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FG risks to disappoint children as lack of funds threatens school meal programme

By The Citizen
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The much-touted Federal Government's national Home-Grown School Feeding Programme launched in Abuja on Thursday may suffer a setback as many state governments complain of lack of financial resources to embark on the project, investigation by Saturday PUNCH has revealed.

The school meal programme is one of the cardinal campaign promises of the ruling All Progressives Congress. While the Federal Government provides sixty percent of funds for the scheme, state governments are expected to provide the  remaining forty per cent as counterpart funding.

The programme, expected to be of benefit to about 5.5 million primary school pupils in the first year of its operation, is part of the N500bn social investment plans of the Federal Government.

The plan will run till 2020 and will form the cornerstone of the nationwide Home-Grown School Feeding programme which when fully realised will provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary schoolchildren.

However, findings have shown that state governments are currently incapable of sharing in the financial responsibilities with the Federal Government due to paucity of funds.

Some state government officials, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, said the feeding programme was not their priority. They explained that their governments have been struggling to pay salaries since the drastic drop in their allocations from the Federal Government following the global oil slump.

The Special Adviser on Media and Communication to the Bauchi State Governor, Alh. Yakubu Ibn Mohammed, said the school feeding programme was not a priority for the government at this time with the rot in its education system, particularly in infrastructure.

Yakubu said, 'We in Bauchi State are a part of the All Progressives Congress and we share the dreams and aspirations of the Federal Government.

'The issue, as laudable as it is, is not the priority of this administration because, in the first place, the whole educational system in the state has been left to rot.

'The priority of this administration is to restore educational infrastructure in the state. When this is done, incentives to get pupils to school like the school feeding programme, will then be given due and necessary attention.'

Yakubu said it is only when there is good infrastructure in place for the sector to perform optimally that the government can think of giving incentives to school pupils.

'You can only give incentives to attract pupils when you have necessary infrastructure which were almost nonexistent when we took over,' he said.

In the same vein, the Plateau State Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong, said that he would not be able to implement the free school feeding programme as requested by the Federal Government due to paucity of funds.

The Director of Press Affairs, Mr. Samuel Nanle, told Saturday PUNCHthat, 'The governor has said the state is willing to support the scheme but given the present financial predicaments, it cannot. The state is however working on a modality to see how it can stimulate school enrolment and primary education in the state.'

He added, 'The Special interventions in that sector will see to the recruitment of about 5,000 teachers, supply of free basic books, uniforms and then supplemental feeding subject to improvement of funds for the first two or three levels of the primary schools.'

For example, the state's N1.1bn allocation from the federation account for April 2016 is below its monthly wage bill.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, during a recent visit to President Buhari, said it had become difficult running the states in the face of the dwindling economy.

He said it was necessary to do something drastic whenever financial inflows do not tally with fixed costs as it is currently the case in many states of the federation.

Buhari himself had earlier lamented that two-thirds of the states of the federation could not meet their salary obligations despite the recent bailouts approved for them by the Federal Government.

It was recently rumoured that some states had asked for additional bailout from the Federal Government to enable them to fully offset salary and pension arrears they owed their workers.

The Cross River State Government, which got N967, 494,955.43 allocation for April, said funding a feeding scheme under the current economic situation in the country was not feasible.

The state government said in the meantime, it would be relying on the Federal Government to fulfil its 60 per cent funding and that it would need a loan to fulfil the remaining 40 per cent required to feed all primary school pupils in the state.

The state Commissioner for Education, Mr. Goddy Etta, said without the Federal Government's support, it would be difficult for the state to commence the programme.

He said, 'Without the Federal Government, it will be difficult for states to start under the current economic condition. I doubt if states can start because we do not know when the Federal Government will remit its 60 per cent funding.

'We already have plans on ground but no money to start it. If we can get a commercial bank to bankroll our 40 per cent, we will start. If the money comes, we will empower the farmers who will supply us with the food stuff. Farmers will farm and we will buy from them.'

In its reaction, the Ekiti State Government said it had no plans to heed to the Federal Government's call on states to feed Primary 4-6 pupils as part of its school feeding programme.

The state Commissioner for Information, Youths and Sports Development, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi, said President Muhammadu Buhari should be held responsible for failing on its campaign promises and that states should not bear the burden of failed promises.

He said, 'Under the Nigerian Constitution, states are sovereign and not subservient to the Federal Government. At best, Buhari can only issue such a directive to the All Progressives Congress-controlled states.

'We have our own stomach infrastructure programme, so, the Federal Government cannot force its own plan on us.'

Similarly, the Ondo State Government, which condemned the school feeding programme for school children, said it was not part of its education programmes for the state.

The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, said the state government never promised to provide free meals for primary school pupils.

Blaming the APC-led Federal Government for failing to do proper analysis on the feasibility of the scheme, Akinmade said, 'It is not in the PDP government's manifesto to provide free meals for the primary school children; our own programme is to provide quality and affordable education for our school children.

'That is why our government is investing heavily in education. We are making sure that education is free and we also provide free transportation that will be taking our children to and from the school every day. That is our own belief and our philosophy. APC is a party that promises and never fulfils it.'

Speaking further on the Federal Government's free feeding programme, the commissioner said, ' Before making promises, the APC didn't do their arithmetic right, the issue of school feeding should not be a policy or ideological programme of a party.

'What they are supposed to do is to make education affordable and compulsory; the parents too will play their own roles. If you have a child in school you should be able to cater for him or her,' he added.

The Bayelsa State Commissioner for Education, Mr. Markson Fefegha, said the responsibility of catering for primary school pupils rests with the local governments as the third tier of the government.

Bayelsa State, which got about N2.1bn allocation for April, owes civil servants four months' salaries and pensioners seven months' arrears.

Fefegha, in a telephone conversation with Saturday PUNCH, however, said, 'As the law specifies, primary education is the responsibility of local government councils as the third tier of government not the states. I think that is the appropriate place to address it.

'We have been giving subvention as a  state to support the system so that our education system will not fall. But now that the economy is hard, let us look at the realities in the state.

'The states that can implement the policy will do so but I have not got the directive yet to speak on that matter.'

However, the Oyo State Government said it would respect the President's proposal and go along with feeding pupils in primary 4 to 6 in the state.

Special Adviser to the Governor Abiola Ajimobi on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Layinka, told one of our correspondents that the state government was already working out modalities to ensure the success of the project. He added that the state was working with the office of the Vice-President to ensure its success.

Few weeks ago, a three-day stakeholders' meeting on Oyo State Home Grown School Feeding Programme, was held, where the state Governor Abiola Ajimobi, said the Federal Government's decision to revive the school feeding programme was a demonstration of its commitment to tackling the problem of malnutrition among school-age children.

According to the governor, the programme was a collaborative effort between the state government and the FG with support from Partnership for Child Development.

However, a senior government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the state government could not afford to participate in the scheme yet as it still owed many of its workers December 2015 salary.

'The truth is that the state government cannot afford it now,' the source said. 'Workers in all secondary schools in the state, teaching and non-teaching, are still being owed their December 2015 salaries and do not know when they will get paid for the work they have done for this year at all. How can such a state afford to feed primary school pupils?'

Oyo got about N2.2bn allocation for April while its wage bill runs to about N5.6bn monthly.

The Consultant on Information to the Osun State Government, Mr. Sunday Akere, said the state had been feeding pupils in its public elementary schools since Governor Rauf Aregbesola came into office.

He said the school feeding programme was inherited by the administration and the scope was extended to enable more pupils to benefit from it.

He, however, said that the state would be relieved if the Federal Government takes over the feeding of pupils from classes one to four.

Akere said the school feeding which cost the government N3.8bn annually had boosted agriculture in the state because the food was sourced from local farmers.

He said, 'This administration has been feeding pupils in elementary schools since inception. We provide free meal for all pupils from class one to class four.

'I don't think the administration has any plan to feed those in middle schools. But if the Federal Government takes over the feeding of pupils in elementary schools then it will free more money to be used for development projects.

'We spent N3.8bn yearly to feed the pupils and this has led to increase in school enrolment. We have received commendations from everywhere on this and despite the financial challenge, the governor did not think of stopping it because it impacts the lives of the majority of the people of the state.'

The state, which has had to slash its workers' salaries by at least half, received about N131.5m for April from the Federation account.

Aregbesola, while sharing his state's experience during the inauguration by the VP, said the Osun State Government currently 'feeds 252, 793 pupils daily.'

He said his government engaged the services of 3,007 vendors for that purpose.

El-Rufai also disclosed that 'the Kaduna State Government feeds 1.5 million pupils daily.'

He also said the scheme had made school enrolment in primary schools to rise by 64 per cent.

The six aspects of the social intervention programme of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government are the Teach Nigeria Scheme; the Youth Employment Agency; Conditional Cash Transfer; Micro Credit Scheme; Home Grown School Feeding; and Free Education Scheme for Science Students.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on Thursday, inaugurated the Federal Government's national Home-Grown School Feeding programme at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently said that part of the N500bn approved for special intervention to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty would cater for the Federal Government's school feeding programme for Primary 1 to 3 pupils.

He said the expectation of the Federal Government was that the state governments would cater for pupils in Primary 4 to 6.

The Federal Government had said that N93.1bn had been appropriated for the first phase of the scheme to take care of 5.5 million pupils in 18 states from three geopolitical zones.

Meanwhile, statistics from the new Road map for Nigerian Education Sector shows that there were 54,434 public primary schools in the country based on figures adapted from the 2006 National Personnel Audit of the sector.

Also according to the road map, there were 24,422,918 pupils in all the primary schools in Nigeria.

Though efforts to get the current number of primary school pupils in the country from the Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja, proved abortive, experts said the number must have increased. - Punch.