Chidinma Okoye is a primary one pupil of Abuato primary school, Asaba, Delta state. She just got admission into the school having completed her kindergarten classes at Best Brains Nursery school. Following the fact that the school children from primary one to three were fed from the federal government school feeding programme last session, she was full of expectation as she got admission into the primary school.
When emeraldng.com visited her school, she was happy to be in primary school. She told our reporter that she is enjoying the feeding from the caterers. While in the KG, she was going to school everyday with food from her parents but now she no longer does that because the federal government has taken that off the neck of her parents. At between 10 and 11am, she and her peers line up and collect their meal and eat. But prior to the resumption of the feeding on October 17, Chidinma was going to the school with a little cooler of food from her mother. This is so because the feeding resumed this term in the six week because our reporter learnt that there was delay in the payment of the caterers.
Hence, for these six weeks prior to the feeding, Chidinma was eating from her own cooler which she took along to the school. Emeraldng.com gathered that many of the children had waited for the food but their waiting seemed endless, hence they decided to feed themselves and abandon the free food from the government of Nigeria.
In most of the schools visited, our reporter learnt that many of the children were coming to school with plates but having done so for six weeks without food, they made a major decision to begin feeding themselves, hence before leaving home for school, their parents prepare food for them in little coolers to keep them engaged and fight off hunger while in school.
The children were said to have confronted the caterers when they see them in town, asking “aunty, are you not coming with food again,” but the caterers would reply them “we will come.”
But at the sixth week of resumption, the feeding commenced, a development which implies that the caterers had been paid. Head teachers of the schools, especially schools in the state capital, Asaba, gave beautiful report of how the feeding programme fared.
School authorities, pupils aplaud feeding programme
Mr. Emma Okakwu, head teacher of Asagba Primary School, had this to say when our reporter visited the school in the heart of Asaba. He said there are two children who come to the school but mother is a sweeper in one of the major roads. Okakwu said he told their mother to bring the children to school with the belief that they will get food to eat. And that actually helped the woman last term when the feeding began.
The head teacher of Abuato Primary School 1, Mrs. Rose Awunor, also paid glowing tribute to the programme. She told our reporter that the programme is a good one. “Ever since they started they have been feeding the children very well and the food is very nutritious. I do see it, it is good and nourishing.”
“They do give thedm rice, spagethi, sweet potatoes, with vegetable soup. At times, they pieces meet inside the rice. They give them egg with vegetables. At times, they give them water melon. They do give them fruits like orange and pinepples. That’s what I have observed so far. The only thing is that the food is small but it’s rich.”
She, however, agreed that not all pupils in her school are eating the food. “Some pupils come to school with their food. Some are instructed by their parents not to eat because they have their own. Only those interested are eating.”
Festus Francis, a primary 3 pupil of Abuato primary school, said the food is very good. He listed the food they eat to include indomie, rice, plantain, potato, beans, macaroni and spagethi adding that “We enjoy the food because it is very good.”
Caterers say delay in payment and N70 per child biggest challenge
For the caterers, it is great doing business for the federal government. Mrs. Mary Odiato who feeds children in Ogborie primary school 1 was full of thanks for President Muhammadu Buhari. For her, the programme has actually been good. She sees it as an empowerment for the caterers.
She said there is actually no problem in preparing the food. But the major challenge which is peculiar to all the caterers is the N70 per child. “To serve one child N70 is not good enough. We are appealing to the federal government to increase the money. We are just cooking because we see the children as our children. If we look at the profit margin, there is nothing in it. When we don’t have any other thing to do, we have to go with it. Kobo na money, toro na money,” Mrs. Odiato said.
Besides the insignificant financing, the delay in releasing the money for the project is a big source of concern. Odiato told our reporter: “You cook one month and for the next one month you won’t cook is not the best. You will see the children when they are on break carrying plate up and down waiting for caterers and the caterer is not there.”
She said many of the children come to school with the anticipation of eating in the school, reason being that many of their parents cannot give them breakfast before leaving for school.
Mrs. Josephine Williams cooks for children at Zappa primary school. She told our reporter that the programme is empowering women and children. But her major challenge is the inconsistency in the release of funds. This is so because funds were released for them this term at the sixth week of resumption. Hence, the children were kept waiting while many began to lose interest.
Getting the food item has never been a challeng to her. Being caterers, she said they know how to go about sorting out things, they go into the remote areas, get the items at reduced rate, hence they give the best to the children with the little money made available. She said they connect other caterers in the remote communities and the business is done but everything they do revolves around the N70 per child. Then, she queried: “How can we be okay with N70. No average Nigerian will say okay to that and I’m not an exception. It is only that it gives me joy to cook underming the challenges. I’m really happy,” she said
Also, Mrs. Patricia Monyekanayo, who feeds children at Ogbafor primary school, also said the N70 per child is not the best. For her, that is the singular challenge the caterers have. “We don’t face much challenge in getting the items because they are locally grown food. The only problem is the N70 per child. And the food we are giving them, we try as much as possible to make it nutritious. So, we have to buy the local rice, yam potatoes, plantain, you add tomatoes and onions.”
Mrs. Kanayo, who feeds 127 children in her school on daily basis, said ordinarily one can’t buy a plate of food for N70. She added that the children are happy because they enjoy the food from the caterers. But the delay in releasing the fund is her major challenge.
“I feel bad that the money is usually delayed. When you are walking on the street and the children see you, they will say aunty, you are not bringing food for us again. It’s some how embarrassing. And you won’t go telling them what is happening. We tell them we will come.”
Amaka Odilison, who coordinates the programme in Oshimili south local government area, also lent her voice on the need to increase the amount of feeding the children from N70 to a reasonable amount. She said: “Take for instance, the small noodles in the market is about N50 and you have to add an egg to it. So, when you look at it critically, it’s nothing to write home about. They are striving because it is an empowerment programme. Since they have started, they should continue.”
According to her, the report from the school authorities indicate that “their children have kept on increasing. People from private schools are now entering government schools. So, it is a very good one. We all assume that most parents that send their children to public schools are just of the average parents who cannot afford much, but now they are getting government to take somethings off their necks. It’s a very good one.”
She said the food comes well because it is balanced, noting that the women are mothers, hence they manage things for the good of the children. For reports of some children not eating, Odilison said it’s like two percent of parents who may not want their children not to eat. She said in a school, there may be one child who may not eat perhaps because of medical challenge.
Every child in primary one to three must be fed – State focal person, Shimite Bello
Mrs. Shimite Bello, who supervises the programme in the state, told our reporter that her objective is to ensure that every child in the school is fed. She said for every child to be fed, every caterer must be cleared by the bank. She said the estimated number of children to be fed in the state is 244,000 spread across all primary schools in Delta state. She added that a total sum of N292million is spent by the federal government to feed this number on monthly basis. But she said the total amount cannot be paid to the caterers until all the caterers are cleared.
Mrs. Bello explained that the N292million will only be paid when the total number of caterers, 2115 are cleared to begin the feeding project. She said if they are cleared, each month, the federal government will spend N292million to feed the children. “The N292million is to run for a month not a term. This money is for the feeding of the children not for the payment of the caterers. The caterers collect this money to buy ingredients to cook for the children. So, it is not a profit making venture,” Mrs. Bello explained.
She said by their calculation, each woman could get N10 per child as profit. “If they grow this, they could save as much as N15 on each meal. Most of the caters are feeding 150 children. By the time we calculated, most of the meals are costing N60 per child. So, they will be able to save something. It will be more economically viable if these women have farms for themselves. If they actually become active, they can get this meal at almost no cost to them which is the whole essence of the programme,” she said.
Mrs. Bello also said that there is no salary for the cooks, rather their pay is the profit calculated from each child’s feeding. When asked if the non-payment may affect the quality of food so as to save money, she said there is a monitoring team which monitors the quality of food given to the children, hence if any caterer is found to have provided low quality food, such will be deleted from the programme.
She said: “The quality of food was determined by the ministry of health. The ministry came up with what ingredients should go into the different meals. If you cook beans, we want you to add spinach or ugwu so that it will be balanced. Whatever you cook, all these vegetable must be there. Once a week, the children must eat eggs.
“We’ve given them the data base of all the farmers that farm the ingredients they need. We got that from ministry of agriculture. We made everything easy for them so that they don’t get fatigue because the amount involves is really small.”
But for the delay in the release of funds, Bello said she cannot blame anyone, whether federal, state government or the computer room involved in the analysis of data sent to them.
Enthusiasm wanes as feeding delays and quality declines – NUT’s verdict
From the perspective of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the programme has not fared too well. Although the programme had a good beginning last session, the enthusiasm among the children has waned. State chairman of the NUT, Titus Okotie, told our reporter that at the commencement of the programme, the children were eager and were no longer disturbing during learning hours. “They were eager to see break period because food was coming. But all of a sudden we discover that the the enthusiasm has waned among the children,” Okotie said.
His submission may not be unconnected with the fact that the programme kicked off very late this term. The NUT chairman, who gathered information from all schools in the state, also said the quality of food had declined as against when the programme started in June last term. For him, the meals are not as qualitative as they were at the beginning.
He wondered that if the N70 per pupil could afford good meal last term, what happened that the quality had reduced. The NUT chairman who sent his local government officials round the 25 council areas in the state for fact finding before giving his verdict, called for effective supervision and possibly complement the project for the sake of Nigerian children.
He said: “Every stakeholder has to come in in the form of supervision because I still believe the N70 may not be enough but certainly there are parents who cannot afford to dole out N50 for their children. Some children go to school with empty stomach and they come back before they can manage to soak garri. So, to me N70 is a big money to those parents. If we can complement at the state level, fine but if not, let us see how we can supervise this thing effectively. I think that will be a way out.”
Okotie said teachers’ job is made less stressful when the children are fed. When there is no food, he said, children cannot concentrate to learn as assimilation will be made impossible. He added that the programme may not necessarily be for the average Nigerian children but for the downtrodden who find it difficult to raise N50 for the children to take to school. “Some of these people have four children in the school, and that means if what you give them to school is N50 each, that is N200. Somebody who has no income, how can he afford that! And that is why personally I give kudos to the federal government for this initiative.”
However, he is of the view that the programme should continue, insisitng that it has helped so many parents and taken of their neck the burden of feeding their children at school. “It has helped some parents, there is no doubt about that. And it makes learning environment more conducive for the teachers. Teachers confirmed that when the feeding started, the children were paying more attention to their learning, especially in the afternoon. Before now, once it is 12noon, you see children eager to go home. But now instead of being eager to go home, they think of what is coming. Even those in the upper classes are eager to join. They want to repeat lower classes because of the food.”
I foresee some caterers pulling out because the N70 per child is a challenge – Edu commissioner
The Delta state commisioner for basic education, Chiedu Ebie, also gave his view on the programme. He said the programme started in June. he said the state has 1113 public primary schools with eight newly established. He also said admission of pupils into the schools is an ongoing process, hence it will be difficult to give accurate figure of children in the schools.
On the benefit of the programme, he said the essence of the programme is to help Nigerians on the average level and those below the poverty line. Ebie explained that assisting a child with a square meal a day will go a long way to boositng the learning ability of the child, adding that for those who do not want to go to school, the feeding could be an attraction to them.
But the commissioner’s major challenge as it is with the caterers is the N70 per child. For him, the N70 per child is “quite a daunting and challenging task. We have no choice but to key in. If we had our way, we would say the price be adjusted upward. But I guest they did their home work and we must give the people involved credit.” He added besides the feeding for the children, the programme is an empoyment for the women involved.
However, he said he said there is tendency that some caterers may pull out of the programme because of the challenge of coping with N70 per child considering all the factors that must be put together before the food is served to the pupils.
Answering a question on giving the pupils spagheti instead of the home grown food as discovered in some schools, the commissioner said not all the food are available in all communities and to ensure there is uniform feeding each day of the week, some of these foods were brought in.