Featured

INVESTIGATION: No Connection, No Palliatives — The Mismanagement of Lockdown School Feeding in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja

One of the enduring images of the peak of October’s #EndSARS protests was the looting of COVID-19 palliatives from warehouses and politicians’ homes in a number of states. Before then, though, Ibrahim Adeyemi had traveled to Ogun, Abuja and Lagos states to monitor the distribution of palliatives to school children, a project the Federal Government had earmarked N500million for. With the benefit of hindsight, Adeyemi in this NewsWireNGR’s Investigation, chronicles the pains and frustrations of poor parents who should have received the palliatives that were stashed away. It also reveals how school teachers and administrators awarded the palliatives to themselves and their cronies at the expense of deserving beneficiaries.

On a chilly Friday morning in May, Mrs Adunni Wahab had woken up very excited. She had heard on the radio that the Federal Government would share some food items to pupils in primary schools 1 to 3, courtesy of the School Feeding Programme during the COVID-19-induced lockdown.

Adunni hurriedly exited her room at 35 Olodan Street, Ijora area of Lagos, trekking quite a distance to Ladipo Primary School in Ajeromi Local Development Area of the state. One of her children, six-year-old Malik, is a Primary 3 pupil of the school. But arriving there, the excited woman was disappointed to discover she was not given her ration of the food items.

The N4, 200 worth of food items meant a lot to the widow and mother of six but she never got them. That day, there was nothing on the table for the family to eat; she had to knock on the doors of her neighbours for help.

Since the passing of her husband, she has had to cater to the family alone. She would peddle pieces of sachet water on the streets of Lagos Island to feed her family, but COVID-19 eventually came to halt her trade. During the lockdown, things became so bad she often bought food items on credit.

“I won’t lie to you, it pained me that I couldn’t get the food they promised us. I needed it badly because my children were hungry,” she said. “I was more pained because I saw parents whose children are above Primary 3 level get the food items. And I heard that teachers also went home with many of the palliatives.”

TROUBLED KIDS, TROUBLED SYSTEM

When, in 2016, the Federal Government introduced feeding school children through the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), the aim was to “tackle poverty and improve the health and education of children and other vulnerable groups.”

Before the onset of COVID-19, children were already on the wrong end of the economic crisis faced by the country. A 2018 survey by the Universal Basic Education put the number of out-of-school children in the country at 13.2 million.

Save the Children, the organisation working to improve the lives of children through better education, health care, and economic opportunities, predicted in a recent report that Covid-19 would worsen child illiteracy, particularly in African countries, as more children would be kept out of school.

According to the report, cuts in education budget and pervasive poverty, which would be worsened by the pandemic, could force millions of children out of school forever, pushing many of them into the labour market unprepared.

However, in May, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, said it would continue its School Feeding Programme despite the shutdown of all schools across the country. Sadiya Farooq, the Minister, said the government’s aim was to cushion the hardship of vulnerable school children.

Although Nigerians maintained that the School Feeding Programme during lockdown was a disaster, as it lacked transparency and accountability, Farooq claimed that the government spent over N500 million to feed pupils in primaries 1 to 3 during the lockdown. She said this after receiving backlashes from many Nigerians on social media.

Explaining how the Ministry spent over 500 million, she noted that the meal costs N70 per child and that the calculations were 20 school days per month, meaning a child eats food worth N1,400 per month. Three children, she said, would then eat food worth N4,200 per month and “that was how we arrived at the cost of the ‘take-home ration’”.

The plan was that the Federal Government would provide the funding while states would implement the project.

“To ensure transparency in the process, we partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) as technical partners, tracking, monitoring and giving daily updates validating the programme,” she said.

“In the FCT, 29,609 households were impacted, 37,589 households in Lagos and 60,391 in Ogun, making a total of 124,589 households impacted between May 14 and July 6. “If 124,589 households received take-home rations valued at N4,200, the amount will be N523,273,800.”

A FEEDING PROGRAMME THAT EXISTED ‘ONLY ON RADIO’

When Mojisola Shittu of Sapon area in Ogun State heard about the School Feeding Programme during the lockdown, she called her child’s class teacher on the phone to confirm.

“The class teacher said nothing of such was going to happen in their school. She said she would call me if there would be, but she never did,” said Mrs Shittu.

Her child, Halima Shittu, a Primary 2 pupil of Olumo Primary School in the state, was a beneficiary of the feeding programme before Covid-19 but not during the lockdown.

Rasheedat Abdulsalam, a resident of Olumo, confirmed Mojisola’s claims about the School Feeding Programme in the area. She said the only time she heard about it was on the radio.

The woman, who also has three kids at Olumo Primary School, said: “When I heard about it, I knew it was a scam and that it won’t be possible since all schools were closed.”

Asked if she was aware of the School Feeding Programme in any of the government-owned primary schools around, she said: “No! They didn’t give or call any parent, I live close to one of the schools and I have friends whose children attend other primary schools around. If anything like that happened, I would know.”

kindly donate to the work we do using our interim PAYPAL  https://www.paypal.me/NewsWireNGR

NO CONNNECTION, NO PALLIATIVES

In six different government primary schools visited across three local governments in Ogun State, findings from personal observation and interviews with parents, children and teachers of government primary schools show that the lockdown School Feeding Programme was not half as effective in the state as proclaimed by the government.

Parents whose children attend Bashorun Moshood Abiola Primary School (BMA), Sabo; Olumo Primary School, Odo Eran; Holy Trinity Primary School, Aiyetoro Road; Methodist Primary School, Okeyeke; Nawarudeen Primary School, Okeyeke; and Community Primary School, Shodeke lamented that the programme was ineffective and manipulated in many areas of the state.

Meanwhile, among dozens of parents interviewed, only two claimed that they received the food items on behalf of their children. One of them, simply identified as Ibrahim of Lafenwa area, said: “I received the food items, but it was because I know one of the executives of the Parents/Teachers Association in the school. The person facilitated it for me. He just called me and I went to Lafenwa High School to collect the food items.”

A side view of Bahorun Mahood Abiola Primary School, Sabo, Abeokuta, Ogun State

‘THEY SHARED HALF AND TOOK THE OTHER HALF AWAY’

A resident of Temidire area in Abeokuta, whose child attends Bashorun Moshood Abiola Primary School, stated that corrupt teachers and headmasters frustrated the realisation of the programme during lockdown.

He said parents insisting there was no School Feeding Programme during lockdown should not be blamed since only very few people of influence received the palliatives in many of the primary schools.

He confessed to being a beneficiary of the project strictly because he knew influential people in his child’s school. He also revealed how teachers in the school went home with many of the food items meant for school children.

“They gave us tickets and sked us to come collect the food items at Lafenwa High School and we met crowds waiting to get their shares already that day,” said the resident, who asked not to be named.

“My contact in the school told me ahead that only 35 parents per school would be given. The person also expressed worries that he didn’t know what to tell the other parents who would miss out. Then somebody among the teachers told him to tell others who couldn’t get to come next week for the second batch. That was how they deceived them. A teacher in my child’s school told me they took half of the food items away and shared the remaining half to the people.”

kindly donate to the work we do using our interim PAYPAL  https://www.paypal.me/NewsWireNGR

The ration shared to beneficiaries in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun.

IN LAGOS, PALLIATIVES WERE ‘DIVERTED’

In Lagos, Alfa Oyo, as he prefers to be called, was rushing out of his residence at Olojowon Street, Amukoko, when he was approached for an interview. Hearing that the interview would focus on the lockdown School Feeding project, he stopped, thinking the journalist was a government official.

“What do the authorities want from us this time?” he asked. “I don’t want any problem from the government, please.”

Still, he offered a seat after the reporter introduced himself properly.

Like Adunni, he was embittered when he went to his child’s school at Ladipo Primary School expecting food items that were to be handed school children during the lockdown.

“They asked us to come and I went there, since my child is in Primary 2,” he said. “But when I got there, I was asked to come back for it. I went back many times but I was not given. I think the teachers were just giving the palliatives to people they knew personally.”

A pupil of Bashorun Abiola Primary School in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

‘WHERE YOU WORK IS WHERE YOU EAT’

Although, like Alfa Oyo, many residents of Amukoko whose children attend public primary schools confirmed that the School Feeding Programme held in many schools in the area, they lamented that the palliatives were given to non-deserving parents and teachers. By “non-deserving”, they were referring to parents whose children were in classes above Primary 3 but found a way to collect the food items at the expense of the eligible beneficiaries.

Many other parents and children interviewed in some parts of Lagos also confirmed that food items were distributed in their areas but with many irregularities. A number of parents whose children attend public primary schools in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos denied knowledge of any School Feeding Programme during the lockdown. They noted that the palliatives they received were not part of the feeding programme.

But when the reporter visited some of the public primary schools in the area sometime in October to confirm parents’ claims, school teachers refused to speak with him, saying they were not permitted to speak with journalists on the matter. A teacher at the Baruwa Community Primary School in Ipaja, Lagos, asked the reporter to obtain permission from the local government before interviewing anyone.

Also, parents whom this reporter contacted at Apapa Local Government Area of Lagos said the efforts of the government to augment the pains of children during the lockdown were frustrated by those saddled with the responsibility of giving out the food items in the area. They complained that the palliatives did not go round the eligible persons, noting that very few of the food items were shared while teachers of the schools went home with large rations.

A male teacher at Lagos State Primary School, Apapa, who sought anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to a journalist on the matter, denied the allegations made by some of the parents. He said every parent whose child was eligible got their rations accordingly. He however attempted to justify why teachers had to have a share of the palliatives.

“Children are not the only ones affected by Covid-19; everybody is affected, including teachers. And it is said that ‘it is where you work that you feed yourself,” he said.

Despite obvious abnormalities that overwhelmed the programme in the state, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, in May, on Twitter, claimed that the project was well-done in Lagos, sharing pictures that appeared orchestrated.

Pupils of Bahorun Mahood Abiola Primary School returning home alone Sapon Area of Abeokuta, Ogun State.

WERE ABUJA KIDS FED DURING LOCKDOWN?

While the government boasts of feeding school children with over N500 million during lockdown, scores of children of the poor, especially in the rural parts of Abuja, believe that the programme was riddled with corruption and manipulation. Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), a civil society organisation, corroborated this in its publication titled: ‘Were the kids fed? National Home Grown Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) in the midst of Covid-19: Assessing challenges and prospects in the FCT’.

Ezenwa Nwagwu, its Executive Director, said the distribution approaches of palliatives for the programme gave room for manipulation. He noted that not all the supposed beneficiaries got their rations of the food items, as claimed by the government. PAACA’s findings were confirmed by some of the supposed beneficiaries of the programme, who noted that the palliatives reached mostly people in the urban area of the federal capital.

The palliatives shared, according to the report, include 5kg bag of rice, 5kg bag of beans, half crate of eggs, 500ml of vegetable oil, 750ml of red oil, 500mg of salt and 140 grams of tomato paste. The report also revealed that 42% of respondents said they were left out of the distribution process, as packaged food items did not reach their communities.

Nwagwu however advised the Federal Government to adhere strictly to standard protocol and standardisation of content of food packs. He also called for the establishment of a centralised, comprehensive and socio-demographic database to implement programmes such as this in the future.

‘JUST A PLAN TO STEAL FUNDS AS USUAL’ — CODE

Busayo Morakinyo, Community Engagement Manager at Connected Development (CODE), described the lockdown School Feeding Programme as “a ridiculous move to embezzle public funds”.

“Let’s fundamentally critique the ideas in feeding school children during the lockdown. How could you come up with that notion of feeding school children when there was no school?” asked Morakinyo, whose organisation investigated government’s claims of feeding school children during the lockdown.

He explained that the design of the whole programme was for materials to be sourced from local farmers and cooks employed and paid for cooking nutritious meals.

“So now, the government came out and said that they were going to feed students that were at home. This spelt the highest level of deceit and we queried that immediately,” he added.

He also wondered why the government would distribute portions of food items that could not feed a child, let alone an entire family.

“How could you invest so much funds into giving people one meal?” he asked, noting that the feeding programme wouldn’t have augmented the pains of the targeted children during lockdown.

When contacted for comments on findings in this report, Halimah Oyelade, spokesperson to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, did not answer her calls. She also did not respond to the text message seeking her reaction to the report.

kindly donate to the work we do using our interim PAYPAL  https://www.paypal.me/NewsWireNGR

Leave a Reply