Kaduna Free-Feeding Program: Issues in Contention
The Kaduna State Government’s policy on free feeding program for primary school pupils commenced fully on Monday, 17th January, 2016. As a Kaduna APC initiative, the program, since its inception, has been described as a laudable project.
Indeed, the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai-led education program had received a tremendous boost from far and near, including local, states and national organizations, as being commendable. However, the program is not without blemish by critics.
The initiative came with the provision of trained food vendors to supply the 1.8 million pupils in all public primary schools across the state with the food in a day. The concept, as it were, is that, each pupil is expected to get a plate of food worth of N50 a day.
The Kaduna state Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Shehu Usman Adamu, who made these known, while responding to questions field in by some stakeholders before the take-off of the scheme in Kaduna, explained that, under the program, government would only pay the food vendors N50 for the feeding of each pupil.
The commissioner said, by feasibility studies, each vendor is expected to have an interest of about N10 on each plate per pupil. He stated that all the selected food vendors were taken from each locality to serve in the schools where they are located, and advised the vendors to use the start-up money provided to rent pots and food warmers instead of investing in procurement of those items.
“Parents are to provide their wards with plates, spoons and drinking water from home.”
According to Shehu, the vendors recruited across the 255 wards of the state have been organized into cooperative societies, warning that, any food vendor at the cooperative leadership, who violates or operates contrary to the expected operations, would be made to lose his/her position.
“The only role for the leadership is that of going to the bank to withdraw money for disbursement to various vendors.” Concerning feeding on Fridays, Adamu pointed out that, government had gone into agreement with companies that would be supplying biscuits and soft drinks, and have also identified farmers and fruits sellers that will supply eggs and fruits juice in the various localities.
“It is not going to be possible to give it to many traders, because government would not compromise standard in what will be supplied,” he said. On provision of school uniforms, the Commissioner said, “It is only the secondary school section that shall be provided with school uniforms.
“Parents should make sure they send their wards early to school, as government had made a promise and also made a provision; as such, both teachers and parents should play their roles to make the programme a success.
“The Parent Teachers Association (PTA) should also make sure that they come around into the school from time-to-time to supervise and make sure the children are given what the government said it would provide.”
While 1.8 million primary school pupils are expected to be fed in the school feeding program, Kaduna state government budgeted about N9 billion to be spent annually on the program.
Findings revealed that, within two weeks into the project, enrollment of pupils into public primary schools in the state tripled – a situation, which had forced government to announce a closing date for admissions.
In some instances, the pupils were withdrawn from private schools by parents in anticipation of quality of teaching service. Low and behold, however, pupils had to seat on the floor during the school hours to receive lectures, due to shortage of chairs, as a result of over enrollment; in some cases, no chairs to seat down at all.
It became obvious that in some areas, children from the neighborhood had formed the habit of only seen running to school premises with their plates to partake in the sharing of meals, on sighting the food vendors and, thereafter, returned back home immediately, since the pupils in most places, are without chairs and uniforms.
Critics have expressed fear and likelihood that the environment in which some of the foods are prepared are unkept and unhealthy, following recent complaints that some pupils suffered from purging and running stomachs late January to this month; so much so that some parents allegedly prevailed on their children to stop eating the government free food.
Again, this, perhaps reinforced the popular opinion, particularly ascribed to women group that if the N9 billion budgeted for the free feeding annually is put into viable investment, it could create employment and generate wealth for parents to feed and even pay children’s fees themselves.