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Promoting Good Governance.

Investigation: Oyo, Ogun, Ondo —states where pupils eat ‘unbalanced balanced diet’ under school feeding programme (PART I)

 

The Federal Government boasts regularly that it feeds primary school pupils with 594 cattle, 138,000 chickens, 6.8 million eggs and 83 metric tons of fish on weekly basis. It is confident that pupils get a balanced diet. In this report, the first of a six – part, multi – newsroom investigation, on the Federal Government’s  school feeding programme, YEKEEN Akinwale, who visited the Southwestern states of Ondo, Oyo, Ogun and Osun states, discovered among other things that what the pupils are fed is far from being balanced.


ONCE her motorbike races into the expansive premises of St. John Anglican Primary School, Oba-Ile, Ondo State, Olorode Solape becomes a pupils’ delight. The sight of coolers loaded with food is what delights the kids. Right from the main gate of the school to where the motorbike halts to offload food containers, pupils would run after her.

The kids are always happy to see her with coolers loaded with food —because they know it would soon be time for them to queue for food — the food is meant for them.

Solape is the only one of the two vendors assigned to the school still on duty —her counterpart stopped coming around long time ago.

“The second person came briefly and we are not seeing her again,” she reveals. The ICIR found out that the absentee vendor stopped coming to the school due to complaints about the quality of food she was serving the children. This was after the school’s Health officer, Adeleye Deborah whose duties include checking the food daily lodged complaints about the quality of her food.

And for the pupils, there is no better moment than when the food is served—for that reason, food keeps them in the school even when anyone of them is feeling sick, they would prefer to eat before going home for treatment.

“The food reduces truancy and absenteeism by the pupils,” Afolabi Olufunmilayo, Assistant Head Teacher of the primary school attests to the potency of the food to retain pupils in school.

No time like break time

There is no time like break time for pupils – they are always eager to get their food from the vendor. Photo Credit: The ICIR/YEKEEN AKinwale

Running after the food vendor and cheering her is a daily exercise for the pupils who are mostly those in Primary 1 to 3. For them, ‘Iya Olounje’ (food vendor) as they call Solape is their jolly good friend.

She is the reason most of them look forward to coming to school everyday, because, they will eat free food with cooked egg, fish or meat. The pupils no longer bring garri (a common staple food among the ordinary Nigerian) to school as they often did in the past, the Head Teacher reveals.

By 10 am every day—Monday to Friday—she is already in the school waiting for her friends (the pupils) to observe their break time. Solape serves food to 115 pupils—Primary 1 to Primary 3—under the National Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme launched in 2016 by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Solape is one of the 95,422 cooks otherwise known as vendors engaged by the Federal Government for the HGSF programme which itself is part of a N500 billion funded Social Investment scheme announced by the administration to tackle poverty and improve the health and education of children and other vulnerable groups.

In Ondo State, there are over 1,000 vendors catering for about 78,000 pupils in public primary schools, according to Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Public and Inter-Governmental Relations, Olubunmi Ademosu.

The Federal Government says it is targeting to feed 24 million pupils across Nigeria under the HGSF programme that currently runs in 26 states of the federation. If it succeeds at reaching 24million pupils, it will make it the largest of its kind in Africa.

According to statistics released by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the government feeds public school pupils with 594 cattle, 138,000 chickens, 6.8million eggs and 83 metric tons of fish on a weekly basis.

But despite these claims of huge number of cattle, chickens and metric tons of fish being fed to the pupils, many of them, including their teachers as well as parents, have reservations about the size of what is served on their meal as either meat, fish or chicken as well as the quantity. Each billboard that promotes the school feeding programme shows pupils with plates filled with food and recognizable meat or fish. In reality, however, this is not obtainable in many of the states implementing the programme.

This calls to question the claim of balanced diet served to the pupils by the Federal Government.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) boasts that scheme is widely recognised for its multiple benefits for schoolchildren, particularly in low and middle-income countries. It says evidence shows that children are more likely to stay, attend and be able to learn through the provision of school meals.

Investigations by The ICIR confirm the misgivings that pupils and their parents have about the school feeding programme. Though they are happy that they are getting free meals, they argue that whatever is worth doing at all, is what doing well.

Small food, insignificant beef —pupils, parents lament quality and quantity

From Oyo, to Ondo and Ogun state, the size of meat, fish and chicken served on the food for the pupils has been a major source of concerns for teachers, the pupils and their parents.

Rachael Adebayo- She wants the size of the food and meat to be increased Photo Credit: The ICIR/YEKEEN Akinwale

But the kids are not keeping quiet about it. Nine-year-old Adebayo Rachael in Ondo State is at the vanguard of protest against the size of the meat and the quantity of the food.

For her size and intelligence, Rachael is not a kid to keep quiet when she is not okay with anything. Her petite size and witty candour speak volume of a brilliant girl with a potentially brighter future. She is just a Primary 2 pupil at St. John Anglican Primary School, Oba-Ile, in the outskirts of Akure.

She had finished eating her portion of the meal served by the vendor and decided to keep her classroom clean.

As Rachael sweeps the floor, she dishes out instructions to her peers not minding the presence of this journalist and a teacher standing nearby. The break time was nearly over.

“You carry this chair,” Rachael yells at a classmate, holding a broom in her right hand.

But as this journalist engages, Collins Ibro, a nine-year-old classmate of the little girl, who eats spaghetti instead of the beans served to all of them, a vocal Rachael interjects. “Sir, the food they are serving us is small,” she says, “They should make it more,” she adds.

Truly, only two measures of a medium size plastic spoon is served every pupil by the vendor as meal—the reason Ibro augments the meal with a plate of spaghetti his parent prepared for him. He says the beans would not sustain him till the time he would go home because he would also wait after school hours for extra-mural classes.

Collins Ibro brings extra food from home because the school meal is not enough for him. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

Like Rachael—Ibro says there would be no need for him to bring a portion of extra food from home if the quantity of food served in school increased.

For the day’s meal, she and her peers in the school were served beans and crayfish stew. On that day, they were meant to be served their meal with a piece of fish, but across the state, no pupil ate fish as the vendors were not given fish at the designated place by the state government.

The supplier, it was found, could not make the fish available the previous day — so the vendors improvised by adding crayfish to the stew for the pupils.  All the vendors spoken to at the two schools confirmed the aggregator did not supply fish for the day. Each state government selects aggregators as they are known to supply fish, meat, chicken and egg at subsidized rates for the school feeding programme.

It is not only the quantity of the food served that bothers the kids. They are also not happy with the size of the meat being served with their meal.

The billboard promoting school feeding where pupils are served plates filled with food, but in reality, the quantity of the food is a far cry. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

“The meat make e big, write am down sir” says Rachael wittily with a broad smile on her face. “The meat is small ‘kulukulu’ like ‘eku’, like rat, she makes jests of the size of the meat.

In Oyo State,pupils are not given meat, fish or egg with their food on Monday and Friday. For those in Ogun State, they are not served any meat or fish on Friday when porridge is the meal for the day.   This is according to the feeding roaster followed by the vendors.

On Monday and Friday in Ondo State, the pupils are served with their meal, crayfish and fish sauce respectively—no real meat, egg or fish on the meal.

Rachael and Ibro are not alone in their protests about the quantity of the meal.

Elsewhere at Ondo State Special Primary School, Airport Road, Akure, nine-year-old Ezekiel Thena who is in Primary 3 says his parent still gives him a token of N100 to buy confectionary like ‘buns’ or ‘puff puff’,  to augment the meal served in school.  Like his peers at St. John Primary School, the meal was served without fish despite being on their diet roaster for the day.

Emmanuel Thena eats a slice of yam served him with crayfish stew, the meal ought to come with fish but vendors were not supplied fish. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

At the school, each pupil is served one piece of boiled yam—and Ezekiel who munches the yam sitting on a desk backing the classroom says, another piece of yam would not be a bad idea if he is given. He complains about the size of the chicken that accompanies jollof rice—his favourite—every Thursday.

The pupils were meant to eat plantain and fish stew that day, but they were served a mixture of yam and plantain because vendors could not get plantain in the market.

So, obviously, the government has to think of sustainable means of sourcing the food, including meat and fish, that the pupils are served.

“We were not given fish and yesterday we could not get plantain,” says Ajisafe Folake, one of the two vendors attached to the school. She serves 100 pupils. The other vendor, Ibrahim Oluwafunmilayo who serves 71 pupils daily in the school almost did not come that day because of the dearth of plantain.

“I didn’t want to come today because I couldn’t get plantain,” she explains. “I had to add yam to it, though yam was meant for Monday.”

“If I didn’t come, the pupils won’t eat and that would not be good,” the vendor adds.

The head teacher at the Special Primary School, Ayoko Olayinka Prosper, also has reservations about the quantity of the food given to the pupils, says she is satisfied with the quality. “The school feeding programme is okay,” says a very welcoming Prosper.

“The quality of the good is okay, but the quantity, let’s forget about that. But the quality is okay,” she stated. She is quick to point out the positive side of the school feeding programme—increase in enrolment.

“I can say that the programme is increasing pupils’ enrolment,” she quips as she rummages pages of the school registers to reel out the school population.  “More parents are enrolling their wards now.”

“For instance, we had just 152 pupils in Pry 1to 3 in 2015/2016 academic session, but the population has increased to 169 in 2016/2017 just a session when the programme started,” Prosper reveals.

But the head teacher wants the programme to be extended to primary six. Presently, it caters for only pupils from Primary 1 to 3.

Truly, pupils in lower classes are already keeping the food for their siblings in upper classes. Ifeoma Akeredolu, a pupil in Primary 3 keeps her own share of the food for her sister in primary 6.

The quality and quantity of the food notwithstanding, pupils were excited to eat in school without payment.  Once the bell rings for break time, pupils at both St. John and Ondo State Special Primary schools would rush out, form a long queue— each holding his or her plate—and stretch out same to the vendors to serve them.

From Monday to Friday, this is a routine they repeat. On Monday they are served cooked yam and crayfish stew, Tuesday it is white rice, vegetable soup and beef—“a tiny size beef,” says Folake, the food vendor at Ondo State Special Primary School, “you can hardly see it on the food.”  It is beans and and egg on Wednesday, while the pupils are served jollof rice and chicken on Thursday. Friday is for plantain, stew and fish.

The quality of the food served the pupils though with ‘tiny meat, chicken and fish,’ cannot be compromised—each school appoints a health mistress or teacher who ensures quality control of the meal on a daily basis.

Where is the meat? The meat served on the meal is small that it is hardly visible. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

It is only the quantity they cannot influence, as the vendors said they were instructed to give each pupil one and a half spoonful of food each day.

Though a number of parents are happy that the government is alleviating the hardship parents are passing through, they believe the quantity and quality of the food must be improved.

In Iseyin, Oyo State, a parent who simply identified himself as Bashorun, says the Federal Government should go back to the drawing board and set up a monitoring team on the school feeding programme if there was no one in place. The team, he explains, will monitor the quality of food served to the pupils across the country.

“In my own view, though I’m not in government, lack of proper monitoring accounts for this,” he says.

“If there is what they call checks and balances which I call monitoring, without checks and balances, you release the money, N100 per child do we monitor if they are actually N100 worth of food?

“Is there any monitoring body to ensure that they are being served the expected quality and the issue of coming with personal plates in this modern day, even in our own time we didn’t have take-away plates but the government provided aluminium plates with cover.”

But the National Coordinating office of the programme says it has monitors who move around schools to verify what’s going on.

There is a Federal Monitoring structure where we send monitors. They are called verification officers who are more like locals around there,” says the Programme Manager National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, Adesanmi Abimbola.

“They move around and visit the schools to ensure that everything is going on fine.  We also have independent monitors who are Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, currently monitoring the school feeding programme. Then we also have the National Investment Social Office (NSIO) that also monitors all the social investment programmes.”

Bashorun is particularly not satisfied with the quality and quantity of the food the pupils are receiving which according to him is far cry from what used to be the free meal in public schools in the past. This, he blames on lack of monitoring by the government.

Apparently giving the government a spat on the back and also scolds it at the same time, he says, “I’m not trying to condemn the effort of government in totality but it is nothing to write home about.”

“Go and see what the children are being served even my dog cannot eat it. Is it the quality you want to compare? Is it the food itself? And you need to see the meat; it is not even up to my finger that they were being served,” They are being served rubbish,” Bashorun adds disappointedly.

“This is my own view. The government should go back to the drawing board. If it is not in place, it should set up a monitoring body that will monitor round the country, the quality of food being served.”

But Yakubu Yekini Kolawole—Chairman Parents Teachers Association (PTA) Army Children Primary School, Iseyin, is full of praises for the Federal Government for initiating the school feeding programme. He has two children in the school who are benefiting from the feeding programme.

The school feeding programme is actually not new in the Nigerian system—the government initiated the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act 2014. The Act stipulates that, at a minimum, all state primary schools must provide one meal a day to each pupil.

After presiding over a PTA meeting in the school, the chairman notes that “the school feeding is a great relief for parents,” adding, “because it is quite hard for some households to eat once in a day. We thank God for providing the food for our children.”

Kolawole also affirms that pupils no longer run away from school. “God will continue to help the government, we are grateful to them,” he prays.

As the spokesperson of parents in the school, he confirms to The ICIR that “parents are complaining about the quantity of the food and meat each pupil is served,” “but you people should help us tell the government to improve on that.”

This is a sentiment shared by Kikelomo Oshibogun, the PTA Chairperson of St. Peters Anglican Primary School, Imosan, Odogbolu Local Government, Ogun State.  For her, the school feeding programme couldn’t have come at any better time when many homes were struggling to provide three square meals.

She maintains that the meals represent a balanced diet for the kids, but the government, according to her must see to how the tiny size of fish and meat served the kids as protein on the meals can be increased.

“We don’t mind if they can increase the size of the fish and meat, because the food is working well on our children,” says Oshibogun whose three children attend the school.

Since one aggregator supplies fish to vendors in Ijebu-Ode and environs in Ogun State, it is not surprising that kids at St. Peters and Orphanage Primary School, also in Imosan are served with bean-sized fish on their meal.

According to Baoku Oluwakemi, a vendor attached to the Orphanage Primary School, the suppliers cut and pack the meat and fish there. “They need to increase the size of the meat and fish,” she recommends. The vendors in the local government pick up meat and fish from designated suppliers. “We don’t cut or determine the size of the meat and fish,” Baoku adds whose food caters for 96 pupils in the school.

This could not have been a one-off incident; it is similar at Army Children School 3, Iwo- Road, Ibadan, Oyo State capital.

The size of the meat served the pupils on a day they are eating a loaf of bread each with meat and stew is comparable to the tip of a finger.

“The size of the meat is very small like a stone,” says, Salawu Kehinde, Head Teacher of the school. “Even at home, you don’t give children such tiny meat.”

The stone-sized meat – even the vendors complained about it. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

She also laments that fruits no longer accompany the meal for the pupils unlike when it initially started.  The ICIR gathered that pupils were enjoying fruits such as pineapple, watermelon served with their food, “but that has since stopped now,” says the Head Teacher.

But Toyosi Ajobo, the coordinator of about 3000 vendors in Oyo State defended the decision of the government not to allow the vendors to buy meat, fish and egg from the open market. She says the government was wary of feeding the pupils with adulterated meat or fish.

On the size of the meat, she says the size commensurates with the amount of money being deducted from the money paid to the vendors. “No, the meat size is not like a finger, it’s according to the body demands of the pupils. It’s enough for the pupils based on their age,”Ajobo argues.

When asked to explain why the pupils were not supplied plates by the government, she replies, “it’s not part of the programme to give pupils plate.”

Complaints by vendorsReal reason food quantity is small 

Vendors say they are not making profit from the school feeding programme. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

Currently, a total of 95,422 cooks also known as vendors are engaged in the schools feeding programme. The government says it has empowered these cooks who are women but the cooks are not too happy with the social services they are rendering.

Besides the deduction which is the payment for the meat, chicken, fish and bread to the aggregators from the money paid to them, the payment often is not regular. The National office of the school feeding programme pays the vendors and aggregators directly. Each vendor is paid based on the number of pupils assigned to her.

From Oyo state to Ogun, Ondo and Osun—school feeding vendors are asking for a better deal. The government spends N70 per child under the school feeding programme in a day—out of this sum, money for meat, chicken, egg and bread are deducted —so what is left is used to prepare the food by the vendor.

So, in truth the N70 government says it uses in feeding a child per day is actually covers the cost of food items and payment of the cooks for their labour and transportation.

The vendors lament that what they usually have left is not sufficient enough to make any gain, because they are not paid salary by the government.

They want a better deal from the government. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

In order for them to be able to save money as their own gain, vendors confided in The ICIR that they struggle to spend the amount to prepare food for the children without compromising the quality.

“We are not paid salary as vendors,” says Ogunlade Adeshola, a vendor at St. Peters Anglican Primary School, Imosan, Odogbolu Local Government, Ogun State. “It is from what they pay us that we get our own commission. That’s why the food is small.”

To prepare food for 98 pupils assigned to her, she is paid N53, 000 fortnightly.

Her argument seems to be weighty—she receives N106, 000 in 20 days to feed 98 pupils—the implication is that the vendor spends N54 to feed a child in a day. Invariably, N5, 292 is spent to feed 98 pupils in a day.

From the government’s claim of N70 per child in a day, it means that N16 is spent on fish, meat and egg while the balance of N54 goes into preparing the food. This leaves little or nothing for the vendor as profit.

Ajobo, the coordinator of vendors in Oyo State corroborates this. She says what is left for vendors after deduction for fish, meat, egg and bread is N50. “It’s N50 per child after the deduction for egg, bread and meat.”

Adeshola, who is one of the three vendors assigned to the school, discloses that there have been times that they (vendors) spent their personal money to prepare food but were not paid back by the government.

This is already having consequences as vendors say no payment, no food.  “If they don’t pay us, we don’t prepare food,” she says with a tone of finality. “There was a time we spent our personal money to prepare food and they didn’t pay us back.”

Like Adeshola, Azeezat Ajoke who caters for 113 pupils in the same school says she trusts in God for profit from the school feeding services.  She also receives N53, 000 to prepare food for the kids.  In her case, she wants to know how much is the state government deducting from the money payable to her for the payment of cooking pots and other utensils given to them when they were engaged.

“We were given cooking materials like pots and coolers,” Ajoke reveals, “since then they have been deducting money from our pay and we are wondering for how long they will be deducting our money.”

“Let them call us for a meeting to know what is left and how much they have deducted so far from our money.”

As of May 2018, Ogun State Government said more than 270,000 pupils in 1,510 public primary schools were benefiting from the schools feeding programme while there are 2,948 food vendors.

The story is not different in Oyo State where 2,578 food vendors are serving over 168,450 pupils in 2,408 public primary schools.

At Army Children School, Iseyin, Oyindamola Fausat is the only food vendor serving the pupils. She is paid N120, 000 monthly to cater for 139 pupils in four weeks.

“They pay me N120, 000 and it lasts one month, Fausat tells The ICIR. “I’m telling them that the pupils are many.”

On whether she makes a profit from the money, short of lamenting her plight, she says “I’m happy with what I have; at least I can eat and feed my children out of it.”

She reveals that the government often defaults in payment of the money and once that happens, there is no food for the pupils. “Sometimes they don’t pay and once they don’t pay, we don’t cook,” she states emphatically. “You know that 13 weeks make a term, there’s never a time we were paid the 13 weeks.”

Although their counterparts in Osun State are enjoying a monthly stipend of N4, 000 being paid by the state government as transportation allowance, those in Ogun, Ondo and Oyo are not so lucky.

Only vendors in Osun State get a monthly stipend as transport fare from the state government. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

As for Oluwafunmilayo who caters for 71 pupils at the Ondo State Special Primary School, she is paid N68, 000 to prepare the food. What gets to her after the deduction for meat, fish and egg is just N43. She complained of spending as much as N600 each day on transportation to and fro the school.

“We are not paid salary and we will be happy if the money per pupil can be increased to N200 because at the moment, what we do is not profitable,” she laments.

When reacting to these complaints, Programme Manager, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, Adesanmi Abimbola, admits that there are a lot of unresolved issues with the vendors and the school feeding programme.

On the payment of vendors, she explains that payment is based on the availability of funds.  According to her, money is not paid directly to the state governments but to the vendors and aggregators who supply fish, meat and egg. “Where an aggregator does not supply an item, we stop the aggregator, she added.

The aggregators must be members of an association whose state governments have recommended to the national office.

“When we first started we paid them first ten days but we pay them every 20 days subject to fund release, subject to the holiday period,” says Abimbola.

“We already have a budget of three, three months with the school calendar. Every three months is what we use.”

She says her office usually sends money to states where schools are not on holiday. However, the conditions on which the money cannot be released are if the list of the cooks is not complete and their request did not come on time, she adds.

“There are a lot of unresolved issues.  Once we pay a state, the payment schedule goes back to the state officer.”

“We go during our verification period and check the number of the pupils per food vendor. We do an enumeration of the children which include taking their weight and size and also snap their pictures which we upload on to our portal,” she says about monitoring the programme.

Abimbola maintains that the supply of items such as egg, fish and meat had been arranged with poultry associations, fish cooperatives or butchers association because where an egg is sold for say N40 or N50 in the open market, they sell it for N28 to the schools feeding programme.

“The states choose the aggregators that supply these items.  We only go during our verification period to find out if the cooks are actually feeding the pupils.”

Addressing enrolment, retention and truancy Osun State example’s of school feeding

Ajayi Ebenezer wants more food—he finishes a plate of porridge served during the school break time—and he quickly eats the banana served along with the food.

Ajayi Ebenezer: The school feeding keeps him and his siblings in school. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

The petite six-year-old Primary 1 pupil at Union Baptist Elementary School, Alekuwodo, Osogbo, would ordinarily be absent from school if there was no food to eat in school—from Monday to Friday, he can’t afford to miss any of the meal the vendors are serving.

His look paints a picture of a child truly in need of help—his unkempt appearance suggests he had not had a bath for days and his tattered knickers reveal much about the standard of his living.

But as he stands by the entrance of his classroom looking towards the school’s expansive compound, he licks the banana peels concealed in his right hand. “I love the food they serve us,” he says with a broad smile on his face.

For him and his two other siblings in the same school, eating three- square meals a day at home is usually a herculean task.

They don’t eat an egg at home, and it has been difficult for their father, a security guard in a private school, and a jobless mother to cater for their needs, including paying examination fee which is just N200 per pupil. But they are kept in the school by the school feeding programme.

The school management takes responsibility for the payment of their examination fee as part of efforts to retain them in the school. “We pay their exams fee,” says Oyedemi Grace, the head teacher of the school. She says many pupils, like Ebenezer, Segun his elder brother and a sister are encouraged to come to school because of the food.

“Due to the condition of the country, many pupils now have access to a balanced diet in the school,” the Head Teacher says. “They eat meat, fish and egg that they cannot afford at home.”

This is apparently true—Ayomide Afolayan who is a Primary 4 pupil in the same school does not want the school feeding programme to end—“I love the food they are giving us everyday and I won’t be happy if they stop it,” Ayomide says as he eats with bare hands because he left his spoon at home.

Ayomide Afolayan: He eats his food without a spoon

Since 2012 when Osun State Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme was relaunched after it was first rolled out as a pilot project in 2006, it has impacted on school enrolment.

According to data released by the state government, the school feeding programme covered 1,378 public schools, in the beginning, providing meal once a day for pupils in primary 1-3.  In a publication on the school feeding programme known as O’ meals, the government says the programme impacted positively on school enrolment with an increase of 38, 000 pupils, representing 25 per cent within four weeks of its introduction.

The document revealed that enrolment increased from 155,318 on May 31, 2012, to 194, 253 as of June 30, 2012. By December of the same year, the state government extended the school feeding to pupils in Primary 4. This, the publication reveals increased the total number of pupils being fed to over 252,793.

While the Federal Government pays for the feeding of pupils in Primary 1-4, Osun State Government makes provision for those in Primary 4, reveals the State Programme Officer, Kehinde Olaniyan.

“Under the programme, pupils benefitting from the O’meals eat chicken twice in a week, egg, fish and meat once in a week,” Olaniyan explains. She, however, admits that there has been a pocket of days when meats particularly chicken could not be served with the pupils’ meal.

According to statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria Primary School Enrolment by state 2013, Osun State had the highest rate of primary school enrolment in the country which was put between 70 per cent and 80 per cent.

This, the administrators of the programme say has changed the standing of Osun State which UNESCO in 2012 said had the second highest number of out-school children in the South West after Oyo State.

The state government says it spent N7 7million per day, N38.5million per week and N169.4million in a month to feed 155,318 pupils in the beginning. It adds that the cost has since jerked up to N14.8million per day, N74million per week and N325.6million in a month as school enrolment shoot up to 252,793 pupils.

There are no current data to verify these claims. The only school enrolment data provided by the Federal Ministry of Education shows school enrolment from 2012 to 2016. However, figures, 400,591 assigned to Osun State in 2012 and 2013 are the same. This suggests that there was no single enrolment in the state between 2012 and 2013 despite the existence of school feeding programme in those years, which makes the data unreliable.

The programme is in its third year in all the states where it’s being observed, but Abimbola says the government has not measured the impacts of the school feeding on school enrolment and retention of pupils.

In an interview with The ICIR, she explained that the impact assessment is planned for 2019 which is the third year of the programme. At the moment, the Federal Government does not have data of how the programme has impacted on school enrolment except records from the schools.

However, the O’ Meals programme as the school feeding is called in Osun State is arguably a trailblazer for the Federal Government school feeding programme.  It has run in the state for seven years and has served as a model to many other states.

For instance, while pupils in states like Oyo, Ogun and Ondo go to school with their personal food plates and some do not  have at all, Osun State Government in its template for running the school feeding programme provides complete eating set— a stainless plate with a cover, spoon and a plastic cup—a set to a pupil in all the 1,384 primary schools in the state.

The pupils are also served fruits everyday alongside their meal which pupils in other South West states don’t enjoy—Oyo State Government did a similar thing in the beginning but has since stopped, no reason was given. They also get a fruit juice once in a week, Olaniyan says.

Pupils are served cocoyam (pink species) in their menu because of its higher nutritional value over yam. Smallholder farmers are cultivating the crop and supplying the food vendors.

In its implementation of the school feeding programme, Osun State also carries out a deworming exercise on all the pupils in its elementary schools once in a year—those in Primary 1to 4.

“School children are extremely vulnerable to the micronutrients deficiencies induced by worm infections,” says Taiwo Adeagbo, Director of the State School Services at the Basic Education Board.

“Children are in a period of intense physical and mental development and critically need the vitamins and minerals that are lost through worm infections.”

Adeagbo who flagged off the 2019 deworming exercise at Anthony Dozie School in March explains that treating school pupils for worms is one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions for improving a child’s health.

The state government procured deworming drugs for the pupils and trained some primary school staff how to administer the drugs to the pupils.

 

 

This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)

 

 

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  1. Victor Ernest says

    This is journalism at it’s peak. This is awe-inspiring and a well conducted investigation.