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Nigeria And Uk's Transparent School Feeding:

By Emmanuel Onwubiko 
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Nigeria is battling two monsters simultaneously namely Mass poverty and pervasive corruption.

These battles have been on for a generation.
POVERTY and Corruption are social afflictions inflicted on the Nigerian citizens by Governments of successive epochs including both military dictators and the few civilian administrations we have had in just over half a century of Independence.

In 1999 when democracy returned, the civilian government then unfolded programmes for fighting corruption but it was not until in 2003 that the first institutional effort to battle corruption took a life of its own with the setting up of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences commission (ICPC) and followed up by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Sadly, corruption and mass poverty are debilitating social menace that have become deeply entrenched added to the somehow cosmetic approaches these two institutions have adopted in fighting off Corruption which causes mass poverty.

It was for the overwhelming desires of the greatest percentage of Nigerian Citizens that in the 2015 general elections, the candidate that appeared to have showcased a better programme on how to fight and eliminate these twin social evils of poverty and corruption that the then Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress Major General Muhammadu Buhari(rtd) came on top of the election exercise that was not challenged by the Peoples Democratic party and the Incumbent president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

However, after five years, which is four years making up the first tenure of office of President Muhammadu Buhari and another year after the second and final tenure which he won through a Pyrrhic victory over the People's Democratic party 's Presidential candidate in the 2019 poll, Former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria has fallen deeper into widespread poverty and the widening spectre of corruption amongst public office holders has become tragically humiliating for decent Nigerians all around the globe.

Public Corruption which is the genesis of the widespread discontent and mass poverty has continued to be a recurring decimal in the public conducts of officials charged with specific objectives of ameliorating mass hunger especially amongst the youngest populations of Nigeria who are mostly in the primary school system all around the Country.

The school feeding programme is a component of the Social investment programme of the current administration.

But this major plank of the programme of the government is deeply entrenched in corruption and massive financial abuses by officials charged with running the programme aimed at providing some forms of reliefs for the children of the poorest of the poor who are enrolled in the heavily dilapidated public schools across the Country.

Tons of billions of public fund voted and released for the implementation of the school feeding programmes have disappeared into private pockets of officials.

The most annoying aspect of this is that currently, Nigeria does not run a healthy democracy because the executive arm of government has pocketed both the Legislative and judicial arms of government making the demands for transparency and accountability extremely difficult to achieve.

The National Assembly that is charged by the Supreme law with the powers of oversights(Section 4) over the manners the government officials spend public funds including the implementation of the corruption ridden School Feeding PROGRAMME has been unable to exercise strong enough independent authority to compel the relevant agencies and officials of the Federal Government to render public accounts.

Writing on the theme: "Oversight functions of the legislature: An instrument for nation building", Grace Ayodele Arowolo stated thus: "The legislature is an institution which represents the common and collective interests of the citizens through the enactment of laws and the exercise of oversight functions on the activities of the executive arm of government".

The academic researcher further submitted that: "The legislature in a democracy exists as an independent institution which deepens democracy and ultimately strengthens the polity. Nation building that will be likely to contribute to stable and sustainable international peace requires building the society, economy and polity so as to meet the basic needs of the people. It means not only producing the formal institutions of democracy but building a common identity for the people. It means development of education, human rights, (political, civil, economic, social and the rule of law)."

The researcher continued thus: "It allows participation of the civil society in developing democratic state institutions that promote welfare. In the quest for nation building in a democratic set up like Nigeria, the exercise of effective legislative oversight function remains crucial. Its purpose is to provide a powerful check on the executive authority, enhancing accountability where a dominant executive branch might operate with impunity. It also aims at ensuring that all relevant societal groups are included in and benefit from the nation building and development exercise and that government policies and budgets are implemented in an effective, efficient, transparent and accountable manner."

The power of oversight, the researcher argues, is conferred on the Nigerian legislature by the Constitution to enable the National Assembly to expose corruption, inefficiency, or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement and administration of funds appropriated by the Acts.

Nigeria, being a developing country, the legislature’s capacity to carry out its oversight functions remains weak because legislative role and culture is at its infancy6 and therefore often confronted by many challenges, the researcher affirmed.

As i had previously observed, something intriguing has been happening with the efforts of the Federal House of Representatives to invite the minister in charge of the Humanitarian Affairs to provide information to clarify on certain issues with the school feeding programme which is encumbered by massive and pervasive corruption.

The minister as a member of the Executive arm of government that has pocketed the Legislative arm of government has reportedly rejected the invitations of the parliamentary Commission on the alleged corruption afflicting the school feeding programme.

As reported in the media, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, rejected for the fourth time, the invitation of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee investigating her ministry’s disbursement of funds, allocated for palliatives, to cushion the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on less-privileged Nigerians.

Her refusal to cooperate with the enquiry is in violation of sections 4, 81, and 88 of the 1999 Constitution. These sections, give the House of Representatives power over the Public purse and investigative powers over even the President of the Federation, his Ministers and heads of agencies of government, as far as public funds are concerned.

The parliament also enjoys quasi-judicial powers under the Constitution and the Legislative Powers Act, to summon, cause appearance and even effect the arrest of anyone under the federation.

The Chairman of the panel, Rep. Wole Oke (PDP-Osun), and other members of the Committee, were visibly piqued by the Minister’s contempt of the House.

This show of shame is the reason the civil society community in the Country have always campaigned for the practice of genuine democracy in which the three arms of government are guaranteed their constitutional power of checks and balances or what is termed the Principle of Separation of powers as espoused in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Nigerian Constitution.

This current National Assembly through a compromised hierarchy has sold their birthright to the despotic regime in the Executive arm of government. Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila have become political slaves to the Executive arm of government and therefore are not truly serving public interests.

This write up is to draw the attention of Nigerians to what goes on elsewhere whereby the government carries on with feeding of School children in an environment of transparency, openness and accountability.

This example we intend to bring to the attention of the readers is that of Great Britain. This is a Country whereby 95% of the Nigerian politicians have some forms of financial or housing assets and therefore are very conversant with the terrains. President Muhammadu Buhari for instance had once told us that the reason he visits a doctor in London is because his medical records have been in the United Kingdom since 1979. So Great Britain is a place the President Muhammadu Buhari knows like the back of his fingers.

As the Nigerian President can testify, In Great Britain there is no long story of contractors getting involved in cooking or distributing foods to school children which we do in Nigeria and thereby creating multiple bureaucratic bottlenecks and unnecessary loopholes for thieves both within and outside of government to capitalise upon these criminal loopholes to massively rob the Country of billions of Public fund in the name of school feeding programme.

In the United Kingdom, credible vouchers are issued to the beneficiaries and there are institutional checks and balances to ensure that those children are fed with nutritious foods in line with the payments that are made transparently by the British government. The opposite is the case here whereby children are fed with rotten eggs and badly prepared foods and the government turns up to inform us that billions of Naira were spent. The Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, a professor of law of evidence, once told us the huge quantity of cows that are slaughtered weekly to feed these school children but this claim lacks believability because Nigerians are yet to see this body of evidence.

Let us even look at the current trending news on how a footballer succeeded in convincing the UK government to extend the school feeding programme to benefit thousands of children from struggling backgrounds in the summer.

Sky Sports reports that Marcus Rashford says he feels proud after he successfully campaigned for the government to change its mind and extend its free school meals voucher scheme over the summer holidays.

Food vouchers - for £15 a week - will be made available to around 1.3m children in England who are currently eligible for the scheme, and will last for six weeks in what has been called a "Covid Summer Food Fund".

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which to be honest I only became aware of very recently, today - and I thank him for what he's done.

"I think he is right to draw attention to this issue."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly congratulated Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford for his campaign to get the government to provide free school meals to children over the summer holidays

'I don't even know what to say'
The Department for Education had initially said it would not extend the voucher scheme despite an emotional letter to MPs written by Rashford, in which he said "the system isn't built for families like mine to succeed".

But the government has changed tact after Manchester United striker Rashford kept up his campaign.

Responding to the news, the 22-year-old tweeted: "I don't even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020."

He later posted a longer tweet directed at MPs which read: "This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard.

"I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right. There is still a long way to go but I am thankful to you all that we have given these families just one less thing to worry about tonight.

"The wellbeing of our children should ALWAYS be a priority."

According to Sky Sports, Rashford's letter to MPs was retweeted more than 140,000 times on Twitter.

The media stated that after initial pushback, he kept up the pressure for a second day - sparking a tetchy exchange with Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey on the social media site.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has encouraged players to continue pushing social issues

Rashford had already won the backing of Labour and two senior Tory MPs - Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons' education select committee, and George Freeman, a former head of the Downing Street policy unit.

Downing Street claimed the extra support will cost around £120m - in addition to £63m already pledged for councils to help families and kids over the summer holidays.

Labour called it a welcome move and "victory for the 1.3m children who were at risk of going hungry this summer".

Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: "It is thanks to the amazing work of Marcus Rashford and campaigners that the government has had no choice but to reverse their decision.

"The government must now confirm that this new money will be for the direct provision of free school meals to all eligible children."

This writer deliberately took his time to follow through the reports filed by Sky Sports to demonstrate to the Nigerian government that officials must not have to steal the resources meant to feed SCHOOL children just as it is imperative to let the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to know that School Feeding PROGRAMME is not rocket science that is too complex that the minister of Humanitarian Affairs would fail to tell Nigerians why there is so much corruption in the implementation of the Nigerian side of the public school feeding programme. Nigerian people must keep their eyes wide opened and demand accountability.

Why is the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari behaving as if feeding school children is a big magic? Why can't Nigeria do the same thing that those transparent and accountable governments all around the World are doing? Give out vouchers to the beneficiaries and then work out the modalities with qualified Restaurants so these Children are served qualitative meals? Why does government steal in the name of School Feeding PROGRAMME? Why are government officials bereft of good conscience?

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www. , ,[email protected], .

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko  and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."