From Magnus Eze, Enugu
School administrators and implementers of the Federal Government’s National Homegrown School Feeding Programme have attributed the explosion in school enrolment in Enugu State to the free meal scheme.
Daily Sun was not able to ascertain what the situation was before the Federal Government introduced the school feeding programme for pupils in public primary schools in the state in February 2017. However, head teachers in some schools confirmed to our reporter that there has been an influx of pupils, including those from private schools, to their schools.
At least 114,261 pupils in Primary 1 to 3 classes now enjoy the scheme in 799 public primary schools across the 17 local government areas of the state.
However, the Federal Government said more pupils in the state’s public primary schools would benefit from the next phase of the ongoing school feeding programme.
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, who stated this during the monitoring and enumeration of beneficiaries of the programme in the state, disclosed that effort was on the way to expand it.
Represented by Ms Adanne Wadibia-Anyanwu, team lead of the monitoring and enumeration exercise in the state, at Igbariam Primary School 1, Achara Layout, Enugu, on Tuesday, August 10, the minister said government had engaged 1,532 cooks to supply daily meals to the pupils in the state.
“We are doing enumeration and biometric data capturing of the pupils enrolled under the programme, getting feedbacks from cooks and head teachers within the programme.
“We want to keep up-to-date records of the programme and make it more responsive as well as meet the beneficiaries to get real-time feedback from them as well.
“The current enumeration and biodata capturing is a building block towards the expansion of the programme to include more pupils and schools in the state.
“President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier announced his laudable intention of an additional five million pupils to be enrolled in the programme nationwide.
“The ministry also wants to know how the programme is being managed on a daily basis, the resources available and if there are shortfalls before the expansion would be done in order to tighten loose ends,” Wadibia-Anyanwu said.
She confirmed that the programme had increased enrollment in public schools and increased daily attendance, as many pupils have abandoned private schools, but she did not give figures.
“The programme has helped in the concentration of the pupils during classes, since some of them do not feed or are underfed at home before coming to school each day,” she said.
Farouq said that the programme now has 9,196,823 pupils nationwide, with a total of 107,000 cooks supplying the food, which is indigenous and homemade, for the pupils across the country.
“The programme has a lot of multiplier effects. It has assisted farmers to expand food production and employ more hands in the farms as well as the cooks also employing more hands to assist them,” she said.
With N70 spent on each beneficiary per meal, it was gathered that its costs the Federal Government about N8 million daily to provide free meals to about 114,261 pupils in Primary 1 to 3 classes in Enugu State.
Mixed reactions trail programme
However, our reporter visited some schools in Enugu and observed that, while some schools received the food regularly, some others complained that it was grossly insufficient.
Headmistress of Igbariam Primary School 1, Achara Layout, Enugu, Mrs. Salome Obi, who spoke when a Federal Government monitoring team recently visited the school, said that the pupils were now enthusiastic about coming to school and also do better in classes.
According to her, the pupils were “very happy” to be part of the programme, adding that, apart from increasing enrollment, “it has helped in pupils’ retention ability.”
Obi disclosed that her pupils have embraced the programme and look forward to having the meals every schoolday, such that any break would not go down well with them. She revealed that they could besiege the vendors, if they failed to provide them with the meal regularly.
She said: “This programme has had serious impact on our school as we now have large number of children even from private schools joining us because of the free meal. Some classes have now even increased up to six times what we could have Primary 3 (1-6). So, after eating the meals each day, you see the pupils enlivened and eager to continue with their learning, rather than feeling dull or hungry.
“In fact, the problem we have is that, sometimes, the cooks would stop coming, when they have not received money from government. There was a time they didn’t come for a long time, our children would see the cooks in the market or along the streets and grab them, saying, ‘Aunty where is our food? Give us our food.’ But we thank God that they have resumed supply and we are happy.”
At Abakpa Nike Primary School, teachers said the food supply was grossly inadequate, adding that there has never been any fruit supplement given to the pupils in the school.
According Mrs. Louisa Ike, her pupils hardly miss school due to the attraction of the food. She said: “The pupils look forward to the food so they hardly miss school. There was a time they stopped because the vendors were not paid but after the first one month of this term, they started bringing the food and they have not stopped since them.”
Also, Selina Edeh said the feeding programme was going on well but some vendors were not regular, as, according to her, “out of four vendors, we only have one today. This has affected the quantity of food the pupils received today.”
Another teacher, Mrs. Esther Orjiakor, said the vendors were doing their best but they complained that the money given was too poor to meet the required quality and quantity of food. She said: “I’ve not seen them with fruits since they started. There is also no meat in the food.”
Some of the pupils said they were happy whenever the food was served. However, one of them said she does not eat the food because it is poorly prepared and causes stomach upset any she eats in.
Onyinyechi Edeh, a Primary 5 pupil in Abakpa Nike Primary School, on the day Daily Sun visited, said she ate delicious rice. She hoped to eat the food any time she left home for school.
However, another pupil, Chinwendu John, said she did not eat the food, claiming that it was of low quality and made her feel sick.
At the New Haven Primary School, it was observed that pupils were served beans and yam with orange as supplement. Assistant head teacher, Mrs. Chidi Okoro, said the programme was a welcome development though the vendors often complained that the money they were given to prepare the food was not enough.
According to Okoro, the problems in the country were also affecting output: “The food is not so much of high quality but the pupils are excited. It’s like an in-between meal for them.”
Respondents at a primary school complex within Idaw River area in Enugu South Local Government, with five primary schools, which the ministry’s monitoring and enumerating team also visited, shared similar views as those in other areas.
Regardless, a cook in the programme, Mrs. Uzoamaka Ogbu, thanked the Federal Government for engaging her and other women in the scheme, which had helped to improve the welfare of their families and other dependents.
“The challenge we are having is the issue of irregular payment and the current cost of foodstuff in the market, for which the N70 per meal (with a fruit) remains inadequate, with market realities,” Ogbu said.
A pupil at Igbariam Primary School 1, Achara Layout, Enugu, Miss Favour Anigbo, prayed that God would bless and protect President Buhari for providing food for them in school.
Anigbo said: “The feeding makes us happy each day in school. We want them to keep it up and God bless President Muhammadu Buhari for us.”