The Federal Government has spent about N65 billion on the National Home Grown School Feeding (NHGSF) programme, yet enrollment has dropped in some schools, while pupils eat in unhygienic environments. This investigation by Daily Trust reporter, Terkula Igidi, which covers the North Central states of Nigeria, also reveals that pupils are fed rotten fish and stale bread.

The programme, conceived to beat the scandalous out-of-school children’s figure, which stands at over 10 million, improve pupils’ nutrition and health, as well as improve agricultural production and create jobs, has failed to achieve most of these objectives.

“I don’t enjoy the food cooked by the other vendor because she does not put enough ingredients in her food,” said Nafisa Idris, a Primary 3 pupil of Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School, Matandi, Magama Local Government Area (LGA) of Niger State, when asked about her feelings on the free meals the Federal Government pays cooks to serve in schools.

The vendor who serves food to Nafisa’s class, Zuwaira Danjuma, however, said she had never received complaints from the pupils nor the teachers.

She said she was allocated 117 pupils to feed, but when our reporter counted the entire pupils in Early Child Education (ECE) class and Primary 3, they were just 53 for the day.

A Primary 2 pupil at the school, Abbas Aminu, also complained that he did not get satisfied when he ate the food. He, however, said he enjoyed the free meals and always looked forward to it every day he came to school.

A source at the school also complained that the rice which was usually served to the pupils on Mondays was poorly cooked. When our reporter visited on Thursday, March 21, 2019, the pupils lined up, waiting with plates and polythene bags to be served beans pottage with bread and awara, a locally made soya beans pudding.

The Programme Manager of NHGSF in Niger State, Umar Shaba, said all the concerns raised by the pupils would be addressed as he was in constant touch with the 2,847 schools partaking in the programme.

Shrinking enrollment figures at the LEA Primary School in Matandi shows that the programme has failed to achieve one of its objectives.

The pupils’ population from ECE classes to Primary 3 in the 2016-2017 session when the NGHSF had not taken off in the state stood at 216; that of 2017-2018 session when the programme took off in the first term was 194. This shows that there is over 10 per cent drop in school enrollment since the first session when the programme started in the school.

The day Daily Trust reporter, Terkula Igidi visited, the entire school population was 140 from ECE to Primary 6. Barring any miracle, the school enrollment will drop further to over 27 per cent based on the current school population.

Also, at the LEA Primary School, Danu, Paikoro, the Assistant Headmaster of the school, Mr. Stephen Daniel, told our reporter that enrollment had dropped despite the free food served the pupils. Mr. Daniel said the school had 278 pupils during the 2016-2017 session but that the figure dropped to 167 in the current 2018-2019 school calendar, over a year after the NHGSF programme started in the school. This represents over 39 per cent decrease in the school’s population.

In Nasarawa State, the enrollment figures are not encouraging, though the free meals have been served for only two terms. At the Central Pilot Primary School, Akwanga, the programme kicked off on January 24, 2019, and the current enrollment shows that there is over seven per cent drop in the figure compared to what was in the 2017-2018.

The population of pupils from Primary 1 to 6 in the school is 1,765 currently, but the 2017-2018 session had 1,914 pupils. Even in the beginners’ classes, ECE to Primary 3, the 2017-2018 session had 1,186 enrollment while the 2018-2019 session has 1,080 pupils. Pupils sit on the floor at Central Primary School, Akwanga, Nasarawa State

Suffocating stench of faeces wafted across the hot March air as this reporter approached Keana South Primary School, Keana. The school has been turned into an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp for Tiv people who have been dislodged from their homes as a result of herders’ attacks on farming communities in the area.

Since there are no toilet facilities at the camp, they defecate openly in and around the school premises, polluting the classrooms and the school compound. The same unhealthy environment pervades Obene Primary School, Keana, where IDPs share classrooms with pupils.

Also, our reporter learnt that most schools in the southern part of the state go through a similar experience. This clearly violates the pupils’ right to freedom from disease or right to health as contained in the policy document of NHGSF, which the feeding programme aims to uphold.

This also implies that despite the millions spent, the programme has not actualised the objective of improving the children’s nutrition and health. The National Coordinator of NHGSF, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, said the FG provided technical support and 100 per cent funding for the meals, but that it was the states that had the responsibility to provide infrastructure in the schools.

Pupils served rotten fish and stale bread in Kogi

At the LEA Nursery/Primary School, Lokogoma, Lokoja, Kogi State, the school feeding programme commenced on February 11, 2019, but pupils were allegedly served rotten fish and stale bread for the two weeks that it lasted. A source at the school said the quantity of food served was alright but raised concerns over the quality of the food.

A total of 552 pupils were being fed in the school according to the Headmistress, Mrs. Mariam Mundi.

Pupils scramble for pasta at NKST Primary School, Akile, Makurdi LGA, Benue State Mrs. Mundi said when she noticed the fish served the children was rotten, she asked the cooks to serve the food without the fish. She also said the pupils were served incomplete menu on some of the days. She said, “Sometimes they will serve biscuits without milk, and some other times, they serve only bread without beans contrary to what is on the feeding timetable.”

According to her, the cooks blamed the development on their inability to get the required food materials from the suppliers who were known as aggregators. Records show that the children were served for only 13 days since the programme commenced as at the time our reporter visited the school on March 26, 2019.

The last time the pupils were fed was on March 6. At St. Luke’s Nursery and Primary School Model II, Adankolo, Lokoja, the same concerns were raised. The headmistress was not available to talk to our reporter, but a school official who did not want to be named said the food served the pupils was small and was not nutritious. She said the fish was rotten and the bread was stale.

A register of the food served at the school showed that the authorities were not satisfied with the quality and quantity of the food, so they scored the vendors poorly. One of the vendors who our reporter spoke with on phone, admitted that the fish they brought to feed the pupils with was rotten, but she defended herself saying, “We only serve what we have been given by the aggregators. We don’t buy the food ourselves, we go and collect from the store where it is supplied by the aggregators, so there is nothing we can do about that.”

Pupils sit on dirty floors, eat rationed meals

When this reporter visited Central Primary School, Akwanga, in the last week of March, the pupils were not fed because the cooks were not paid.

Two cooks, Salamatu Yakubu and Benedette Moses, who spoke with our reporter, said they were feeding more than the number of pupils they were officially allocated. Yakubu said she was allocated 70 pupils and she ended up cooking for 104, Moses said she was allocated 70 as well, but that she now fed 100 pupils.

She also said they stopped serving fruits just a week after they started feeding the pupils, saying the cost of purchasing the fruits was more than what they could afford.

National data contradicts state data

List of schools benefitting from the free meals as contained on the NHGSFP data contradicts what is physically on ground. For instance, the data obtained from both the national office of the NHGSFP and the coordinating office of the Social Investment Programme in Niger State show discrepancies in the number of schools captured in the programme. While 2,555 schools are captured on the national data, 2,847 schools are on the data provided by the state.

Yunusa Abdullahi Primary School Ibeto is just one school, but on the data of the NHGSFP there are three schools with the same name.

Our reporter also verified that there is only one Central Primary School in Ibeto whereas the school is listed two times on the national data. However, the state data list the schools once. Our reporter also verified that Takuti Nomadic Primary School, Lapai, is not benefitting from the free meals but it appears on the list as one of the benefitting schools.

Poor coverage in rural areas

LEA Primary School, Emi Guni, Bassa LGA of Kogi State is a rural school. Since the school feeding took off in the state, pupils were served meals four times only.

Our reporter learnt that the first time the vendor, Ajara Yusuf, brought the food to the school was February 27, and that the free feeding lasted for only four days.

Official records show that the entire school has 51 pupils, but the woman was allocated 75 pupils to feed, and even the 51 did not get enough food.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that vendors had not been consistent in serving the meals at Bassa Model Nursery and Primary School, Gboloko, also in Bassa LGA.

Bassa LGA has 126 public primary schools according to Education Secretary, Abdullahi Ali Baba, but that only 12 were being served the free meals.

At Demonstration Nursery and Primary School, Obangede, Okehi LGA, Kogi State, half of the pupils who are supposed to eat the food are the ones served.

Authorities respond

The National Coordinator of NHGSF, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, in an interview with some journalists investigating activities of the NHGSF across the country, said “Our holistic impact evaluation across the country is scheduled to take place this year because we have spent roughly three years, so we have to check our impact on the pupils.”

She doubted if enrollment would drop in a school where food was served on a regular basis, insisting that in most places, they were overwhelmed with the number of pupils who had enrolled because of the free meals.

“Some parents relocate to other places; that is why we have low enrollment in some schools and high in others,” she said.

She, however, said it was the purview of the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) to provide infrastructure and ensure the pupils learned in clean environments.

She explained that the poor coverage had to do with how quick the cooks’ data was cleaned up and sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), saying the process sometimes took time.

Effort to speak with the Nasarawa State Chairman of SUBEB, Mr. Mohammed Dan’Azumi, on the state of infrastructure in some of the schools was not successful, as he did not reply to text messages sent to his mobile phone number. He also did not pick or return calls.

The Desk Officer, Social Investment Programme in Nasarawa State, Mr. Amos Magaji, declined giving our reporter data. While our reporter was in the state in the last week of March for the investigation, he refused to comment on the issue.

When our reporter sent him some questions through SMS asking for the number of schools feeding under the prograamme, cooks serving the pupils, the aggregators and what they were aggregating and to comment on other issues concerning the programme in the state, he insisted that our reporter travelled to meet him face to face in Lafia. The reporter did and he promised to forward the information to his mail but has not done it. He also refused to grant our reporter an interview.

After several reminders, he sent a message saying the governor just launched the programme in the state and they were still getting the completed number of vendors to ascertain the exact number of pupils, local government by local government.

The Nasarawa State Focal Person, Aliyu Abdulkadir, did not reply to an SMS sent to his mobile phone, neither did he pick calls placed to his phone when our reporter visited the state late March.

The Unit Head of the NHGSF in Kogi State, Hajia Khadijat Karibo, dismissed the claim that the pupils were fed rotten fish and stale bread. She, however, said she would make effort to correct the teething problems.

She initially declined to provide data on the programme and initially refused to name the aggregator who was supplying the rotten fish, but later sent the name and phone number of the company that was aggregating fish for Lokoja.

The aggregator, FAJR Company Limited, did not respond to an SMS asking for the amount it was paid to supply the fish and to respond to allegations of supplying rotten fish.

When our reporter dialed the phone number, truecaller identified the aggregator as Tanimu Sani Isa Koto. He then asked one Abdul Idris to call our reporter and tell him that he did not know how to practice journalism; that the reporter approached the aggregator wrongly and ended up embarrassing him.

He said the reporter did not have the right to ask the aggregator any question. He sought to meet with our reporter in Lokoja but the reporter declined. He then said he would come to Abuja and see the reporter but when asked if he would speak on behalf of the aggregator, he cut the line.

The following morning, another stranger, who trucaller identified as Hussaini Marafa, called our reporter and claimed he was the Media Officer of the Social Investment Programme in Kogi State. He said the reporter was unprofessional in his conduct in dealing with the aggregator. He lampooned the reporter for being out to paint Kogi State in negative light and then hung up.

In a previous investigation on the programme covering Benue, Taraba and Plateau states, published December 23, 2018, it was revealed that there were at least three ghost schools benefitting from the programme in Benue State.

A source privy to the operations of the school feeding programme showed our reporter the distribution list for food items in Vandeikya LGA in which there were three ghost schools. The list indicated that NKST Primary School, Abanyi, has 80 pupils, with Philomena Akawe as the food vendor; LEA Primary School, Maduen, has 77 pupils with Mgunengen Maduen as the vendor, while LEA Primary School, Adamu, was allocated 72 pupils with Tyozenda Teryila as the vendor.

Our reporter who was in the local government could not trace the schools and the residents said the schools were not physically on ground.

But Terries Damsa, the Benue State Focal Person for the Social Investment Programme, denied knowledge of the ghost schools. He promised he would root them out once he found out they existed. The investigation also uncovered three ghost schools in Takum LGA of Taraba State. Findings revealed that the wife of the chairman of the local government, Christy Shiban, was a food vendor at the school and she supposedly fed 61 pupils.

The Chairman, Siban Tikari, did not reply to an SMS sent to his mobile phone number asking for comments on the issue. But during an interview with the National Coordinator of the programme, Mrs. Adesanmi, she denied that Mrs. Shiban was paid any money.

At UBEA School, Nukpoba, our reporter learnt that since Government Day Secondary School Kufai, Amadu, opened in 2007, the primary school ceased to exist.

When contacted, the Focal Person for the Social Investment Office in Taraba State, Beatrice Kitchener, asked the secretary of the programme, Idris Goje, to forward a letter the acting Education Secretary of Takum LGA wrote to them to our reporter. In the letter, dated October 31, 2018, the acting secretary explained that vendors who were posted to the ghost schools had been transferred to other primary schools because of herdsmen crises in the area. The office did not deny the existence of the ghost schools.

In Plateau State, pupils were underfed and there was poor coverage across the state because many vendors had problems with their BVN and so could not be enrolled.

The free meals for pupils were not served in many schools since the programme took off in June, 2017, even where it started, it was not sustained beyond one month or one term. Only 57.9 per cent, 1,402 out of the 2,420 schools in the state were served food. In 1,018 schools (42.1 per cent of public primary schools in Plateau), pupils did not know how the free meals tasted.

“We have serious challenge of BVN and valid account numbers. These are rural women and they don’t know the implication of borrowing account numbers. When their names were sent with their account numbers to the National Inter-Banks Settlement System (NIBSS), there were BVN mismatches and so only 2,006 cooks have been paid stipends,” Dr. Fadimatu Hamza Sumaye, the Focal Person of Plateau State Social Investment Programme, offered her defence.

This investigation was done with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting