Bauchi — The National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) in Bauchi State is said to be enmeshed in racketeering that is giving room for non-compliance with the menu based on farm produce locally grown by smallholder farmers to provide pupils nutritious meals.
Like other states, Bauchi has its food menu and money is paid to vendors directly to buy foodstuff; they also assemble at a centre to receive 4-5kg of meat and fish as well as specific number of eggs based on the number of pupils they feed.
The menu is as follows:
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Monday - Jollof rice and meat with slice of orange or watermelon.
Tuesday - rice, beans with stew and fish, slice of orange or watermelon.
Wednesday - Jollof and spaghetti, slice of orange or water melon.
Thursday - boiled yam with stew and fish, alongside slice of orange or watermelon.
Friday - Moimoi and egg with slice of orange or watermelon.
It was observed however that the vendors have no link with the local farmers so instead of providing homegrown foods, they buy unapproved food items including spaghetti. The dishes were inedible in some instances.
A source said at the start of the programme in 2016, political stooges were hired as vendors and many of them abandoned their assigned schools but "money continued to flow into their bank accounts monthly unchecked."
In Bauchi, the food vendors receive advance payment to supply food for 20 days from their coordinating units.
"We submitted our account numbers and BVN to the coordinators and after every 20 days we receive between N70,000 and N80,000 depending on the number of pupils who could be 70 or 80. They send another advance payment which we use to buy foodstuff and fruits," according to a vendor.
A teacher said once there is delay in payment, food would not be supplied to pupils even if the missing days would be paid for, later.
Again, the size of watermelon and orange slices were small, thereby depriving pupils of the required nutrients. The food was also not palatable, he said.
One of the vendors in Bauchi town said: "I have 80 pupils under my care and I receive N80,000 to feed them for 20 days. I buy food items like rice, beans, yam and spaghetti. I buy N200 oranges and medium size watermelon for N200 each. I divide one orange into six and cut the watermelon into 80 slices."
Another teacher, who would not want to be named, said presently most of the vendors are nowhere in sight and very few actually supply food to schools.
For example, at Bakari Dukku Primary School, Bauchi there were 25 vendors at the initial stage but only 11 are left," he said.
An official in charge of monitoring in the school, Malam Garba, told our correspondent that, "We forwarded the complaints of absentees and those skipping days to the local government desk officer, and he promised to address the problems nothing has been done."
A vendor at the school told Daily Trust that at the collection centre for meat and fish, "we see strange faces and young girls receiving meat, fish and eggs for Bakari Dukku Primary School but they don't go to the school. And officials in charge of distribution of meat give less than the stipulated 4-5 kilograms and only 35 to 40 eggs."
One of those who claim to be vendors, which could not really be ascertained, told our correspondent that, "our boss (name withheld) asked us to fill application forms and open bank account and we submitted the ATM cards to him. At the beginning of every payment, he gives us N10,000 each and later N5, 000. And all of a sudden, he stopped making any more payment."
A teacher monitoring the scheme in Saleh Manga Primary School said attendance was at stake due to vendors' absenteeism as whenever the vendors were absent during break time, pupils ran to their homes to eat and some hardly return.
The Focal Person of the programme in Bauchi, Madaki Ahmed Gololo, confirmed non-compliance with the approved menu and other corrupt practices which, he said, were inherited from the 'previous' administration.
"When I took the helm of affairs four month ago, I received briefs from all the components of the scheme and we realised a lot of lapses but we are on top gear to address most of the problems."
On the issues of patronizing locally grown produce, Gololo said, "When we saw the menu and found out that some food items were not cultivated in Bauchi, we reviewed it in conformity with the guideline. The review was conducted by the state multi-sectoral committee made up of representatives of SUBEB, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Budget and Planning and the state Nutrition Officer from the Ministry of Health.
"We recommended a lot of changes and the state governor has approved them. We have also conveyed the changes to the national headquarters of the programme."
On insufficient delivery of protein, he said, "we noticed that one company or supplier was given seven LGAs to supply beef, one company to supply eggs and another to supply fish which create a lot of challenges. There are lots of complaints from the vendors who spend the whole day in the collection centre without getting any supply.
"On the part of eggs, one egg is supposed to be divided into two, hence, a vendor who is cooking food for 70 pupils is entitled to get 35 eggs, but sometimes she gets only 25. We have taken drastic measures to address the situation," Gololo stated.
On connivance with desk officers, education secretaries and food vendors, he explained that he was at one time chairman of a 6-man panel that investigated the operations of the programme and it submitted its report which clearly stated the problems and made several recommendations.
He said many education secretaries were suspended and that there is a move to sanitize the system.
Gololo said 1,860 schools were found to have been excluded from the programme after a census by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
"The little we have in the allocation we managed it, you can find a school with 600 pupils but only half of them get the food. You may find out that two or three pupils were given the food of one child in the past. However, all stakeholders are working to reconcile the lapses with a view to achieving the desired goal."
Abdullahi Isa, the NBS Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Officer in charge of the programme, said each LGA also has one M&E who monitors the activities of the programme and report on weekly basis.
Isa said a Memorandum of Understanding was signed that all state governments involved in the programme would take the responsibility of funding, monitoring and evaluation.
"We have challenges with the previous administration that declined to fund the exercise. We have 103,123 primary schools in Bauchi, monitoring those schools require enormous resources which is not forthcoming," he said.
Isa explained that every LGA has one M&E officer who goes to collection centres every Sunday to monitor distribution of meat and on Wednesdays to monitor distribution of eggs and fish to ensure that contractors adhere to the stipulated rules and provided the vendors with the right quality and quantity of protein food items.
He said the problems degenerated when the government refused to produce a roster for the checks and balances, adding however that there are rosters now.
Isa said corruption started from the beginning because politicians were involved in the appointment of vendors.
"What really happened is that if you brought 50 women as vendors, they will go and open bank accounts and you will either collect all the ATM cards or direct that after every payment they should send the money to you.
"We have gone ahead to block accounts of those we suspected to be ghost vendors; those that are not feeding the pupils. We have one of such accounts that is having an excess of N800,000 that has been blocked," he disclosed.
Again "some people are going round swindling women under the pretext of employing them as vendors. They collect from N30,000 to N50,000," he added.
Story supported by MacArthur Foundation