Just like in Kaduna and Osun States, the Federal Government has begun its very ambitious moves to implement one of its five promised Social Investment Programs: the Home Grown School Feeding Program (HGSF). The social investment program was part of the campaign promises made by the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the 2015 general elections to implement if it comes to power.
The HGSF program is pretty simple; primary school students will be fed a meal a day during school hours. The program has attracted accolades across the country, owing to the multiple effects it is expected to have on the education and agriculture sectors. It is estimated that 5.5 million Nigerian pupils will be catered for in the first year of the program that is expected to run until 2020. The federal and state governments are set to review the strategic plan for the rollout of the scheme
According to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the program is expected to improve school enrollment and completion, curb the current dropout rates from primary school which is already estimated at a high 30%, thereby reducing child labour and improve child nutrition and health. Improvement in child nutrition and health will also result in better learning outcomes. The benefits are not only for the children as it will also boost the local economy and create new jobs along the way.
While some have described the HGSF as a strategic intervention aimed at bringing succour to the desperately poor in the society, others see the program as a well calculated ploy to lure children of school age, who hitherto would have been lost to street hawking and begging, back to school.
The increase in local agricultural production will also provide a structural demand for agricultural produce and thus create local economies that have a ready-made market for their produce and guaranteed profit and finally the attendant job creation may help lift families below the poverty line over that line and perhaps, into a brighter future.
According to Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information and Culture at a meeting of a federal government delegation, led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, with members of the National Working Committee and State Executive Committees of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Abuja, the full deregulation of the downstream sector is expected to have some huge impact on the lives of Nigerians. Some of the listed impacts include: the employment of 500,000 unemployed graduates, 100,000 non-graduates, technicians and artisans; the enterprise scheme which is a system of targeting one million market women and men, 460,000 artisans and technicians and 200,000 agricultural workers who are to be given loans through their cooperatives to start their own businesses; bursaries, scholarships for all students in Nigeria studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics and finally, the one meal a day program.
He said the HGSF is the most exciting of the lot as he broke down the implication with an example stating that even if the 5.5 million pupils were to be given one egg a day for 200 days, over a billion eggs would be needed per year that alone is a huge boost for those that own poultry businesses.
To achieve national coverage, the federal government said it is working in partnership with states and local communities for the successful implementation of the program. The mode of cooperation has yet to be defined though and this brought on the suspicion that the states and local governments may be asked for financial commitment to a program initiated by the federal authority.
Even though the federal government seeks about 40% counterpart support from the state and local governments in this scheme, Ekiti, for instance, governed by Ayodele Fayose, has already distanced itself from it, saying he could not afford to contribute a kobo to it, noting that states were not consulted before the opposition APC made such promises.
The federal government has gone on to say it didn’t require the funding of states to start out the scheme as N93.1 billion has already been set aside in the current budget for it, but then, in such states that are unable to support, less students would be catered for as only primary one to primary three pupils will be fed. The federal government would also provide technical assistance that would allow states design their context-specific state owned models.
On the disbursement of the funds, the federal government said the money would go straight to caterers and other beneficiaries at a rate of N70 per meal per pupil.
The HGSF, if successfully carried out, will be a huge achievement for the President Buhari-led administration, in a country where citizens get more disgruntled everyday with the APC-led government as the economy continues to bite harder for the commoners who are already living below the poverty line. Taking off a meal burden out of an expected “three square meals per day” from the parents of the pupils will go a long way in helping them out. But then, the federal government has to ensure that the intended recipients benefit from it and block loopholes for corruption. Like the situation of diversion of Internally Displaced Persons materials, issues like that should not crop up in the HGSF program. It must be closely monitored and the best affordable quality ensured as well.
Apart from this, it is also important that pupils are not permitted to leave the school after feeding as has been experienced in states that already have the scheme. The full learning hours must be a pre-requisite to feeding. The whole point is to also ensure they get their rounded education while their bellies are being filled. Hopefully, the program becomes a successful one.