The Federal Government failed to commence its free National Home Grown School Feeding programme at the beginning of the current academic session in September as promised.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the sharp reduction in government revenue prevented the Federal Government from meeting with the target date.
The programme, which was formally inaugurated on June 9, 2016 by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, is part of the Social Investment Plans of the present administration for which N500bn has been budgeted in the 2016 Budget.
The Federal Government, through the national manager of the programme, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, had in July said it would commence the scheme in September when schools resumed, with 5.5 million pupils across the country.
The promise was that the programme would benefit 5.5 million pupils in the first year of its operation, while Adesanmi had explained that the Federal Government had resolved to start the programme with pupils from Primary 1 to 3 at the beginning, and then move to other classes later.
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President, Mr. Laolu Akande, blamed the drop in oil prices and oil pipelines vandalism by the Niger Delta militants for the delay in the commencement of the programme as planned.
An office headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection Plan, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, created for the purpose of implementing the plan which formed a major part of the All Progressives Congress’ campaign promises ahead of the 2015 presidential election is in the Office of the Vice-President.
Akande also cited the need to ensure that the beneficiary states were ready as part of the factors responsible for the delay.
He, however, assured all stakeholders that despite the setbacks, the scheme would soon kick off.
He said, “We had to first ensure there is operational readiness in the states where the programme will start. That took some of the time.
“The other reason for the delay had to do with the general drop in revenues occasioned by the drop in oil earnings.
“The economic sabotage and attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta is also a factor, which at some point, meant Nigeria was losing one million barrels per day of the 2.2mpd that had been estimated in the budget.
“But the good news is that the programme, which has been budgeted for, will take off very soon. Please note that the programme has kicked off in Kaduna State for months now and for years in Osun State.
“The steering committee, set up for social investments with presidential oversight, has recently made provision for the programme to kick off very soon.”
When told of a recent statement by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, that N60bn had been released for the programme, Akande said the sum was meant for all the components of the social investment plan, and not for the feeding programme alone.
He described the money as the first tranche of funds, saying more releases would follow.
He explained that the money would go straight to the service providers, the cooks, through banks.
On the beneficiaries, Akande confirmed that all pupils in Primary 1-3 in public schools in the first set would benefit.
Apart from Osun and Kaduna where their state governments are already implementing the feeding programme, he listed other states in the first set to include: Borno, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Zamfara and Oyo.
He said as the government goes ahead with the scheme and once state governments show readiness, more of them would join the programme.
According to an overview of the scheme presented at its inauguration in June, the plan runs till 2020 and forms the cornerstone of the nationwide Home Grown School Feeding programme, which when fully realised, would provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary school children.
“Not only will the Home Grown School Feeding programme help our pupils become better students, it will also boost the local economies, and create new jobs along the way,” Osinbajo had said at the inauguration.
Saturday PUNCH had in its September 3, 2016 publication reported exclusively that the reduction in Federal Government’s revenue caused by the sharp drop in global oil price was threatening the full implementation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned social protection programme.
Other schemes under the social protection plan include the Micro-Credit Scheme, Teach Nigeria Scheme, the Youth Employment Agency, Conditional Cash Transfer, and Free Education Scheme for Science Students.
Meanwhile, some parents from across the country have criticised the Federal Government and expressed disappointments that it failed to commence the programme in September as promised.
The parents, all of whom have children in public schools, said they were hoping that their children would benefit from the programme.
A parent in Katsina State, Mallam Nasir Manir, said, “The programme was to commence last month and the government has not told us the reason for the delay. I pray it does not end up being another campaign gimmick.”
A parent, who identified himself as Kazeem, said he was disappointed that the Federal Government failed to keep its promise to feed school pupils.
He said, “The government promised us and we were hopeful, but it has not done it. I feel it is very bad for a government to take the people for a ride because we had trust in it, but it is failing us.”
A social commentator in Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Adegbuyi, also slammed the Federal Government for not keeping to the promise, saying it should apologise to parents.
In Kwara State, Mallam Aliyu Balogun, who has four children in primary schools, doubted the sincerity of the promise when it was made by the APC, adding that the government’s failure to commence the programme in September as promised showed that he was right.
Another parent, Mrs. Joy Omosebi, called on the government to fulfil the promise “by all means.”
But the Kwara State Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Musa Abubakar, had during his speech on World Teachers’ Day in Ilorin, said that the school feeding programme of the Federal Government would be a “colossal waste” if not properly harnessed.