Nigerians kicked against President Muhammadu Buhari’s idea about the continuation of the feeding of the school children during the pandemic. They raised their voices to disapprove of the intention because they saw that as unwise. Some questioned why the government should expose school children to the risk of contracting the virus by bringing them to school in order to feed them. Some went as far as calling the programme a scam because they believed that it is set up by the government officials to siphon public funds. All in all, the general public were not in support of the programme. But what could be seen during the flag-off, this initiative is one of the best ways of providing palliatives to these masses, if it is well monitored.
The agitation of Nigerians against this programme may seem too harsh but it helped to shape the way the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHDSD) is implementing the programme right now. On Thursday, 14 May, 2020, FMHDSD, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), flagged off the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) at Kuje Central Primary School, Kuje Abuja. At this event, the Minister of FMHDSD, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, explained that the programme targets children in Primary 1 – 3 in public primary schools. She explained that they will work hand in hand with participating states, whereby they will adhere to the structures and data provided by the state for the distribution of food.
The flag-off of this programme annoyed more Nigerians because they didn’t see how food could possibly be distributed to millions of children that fall within this category. Some went as far as accusing the government of going against the demands of the masses, which they saw as dictatorial. But from what happened in Kuje Central Primary School Abuja, it will be noticed that the lockdown feeding of school children is an initiative that alleviate the sufferings of many Nigerians, at least to some extent.
From the video clip of the flag-off shared in FMHDSD Twitter page, @FMHDSD, the following observations were made:
Absence of Children
Contrary to what Nigerians thought, the food was not distributed to children. Their parents were the ones that came in their place.
Distribution of Uncooked Food
One of the worries many Nigerians expressed in social media was the hazards surrounding sharing cooked foods to children. But, as mentioned earlier, the FG listened to the voices of the citizens and made necessary adjustments.
The Use of Vouchers
The FG, or the FCT council I guess, first distributed vouchers with barcodes to affected parents. These parents came with their vouchers, submitted them for verification and went to the food collection centre when the authenticity of their vouchers had been ascertained. This ensures that dubious activities were reduced to the barest minimum.
Observation of NCDC Guidelines on COVID-19
Of course guests to the occasion, including the parents, were made to wash their hands, use their face masks properly, and observe the social distancing guide.
It will be good to commend the Minister of FMHDSD and the WFP for their good works. The distribution of food at the flag-off was a success. However, more concerns are raised regarding this NHGSFP. Some of these concerns are briefly discussed below:
- Verification of Provided Data
According to the Minister of FMHDSD, the programme is for children in Primary 1 – 3 in public schools. In other words only parents of such children will receive these gifts. But knowing the high rate of corruption in Nigeria, it is pertinent to ask who verifies whether the people that receive these palliatives are those for which it is meant for. From what sources are these data compiled from? Is it from school registers or from the local government’s chairmen offices? Or from the ward leaders’ sitting rooms? Or maybe it’s from the commissioner for education’s PA’s office? Verifying the provided data will go a long way in ensuring that the concerned individuals are not denied this palliative.
- Supervision of Voucher and Food Distribution
It is obvious that the food distribution at Kuje Central Primary School, Abuja was orderly because the minister and other top officials were there with their maximum security details. However, there is no way the minister can supervise the distribution of these food items to parents in different states. This now makes one wonder who will supervise the distribution of the vouchers and its accompanying distribution of food. Who knows whether those that collected vouchers will even smell the food? Attention is greatly needed here too.
- Children in Non-Participating States
As the Minister noted at the flag-off, only children in participating states will benefit from the programme. This makes one worry about children in non-participating states losing out in this. It is quite unfair if these children and their parents lose something as important as this because their state government isn’t up and doing. It is, therefore, necessary that FMHDSD find ways to reach out to them before the programme ends.
- Time-Table/Schedule of Distribution
It is worrisome that there is no time table to show how and when different schools, states, local governments or parents will pick up their palliative. As it is right now, no one is sure of how these distributions are made and when expectant parents will receive theirs. The ministry needs to be clearer on this.
We, as Nigerians, need to support initiatives provided by our public officials to make life easier for us. However, we should not hesitate to point out areas that need reconsideration and amendment, though this should be done politely. In other words, we should give FMHDSD our maximum support as it implements the NHGSFP, but we should help the ministry to ensure that the programme is a success. Right now, our focus should be on our state and local governments. They are the ones that might deny us and our children this palliative.