensuring that we achieve greatness. I believe that things would change, and we’re working towards it. Very soon, a lot of things will start to turn around.

 

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