In this piece, TOPE SUNDAY takes a deep look at the national home-grown school feeding programme of the federal government to ascertain how it has fared in the last two years.
In 2016, the All Progressives Congress-led government introduced the country’s first national home-grown school feeding programme with the intention of capturing about 5.5m Nigerian-school children in the first year of its operation. But today, the programme has over nine million primary pupils benefiting from it.
Launched in 2016, the national home-grown school feeding, which is supervised by the Office of the Vice President with the technical support from Imperial College’s Partnership for Child Development (PCD), provides school children with a free nutritionally-balanced and locally-sourced hot meal every school day. The programme is designed to improve school enrolment and completion, stimulate agricultural production and create employment opportunities for the community.
The programme, which is conceptualised to provide free school meals procured from local farmers, offers a ‘win-win-win’ for children, farmers and communities alike.
According to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, “not only will the home grown school feeding programme help our pupils become better students, it will also boost the local economies, and create new jobs along the way.”
Almost two years after its birth, Vice President Osinbajo noted that over nine million primary pupils are already benefitting in 26 states. To this end, he said that the programme has been, by all accounts, a remarkable success.
The vice-president in a media statement credited to him also said that by the end of 2018, with more states in the country joining the National Home-grown School Feeding Programme, it was set to become the largest school-feeding programme in Africa.
“Nigeria took the decision to embark on a school feeding programme as an important part of our human capital development agenda, by tackling the broader issues of poverty eradication, food and nutrition security, and increasing school enrolment. It is becoming clearer that the 21st century will be defined by knowledge and skills.
“Nations that do not invest enough to produce the required level of talent and skills will be left behind; a farther distance than ever before in the history of mankind. “By 2035, Africa will have 1.2 billion people. Over 50 per cent of that number will be young persons under the age of 25. Today, 60 per cent of the unemployed in Africa are young people,” he said.
In a seemingly correct figure, the Special Adviser to the President on National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), Mrs. Mariam Uwais, divulged that 8,596,340 pupils are currently being fed in 46, 247 public primary schools in 24 states.
The states, according to her, include Abia, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta and Ebonyi. Others are Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara.
The programme, which provides over 80,000 direct jobs for Nigerians since its inception, and engages 87,261 cooks in the benefiting, has also helped to boost local economies by linking the local farmers to the school feeding market.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, the number of enrollees into the programme, had exceeded the target of 5.5 million pupils earmarked to be fed free daily under the initiative.
With Akande’s statement, the programme seems to have recorded a huge success going by the increasing number of its enrollees.
Collaborating Akande’s assertion, the National Coordinator of Quiz League Competition, Mr Habeeb Lawal, described the initiative as “laudable,” and commended President Muhammadu Buhari for initiating such programme, which, according to him, is aimed at giving the less-privileged ample opportunity to acquire quality education.
Lawal, who spoke with Blueprint Weekend in Abuja, said: “One must commend the home-grown initiative of the Buhuari Administration and those individuals behind such idea. It is one of the social investment programmes, which the administration had earlier promised in her electioneering campaign to invest heavily in. It’s indeed one of the many laudable ideas emanating from the present government.
“According to the information released by the federal government recently, a total of twenty four states and thousands of school age children are now benefiting from the programme, whose theme is to develop local agriculture and nourish young minds. In the broadest sense, home-grown school feeding is a school feeding programme that provides foods produced and purchased in a particular community to be served to pupils of school age in the same community whereby impacting positively millions of lives directly and indirectly.
“The cardinal objectives of the programme are to improve school enrolment of school age children, improve nutritional status of
pupils, improve local agricultural produce, improve economic participation of Nigerians in all the value chain of food produced
from farm to table, improve economic activities of rural areas whereby reducing the incidence of rural-urban migration and many more.”
As laudable as the initiative appears, it has been trailed by some challenges bordering on discrepancies in enrolment figures as well as the quantity and quality of food served by some food vendors. In some states in the North, some pupils are reportedly only interested in the meals and not the education.
According to Lawal, the purpose of introducing the imitative in the northern part may not serve the same purpose in the southern part of the country.
He said: “In addition, one can boldly say without fear or favour that such objectives of which the idea was conceived are being achieved. However, I must quickly point to the fact that as good as the idea is, it may not reflect the educational needs of some selected communities, states and regions in Nigeria. As Nigerians, we should look at the issue of restructuring in a broader perspective and not as the way some self-centered politicians want us to look at it.
“It is on record that more than 70% of the over 11 million out-of-school age children in Nigeria are in the entire northern
region that includes the North-west, North-east and North-central. If we further break it down, the North-east is the most hit partly because of the insurgency, followed by the North-west and lastly the North-central. It is also worthy to note that the major reason for parents not enrolling their wards in schools in such areas is because of food.
“We can, therefore, conclude that introducing such programme fully in the entire North will increase school enrolment associated with all the multiplier effects, knowing fully well that the region is the least educated in Nigeria.”
He further said: “However, coming down to the South, which comprises the South-west, South-east and South- south, such programme might not achieve the desired results of improving school enrolment simply because they already know and have value for education. In these areas, parents can go any lengths to ensure that their wards go to school regularly even without decent shoes, books, uniforms and other school kits.
“We have seen and heard of parents selling on the streets just to ensure their wards go to school. In those places, school feeding programme cannot motivate them because they already attached importance to schooling. It is on record that for the past three years consecutively, Anambra state in the South-east has been leading in the overall best states in WASSCE results. The question to ask then is will school feeding programme improve school enrolment in Anambra state?
“Also, in the Lagos state, South-west, where a 14-year-old bus driver’s daughter recently emerged as the best in a Spelling Bee
Competition organised by Lagos state government and she is expected to act has a one-day Governor of Lagos state. The question is was it the school feeding programme that encouraged the outstanding performance of the young lady?
“However, one can not completely say there will not be genuine beneficiaries of the school feeding programme in the Southern part of the country, but they are very minimal compared to the resources that would have been deployed for it and invariably the objectives would have been defeated in the long-run.”
Though, the programme has its numerous challenges despite its huge successes, it may be noted that there are more to do to improve its scope to achieve a desired result.
According to Comrade Lawal, improving structural development of school facilities will not only entice pupils to school, but also keep them in school and many more.
“There is the need to organise quality and rewarding educational competitions. It is on record that Cowbell National Mathematics
Competition is the highest rewarding educational competition in Nigeria with one million naira cash prize to the overall best
participant. There should be more of such competitions in the Southern part and indeed Nigeria as a whole.
“Also, government should organise educational awards to reward all education stakeholders such as community academic awards organised in various communities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and FCT Academic Awards organised by Rconnect and Blueprint Newspapers Limited. Replicating these awards in every part of the southern and indeed Northern region will go a long way in keeping school-age children in schools and also improve the delivery of good and purposeful education in Nigeria.”
“However, we do not want this wonderful idea that has huge multiplier effects to suffer the same fate like the Almajiri school initiatives by the Goodluck administration. It is, therefore, important that in the future, laudable initiatives and programmes such as the school feeding programme should be designed based on the needs and peculiarities of communities, states and region as a whole so as to reap the national benefits of such programmes and that is an impetus of restructuring,” he further noted.