The feeding programme is ill-advised
Public disapproval has greeted the announcement by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq that the federal government would be feeding school children in their homes amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry said it was doing so because of its commitment to alleviating the hardship vulnerable school children were facing at home following the Covid-19 lockdown. Many stakeholders, including the main opposition, see this scheme as yet another duplicitous scam to loot scarce resources. There is nothing to suggest they are wrong.
Under a modified arrangement, according to its promoters, children in public schools from primary one to three and drawn from 3,131,971 households, will each receive uncooked food rations, valued at N4,200, comprising some quantity of rice, beans, eggs, palm oil, tomato paste, salt and vegetable oil. But many stakeholders, including the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) have knocked this controversial scheme which is perceived as a smokescreen to deceive Nigerians. While we have nothing against poverty alleviation ideas, we insist on accountability and demand that the coronavirus crisis should not be used as a conduit for mismanagement of lean resources.
Although the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has justified the distribution of Take Home Rations (THR) to the households as way to enable the children access nutrients disrupted by the spread of the virus, it is clear that the programme is another version of the Conditional Cash Transfer where government is already distributing N5,000 per month to over three million vulnerable households on the national social register. But it is curious that the federal government is spending a whopping sum of N13.5 billion on an elaborate feeding programme at a time schools are shut nationwide. The THR, which the ministry has defended as the Covid-19 version of the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, is needless at a time when there are contending priorities that are also seeking urgent national intervention.
We appeal to our policymakers to avoid doing the same thing under different guise in the name of palliative schemes that do not in any way advance the cause of the people. The home feeding programme is ill-advised, lacks a clear objective and is not transparent. We therefore agree with those who contend that it is an avenue to milk the country of its lean resources. There is indeed logic in the argument put forward by critics that as the whole country is in a lockdown mode, it is normal that the children, who have been at home for the past eight weeks should continue to be under the care of their parents and guardians. Besides, it will cost the federal government about N697 million daily to sustain this school feeding programme.
Our submission, therefore, is that the substantial money earmarked for the programme should be committed into other pressing and measurable Covid-19 response activities like the provision of isolation centres, scaling up of screening centres, provision of reagents and drugs for Covid-19 patients, among other needs. Given that the management of the palliatives has shown quite clearly that the ministry has no capacity for such venture, we will not be surprised if it all ends in another scandal.
From the selective appointment of vendors without due process to lopsided and discretionary distribution of money and food items during the lockdown, most Nigerians have no confidence that anything will be different with this controversial scheme. Indeed, considering the outcry that attended the sharing of related palliatives meant for communities, which only benefited middlemen and influential stakeholders at the expense of the vulnerable people, we do not believe this idea is in public interest. It should be shelved.