In Nigeria: Suspend pupils’ home feeding during lockdown

DESPITE the COVID-19 pandemic-induced school closure across the country, the Federal Government is keeping faith with its school feeding programme, aimed at providing at least one nutritious meal a day to pupils. This time, instead of the usual practice of doling out the rations to pupils on their school premises, when the schools are in session, the food will now be brought to them in the comfort of their respective homes.

Ordinarily, this step should draw plaudits from Nigerians because of the impact it is likely to make at these critical times when many parents are finding it difficult to feed their households because of the lockdown and restriction of movement. But, given the paucity of planning time, and the sheer size of the targeted population, it is a programme that could be open to corruption and other forms of abuse. This could be an opportunity for some individuals to line their pockets in the name of feeding schoolchildren at home.

Lagos working with Federal Govt on schools reopening

Chief among the challenges standing in the way of the implementation of the programme is that of logistics, especially in a country where there is no accurate and reliable database on the number of pupils, who are to benefit from the programme and how to trace them. It is quite possible that even when pupils’ addresses are given to the school authorities, it may still be difficult to trace some of them using those same addresses, as they might have gone to stay with one relation or the other. This is not out of place in a society with strong family ties and entrenched extended family system. This means many prospective beneficiaries are likely to miss out.

Besides, it should be emphasised here that most times when the government talks about fighting corruption, it is just about picking up people deemed to have corruptly enriched themselves and throwing them into jail. It should not be so. Rather, it should be about making it difficult for the crime of corruption to be committed. Instead of the latter, the government in its insistence on taking school feeding programme to pupils’ homes seems to be tilting towards the former.

In the process of moving from house to house to share food among the pupils, a lot could go wrong. This is a country where petrol laden tankers destined for certain places have been known to go missing in transit. It is also a place where election materials cannot be guaranteed to get to the voting centres where they are needed, or where relief materials meant for internally-displaced people end up in the open market, where they are sold to members of the public. There is no guarantee that food meant for school kids would not, in a similar manner, also disappear in transit. Even the attempts to provide palliatives to families during the lockdown have not been smoothly executed, leading to protests in some parts of the country about people having been left out.

Undoubtedly, the school feeding programme is a noble scheme that has had a tremendous impact on the economically-challenged segment of the society. It has not only resulted in improvement in school enrolment, it has provided jobs for cooks and ensured a ready market for farm produce that would otherwise have perished for lack of adequate means of evacuating them to markets in the big cities. This also means a ready source of income for small-time farmers and a nourishing and balanced diet for schoolchildren. The Cluster Head for National School Feeding Programme, Abimbola Adesanmi, says school enrolment has witnessed a 20 per cent increase since the introduction of the programme.

In spite of the advantages, however, it does not mean that the programme of feeding children at home should go ahead at the period of this lockdown. In fact, what the government should be doing now is to further fine-tune the programme so that it will be able to serve the pupils better when schools reopen,  which seems to be anytime soon, given the current trend of phased easing up of restrictions in various segments of the society.

In the United States, a programme of feeding schoolchildren is handled by non-governmental organisations. It does not involve the government. For instance, the No Kid Hungry organisation is ensuring that as many children as possible who are self-isolating and are therefore missing the school feeding programme are not allowed to go hungry. The organisation relies on donations to do so. One of the donors, actress Angelina Jolie, gave out $1 million to ensure that this is done.

Instead of the government getting involved in feeding children at these times, it should be looking at how to come up with policies that will ensure that the predicted recession staring the country in the face would not be too debilitating. Policies should be rolled out to ensure that small businesses thrive and the amount of disposable income is such that recovery will be achieved at a faster rate. The N679 million per day planned for the home feeding of pupils can be directed into better use elsewhere. Punch

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