Zaria (Kaduna State) – A Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Action Aid Nigeria, has commended Kaduna State Government for setting up structures to curb corruption in the implementation of the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) in the state.
Its Project Coordinator, Mr Kehinde Arowosegbe, gave the commendation on Sunday in Zaria, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the end of a one-day dissemination meeting with relevant stakeholders.
Arowosegbe said that the bold initiative of the government would tackle the sharp practices that characterised the implementation of the school feeding programme.
He also commended Gov. Nasir El-Rufai for the recent appointment of a Focal Person for the Social Investment Prgramme (SIP) and a Programme Manager for the school feeding programme and other principal officers, domiciled in his office.
“This is the best way to go as we are already feeling the impact of this laudable step toward sanitising the school feeding programme in the state,” he said.
He explained that Action Aid, along with other organisations, had been monitoring the programme under a project tagged: “Promoting Accountability and Transparency in School Feeding (PATS-F)”, funded by MacArthur Foundation.
He said the other organisations were, Connecting Gender for Development, Girl Child Concern, Federation of Muslim Women Association, Women Association and Nigerian Popular Theatre Alliance.
He alleged that monies meant for the programme were being diverted through various corrupt practices by some officials and cooks involved in its implementation.
“For example, we have discovered during our monitoring activities, that one cook is collecting over a million naira to feed more than 1000 pupils instead of the maximum of 150 pupils.
“This is corruption because there is no way one woman can feed 1000 pupils in one school.
“There are also some instances where school administrators inflated pupils enrollment to attract more allocation to the school.
“There is equally a problem with the supply chain of eggs that created a situation where one egg is shared to four pupils in some schools.
“Not only that, some teachers, School-Based Management Committee members, including Education Secretaries and the cooks were diverting eggs and eating food meant for pupils.”
The project coordinator added that the cooks equally complained of illegal deductions and withdrawals by the banks and in some cases their husbands and children.
Arowosegbe expressed optimistic that with a formal structure in place to manage the NHGSFP, all the sharp practices that characterized the implementation of the programme would be addressed.
He said that Action Aid and the other organisations were already building community structures to strengthen community participation and ownership of the programme, for sustainability.
Arowosegbe said that the NGOs had in the past weeks, carried out advocacy visits to traditional leaders in the 23 Local Government Areas of the state.
“The goal was for the community to own and sustain the school feeding programme given its laudable benefits to the communities, particularly in boosting enrolment, ensuring retention, completion and transition.
“It also improves the nutrition status of pupils and grows the local economy through job creation and mopping of food items needed for the programme from the benefiting communities,” he added.
He said that the main objective of the one-day meeting was to share experiences and feedback on the state-wide advocacy visits and strategise approaches to community engagement.
Malam Umar Abdullahi, Programme Manager of the NHGSFP in the state, acknowledged that the government was aware of some of the issues, adding that steps were being taken to address them.
Abdullahi told NAN that the issues had been segmented into different categories for proper response.
“For example, we have met with the banks to sort out the problem of alleged illegal deductions.
“What we discovered was that some of the cooks gave their ATM cards to their husbands or siblings, who made withdrawals without the knowledge of the cooks.
“But we have asked any cook with bank issue to submit their statement of account so we could reconcile the issue with the bank.
“On alleged fraud by the cooks and other officials, the government, with support from NGOs, is engaging community members and traditional leaders to build a community structure and systems to solve the problem,” he said.
Abdullahi also said that the government had resolved that no cook would feed more than 150 pupils, adding that the issue would soon be addressed to create room for other women to participate.
“On egg supply, we have set up mechanisms to ensure that no egg aggregator supply egg outside the benefiting community.
“We want to ensure that if a pupil is in Kaura, the egg he eats should come from Kaura, if he is in Lere, the egg should come from Lere,” Abdullahi said.
The programme manager disclosed that government would soon roll out digital platforms such as free toll lines and internet App to strengthen citizens participation in monitoring the programme.
He explained that the toll line would enable all relevant stakeholder to call the SIP Office directly and make complaints to enable follow up.
For the App, he explained that anyone could download it, walk into any school, take pictures, upload them with a description of what was happening, and it would be received on the SIP dashboard.
He thanked Action Aid and other organisations for supporting the government to effectively implement the programme.
Abdullahi, specifically, lauded the community engagement efforts, which he described as crucial for the success of the programme.
“Some of my officers and I were part of the advocacy visits and I strongly believe the experience will enable us develop best practices and ensure value for money,” he said.