The Concept, Misconceptions And Stubbornness About The Home Grown School Feeding Programme

Concept

The very idea of the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) has its roots in many (then) Benue Plateau State schools ( and I understand in several Northern States,then) in the late 1960s and into the 70s. The school was supposed to have a farm in which several crops were produced. Schools also kept poultry. In my school, the Government Secondary School, Kuru,under Mr John Gordon, a Briton, the School Farm,managed by Gata Mallam, was the source of much of the school’s vegetables,like okro,spinach, cabbages and lettuces, potatoes and maize.

So, when the Buhari Campaign talked about the Home Grown School Feeding Programme, one had expected,as indeed, I’m sure, many Nigerians of my age, that the good old times of “correct” school feeding was back. We applauded. Alas! Our idea was home grown, theirs was a surfeit of noodles, pasta; and, yes,home grown contractors, Consultant dieticians,mothers who are good cooks at home and disasters in the schools ( and implausibly, new millionaires – heralding the long train of misappropriation, percentages and Corruption.

Misconceptions

In any successful enterprise, there is and always must be a template. The importance of a template is to able to tuck in all factors, for the success of the undertaking. We have seen that there’s a clear difference between book savvy and commonsense. A person may have all the degrees and higher degrees( one ex-Nigerian Senator boasts of having 6 Masters degrees,yet,he lacks commonsense) and yet, does not have the commonsense to put together an idea. He depends on the workers at the site – and their contribution depends on their perception of the Oga. They choose to guide him or sabotage him; most especially if they see that he plans to block their means of making money. You can’t call the scale of thievery in the Nigerian Civil Service, Federal , State and Local Governments, “extra money”. No, sir. You can’t. They steal without compunction. One can’t really blame them, considering what Gen Murtala Mohammed did in 1975. In a moment of sheer insane brilliance ( reminiscent of Barr Wike’s demolition of two hotels for violating the lockdown), Gen Murtala swept away 3/4 of the cream of the Nigerian Civil Service ( and 3/4 of the flotsam and jetsam of the Civil Service,i.e. cleaners, messengers,etc). After the dust of suicides, wailings and hair tearing,at the unpreparedness of the “with immediate effect” order, clearly the remnants rallied and cleverly hiding themselves openly, they’ve being breeding millionaires and a few lucky ones have become billionaires. So, a new Minister or Commissioner or any new appointee is at the mercy of the Civil Servants. One is easily taken in by their servility. Their “docile” attitudes remind one of the Idoma( Benue South) proverb about a man finding a young scorpion by the roadside. The man remarked in great surprise,”who left this beautiful and innocent baby by the roadside? Come” And he lifted the baby scorpion to his waist. He had barely gone 5 metres when the scorpion stung him. “Ah!”,he exclaimed,” I see now why your mother abandoned you.” With that he flung the Scorpion into the bush. All new non career civil Service appointees, Beware. They lurk in the corner and they will bring you down!

The CoronaVirus pandemic has exposed the shaky, unpreparedness of most Ministries. Now, we have seen and are seeing the TOTAL unpreparedness of the new Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. AND, with all apologies to Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouq,the Minister, we are seeing the ABSOLUTE lack of planning and the customary “fire brigade” Nigerian attitude to issues.

What template did the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry put in place before the rushed distribution of palliatives and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT)?

It took the USA over TWO weeks to start mailing the cheques for Direct Payment of their CoronaVirus pandemic stimulus package. The President had declared a lockdown. Prior to that everyone was appraised of the impending action.

I want to say that President Buhari should be wary of all proclamations of readiness from all his appointees. After watching Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs on the NTA programme, Platform, titled, Covid 19 Palliatives: Challenges of the Distribution,three weeks ago, I realised the true nature of her Min istry’s unreadiness. As the Minister in charge of palliatives and all FG relief activities, she shocked me, when she said she had no idea of how much the private sector had contributed. Clearly, in exasperation, the NTA interviewer, reminded her of her being a member of that committee. She said that she is. But, insisted that she didn’t know how much had been contributed.

Nobody is after Mrs Farouq. Nobody can walk to Mr President and ask for her head. That will be too much to ask. But,many people criticize to get things done in the correct way. We do not and will not hesitate to remind our leaders that the CoronaVirus has come to dispose of the old ways:It will be self deception to think life and governance will be “as usual”. That’s wishful thinking. That a Minister can say that she visited some States and after discussions with the Governor made “symbolic distribution” of relief materials is failing to face reality of the changed “normal”. COVID-19 has not dawned on some people. Who cares about the klieglights? Those posturings are for the Stompbox(as Mr Trump is rightly doing, though at the wrong time and place). As things stand in Nigeria, nobody cares who brings relief materials- and his reasons.

Let me further correct the functionaries of the Humanitarian Affairs,Disaster Management and Social Development Ministry that they still wallow in deliberate misconception of the duties of the Ministry( in these times of the CoronaVirus):

1) A misconception of the true identity of the beneficiaries of the REVISED Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and the transposition of the word,”vulnerable” and the phrase “poorest of the poor”. The President in his first Address to the Nation on the COVID-19, specifically used the word “vulnerable”. Nowhere in that Speech nor in the 2nd Address, did he use the phrase,”poorest of the poor.” Clearly,Mr President knew what he was saying. And a week ago,the Hon Minister stated that she had sent to the Ministry of Women Affairs a truck of rice( made of rice or conveying unspecified quantity of rice?), foodstuffs and hold your breath! “bales of Ankara”; and added the clincher,”women are VULNERABLE, too”. This is the basic misconception: The Hon Minister clearly knows the difference between vulnerable and the really insulting phrase,”poorest of the poor”. This can also be said of both leaders of the National Assembly. During a discussion with the Hon Minister,the Senate President referred to some people as “the most ordinary people”. So, one wonders why the officials of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry kept the refrain that the beneficiaries are the poorest of their communities. I got a Facebook “clarification” from a fellow, who said his Company was contracted to handle the compilation of the much vaunted Social Register ( the Holy Grail of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry). Although, rumours have it that that job was in millions of Naira, I could not draw out the fellow. (Maybe, that was what the Minister meant when she said, laconically they used vendors). The man also said that the compilation was done with officials of Local Governments and knowledgeable elders in each community. The Hon Minister corroborated this in her interview on NTA. Wrong parameters. Wrong resource persons. As I stated in an earlier Post, weeks ago, I come from a village, Opialu, in Okpokwu LGA of Benue State. The village has NINE (9) village heads. I’ve being trying to get the “elders” the team spoke with – and gave them the names(?) of our poorest of the poor. Must be “young” elders.

Although the CCT has not reached all LGAS in Benue and over 25 States, One feels there was no MAD RUSH to start paying the CCT nor the distribution of foodstuffs as palliatives. Why?

a) the twenty thousand naira (#20k) to each beneficiary in the Social Register, should have been split to two households;

b) the food palliative should have been given alongside;

c) the payment of cash left the Ministry wide open to suspicions and questions of its integrity.

d) The Minister must ramp up plans for a National Food Bank and a National Meat Reserve. These are necessary for the following reasons:

i) While many zones have grain in the food staple, grains are more widely used in the North. We must, therefore, stock up on yams, potatoes,ccocoyam, wateryam, in the major producing States.

ii) if you paint a scenerio in which the Fulani herdsmen and their umbrella body decide to withdraw their cows; or an epidemic sweeps their herds,God Forbid, the entire Nation will be left without meat.

As it is, the damage is rectifiable. The Minister has said that the CCT would be digitised. Meaning, I assume use of BVN. The Minister clearly has an idea of what to do: In the NTA interview, she struggled against the prepared answers, to establish her own personality. She should shrug off the “Sabi Sabi” civil servants. For instance, I didn’t know, and definitely many Nigerians, didn’t know that,in addition to the additional One Million beneficiaries that the President announced,there is an additional One Million,to be funded by the Social Protection Donor Group,of the United Nations. The interviewer 10à as visibly shocked as myself,at the disclosure. So, here we are talking about almost Five Million beneficiaries. Kai! Hajia,gaskiya,ba ki kiyowta ba! And Nigerians are cursing Mr President. Why? Madam, you MUST sack or redeploy so many of your ranking advisers. You said the Social Register was produced in 2016. It’s long overdue for review.

Disorganizing the Social Ladder

The Ministry set out on the wrong foot,by fighting without pause, those who questioned the “dubious” Social Register. The President is the Final Oga and he categorically said,”vulnerable”. By giving the #20k to the 2.6million in your Social Register,who you said,are the “poorest of the poor”, you disorganized the “Social order”. The beneficiaries jumped over many on the Ladder; and can no longer be called “poorest”. So, since you’ve promoted them, there’s the need for a new SR. See the problem? To create a fairly equitable society, the distribution should be across the community. As we suggested before the impetuous,hasty and calculably wrong commencement of the CCT, the Ministry should have used the BVN,along with the National ID card to pay Nigerians. Now, the Minister has identified women as vulnerable. She has also accepted that Society is divided into urban and rural areas. She has been told that a measure of poverty is how much one loads his mobile phone. God! That’s so stupid! What if the person has two other lines?

Pitfalls of the home feeding programme

What makes the Presidential Taskforce to just stand by and allow the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to keep messing up. Just as the Minister has access to the President, so, does the PTF-COVID19. I thought the essence of the PTF-COVID19 is to advise the President on ALL issues to achieve success. To this end, knowing that the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) failed abysmally, there is the need to look at the following:

a) the Minister said each household will be given dry food ration worth #4600. What this means is that some households will get triple palliatives – the CCT, the Home feeding and the FG palliatives. Meanwhile, some families will not be able to access anything;

b) who brought the idea of dry ration? Have you bought semovita recently? Most are covered with weevil. Why not give the money to the family?;

c) the main Programme is called “school feeding”. Why are we “feeding” children at home? Would it not be more acceptable to pay every Nigerian with a BVN, #20k per household? Virtually every Nigerian has a bank account. In most Nigerian villages, due to the numerous social programmes, every household has an account holder. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to find any Nigerian in the urban areas without a bank account;

d) I was surprised to hear the Hon Minister talking about Three meals per day. God! Is she so separated from reality? And come to think of it, she said the dry ration is meant to cover siblings too ( i.e. 5kg of demo, no seasonings, 2 packs of noodles, no palm oil, 1 veg oil, no egg – quite a balanced diet).

Stop recruitment of PR whitewashers

I read an article by one Emma Agwu,in Thisday,titled “Sadiya Farouq and the burden of Expectations”, dripping with plaudits and “a halo” for Mrs Farouq. Mr Agu cursed and called down perdition on any critic of Mrs Farouq’s “waltzy” steps and high flying bursts of youthful energy in dispensing the palliatives. Mr Agwu warned,”..it will amount to an unpardonable squandering of opportunity if this humanitarian situation is detailed by sel-serving politics, with our emergent Amazon becoming the latest victim of Nigeria’s crisis of confidence.” Drivel. Pure, undiluted drivel.

Mrs Farouq and her Ministry should listen to what people are saying:

Didn’t she agree to digitise the CCT?

Why is she being advised to FEED children at home?

As one of the interviewers on NTA asked her – does the feeding cover only children in public schools or all children?

How long can a 5kg of semovita last a family of 5?

Or are all these “symbolic” or this is another display of stubbornness ? We’re in a time of onrushing tragedy and no time for grandstanding. Or politics.

My Advisory

Officeholders should do their job and not listen to praise singers. Mrs Farouq is well educated. She is 45years. Meaning: She’s of the right age and temperament to be creative, adventurous and bold. And more importantly, she was a former Federal (?) Commissioner for Refugees,Migrants,IDPs. So, she is well prepared to be Minister of Humanitarian Affairs,Disaster Management and Social Development.

Of Note in Nigeria,this week

The appointment of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, GMB’s Minister of Foreign (External) Affairs(1984 – 1985), as the Chief of Staff(Cof S) to the President. Apart from his intimidating résumé, Prof Agboola presents a curious mix:

He is Yoruba

He is Fulani

He is a teacher

He is a Prince

He is a Southerner

He is a Northerner

** * The President outdid himself. Fault him on this one,if you can.

Thank you for reading.