19 May 2017

Nigeria: Students Starve As Politicians Eat Fat

Abuja and Katsina — Students in public boarding schools are fed with an average of N200 a day per student, Daily Trust investigations have shown.

This fact contrasts sharply with what their leaders at the national and state levels spend to feed themselves as reflected in their annual budgets.

Analysis of the 2017 budget figures shows that the students in the federal government unity colleges across the country are being fed with less than N200 daily, per student; while the offices of the president and the vice president spend about N300, 000 and N147, 000 respectively on food, daily.

There are 104 federal government colleges in Nigeria and the students are being fed with N50 each per meal, making it N150 for the three-square meals daily.

But the figure was increased to N62.02 per meal, totalling N186 daily per student in the 2017 approved budget, according to the federal ministry of education officials.

A principal of one of the schools told Daily Trust that all boarding students pay N15, 000 each per term, which is used to augment the cost of their feeding.

On the other hand, N115 million was budgeted for food stuff for the office of the president this year which comes down to N319, 444 worth of food per day

The office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, according to the official figures, will spend N53 million on food stuff this year or N147, 222 worth of food daily.

The State House, according to the budget figures, will spent N850 million on food stuff and catering materials, purchase of canteen and kitchen equipment and cooking gas this year.

The breakdown shows that kitchen utensils will gulp N431 million; food stuff and catering materials will swallow N360 million; and N63 million for cooking gas.

The president's office will spend N115 million on food stuff, N101 million on kitchen utensils or equipment, and N22 million on cooking gas.

The vice president will spend N53 million on food stuff, N12 million on kitchen utensils and N246, 000 on cooking gas.

Checks also revealed that the 469 federal lawmakers are spending between N7000 to N10, 000 each on food daily, according to their 2017 budget details released last week.

The budget figures show that the Senate, comprising 109 lawmakers, is planning to spend N410 million on meals and refreshment, this year.

By this, every senator will spend N3.8 million per annum on food, making it N10, 447 daily. The 360 members of the House of Representatives are planning to spend N913 million on meals and refreshment for the year.

Also, each House of Representatives member is billed to eat "meals and refreshment" worth N2.5 million per annum, making it N7, 047 daily.

Figures for other agencies of government show that prisoners are literally fed better than the students in federal public schools, Daily Trust findings revealed. The federal government is spending N450 daily (N150 per meal) in feeding each of the over 50, 000 inmates in detention across the 227 Nigeria Prison Service facilities in the country.

For graduates doing their one-year compulsory National Youths Service Corp (NYSC), the federal government is spending N500 daily, per head, in providing three-square meals.

The feeding budget for cadets at the Police Training College, Ikeja, Lagos is N2000 daily, per head. A police official said N500 is spent per meal, while the remaining N500 is for "feeding logistics."

The feeding mode is nearly the same in the states for governors, legislators and schools. In Katsina state, for instance, the state government is spending about N30 per meal on every boarding student in the state.

Official data shows that the state government is spending N100 daily per student for the three-square meals in the state.

On the other hand, the Katsina state governor and his deputy spend an average of N650, 000 daily on food and catering services.

Details of the state 2017 budget show that N243 million has been budgeted for food and catering services by the Katsina State Government House. The breakdown shows that the governor's office is spending N129 million, the deputy governor N15 million and the Government House N90 million on food.

The 34 lawmakers of the Katsina State House of Assembly will spend an average of N13, 154 each on food daily. The lawmakers have budgeted N161 million for food this year.

The breakdown shows that the speaker is spending N36 million, while the 33 other lawmakers are spending N125 million for the same purpose.

N50 unrealistic for meal‎ - Dietician

The meagre amount budgeted for the feeding of the students is too unrealistic to provide nutritious meals to the students, Ms Sarah Abagi, Head of Dietetics Department at the National Hospital‎, Abuja told Daily Trust.

She said though it is not possible to determine whether the food provided is nutritious or not from a distance, the dietician said "it is not realistic at the moment to feed a child with N50 or N100 per meal."

Ms Adagi said she needs to do a visual assessment of the food before she makes a categorical statement. "I have to see what the federal government is putting at the table of the students with N50 per meal to actually know the nutritious value of the meal," she said.

The dietician however added that "even though I don't want to make a sweeping statement, but it will take some magic by states or federal government to provide a nutritious meal the students required for their development."

Allowance be reviewed to N1000 - CSO

The Policy Adviser of a Civil Society Action Coalition on Education (CSACEFA), Chioma Osuji, said the feeding allowance was too small considering the current economic situation of the country.

She said the feeding allowances should be reviewed to N1000 per day per student. "Looking at the reality on ground N200 is not enough," adding that N200 could not feed a child three square meal. She said the students could not concentrate because of hunger.

Ms Osuji called on government to increase the feeding allowance. She urged government to constitute a monitoring team that would monitor the food given to students.

What should be done - ‎Old boys

The best way to solve this challenge is for government to cap the admission and quota of the unity schools, the president of Unity Schools ‎Old Students Association (USOSA), Professor Chidi Odinkalu said.

Speaking to Daily Trust by telephone, Odinkalu said over population, abuse of admission processes and poor administration of the schools are responsible for the predicament.

"Unity schools are grossly over-populated, facilities are inadequate. The administration of the schools are bastardised by local officials in collaboration with federal officials," he said.

"For instance, the problem in Queens College Lagos can't be solved without capping the admission intake. The school is originally established for 95 students. But now it has students population of 3800‎," he said.

He said the value of the money budgeted for meals for the students has been rubbished by inflation and poor purchasing power in the last three years.

He said the federal government has to reduce the admission intake for it to plan and manage the schools better. He said some of the schools are worse than prisons.

Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Misbahu Bashir & Maureen Onochie, Habibu Aminu and Eugene Agh

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