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In Nigeria: From school to home feeding

The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development launched on May 14 a shift from school to home feeding of disadvantaged pupils.

The minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, provided explanation for changes to the original arrangement of feeding children in school: “Beginning today in Abuja, this programme will target parents and guardians of children in primary 1 to 3 in public schools participating in the programme….A total of 3.1 million households are targeted for this intervention.”

She also listed the food items to be given to eligible children: “Each family will get 5kg bag of rice, 5kg bag of beans, 500ml of vegetable oil, 700ml of palm oil, 150mg of tomato paste, half a crate of eggs, and salt.”

Further, the parent of each eligible child would collect these items with a voucher already issued to them and there will be 6,000 collection centres across the country.

These are hard times. So, any manner of assistance to children from economically vulnerable homes at such unusual time is in order.

The children who had access to free meals in normal times are bound to need such assistance more desperately, now that their parents are unable to work because of lockdown and at a time that the government is also in dire straits largely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, while mitigating the pain of the pandemic for vulnerable children is laudable, implementation of the programme needs to be as fair and credible as is humanly possible.

In this respect, provision of full details of the programme to the public is important, to assure citizens of inclusiveness and accuracy of data used in selecting beneficiaries as well as in ensuring efficiency in delivery of food to eligible children regularly and promptly while the pandemic lasts.

Sourcing various food items for 3.1 million pupils in a country with little tradition of food banks and transporting food bags to 6,000 collection centres during restrictions on inter-state travels can be challenging logistically, more so at a time of growing uncertainty arising from the pandemic.

A less cumbersome and more efficient arrangement ought to have been considered by the ministry in charge of humanitarian matters.

Once there is a provision for vouchers for eligible children, the government ought to introduce coupons or vouchers that the pupils could use to buy food in canteens or make vouchers given to parents of eligible pupils acceptable for deposit in banks as payment for food purchased from open markets, as it is done in many other countries.

With such vouchers for buying food from markets familiar to beneficiaries, there would be no need for extra cost for contractors for various food items in 36 states or 774 local governments.

In a country that is still at war with corruption, there is nothing unusual about citizens getting suspicious of procurement agents, especially when expenditure of huge amount of tax-payers’ money is made without full information on criteria and data for selecting beneficiaries.

The minister’s statement: “The ministry is using the opportunity of this modified programme to collect and verify data with the support of CSOs and NGOs such as ActionAid, BudgIT, Tracka, and CMDA” can add to citizens’ confusion about a programme that should have been driven by verifiable data becoming a means of collecting data.

We urge the monitoring groups to encourage state coordinators of the pilot project to work towards making this experiment an enviable model for subsequent phases that are likely to capture more data and more households with children who were already on free school meals before the pandemic. Thenationonlineng

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