Fred Itua, Abuja
Last Thursday, residents of Kuje Area Council, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, had an august visitor in May.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, brought succour to schoolchildren in the area as well as their parents when she distributed food items.
The event, which held at Kuje Central Science Primary School in Abuja, had parents in attendance. The parents stood in for their children and picked up assorted food items doled out by the Federal Government to the students. Despite the scorching sun, beneficiaries spent hours waiting patiently to pick up the free food items.
Although many Nigerians have raised concerns about the necessity of the scheme by the Federal Government, despite the fact that schoolchildren are at home with their parents at the moment owing to the closure of schools across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister, Farouq has a different view about the scheme.
Despite the criticism, she has remained unperturbed and has vowed to forge on and extend the same gesture to other parts of the country, where parents are struggling to feed schoolchildren that have been trapped at home since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The flag-off of the modified Homegrown School Feeding Programme in the FCT, Abuja, according to many beneficiaries, was a success. In the coming days, Lagos and Ogun States would be the next port of call, it was learnt.
Many would recall that on March 30, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the closure of schools and other business centres in around the country to contain the spread of the novel but deadly Coronavirus. But while performing the ceremony, Farouq said the Federal Government would continue to work with state governments to ensure that the programme benefits over 3.1 million households which, she noted, was in line with the policy of the present administration.
She further explained that the programme is being funded by the Federal Government, but emphasised that the onus of ensuring a successful implementation of the scheme lies on the state governments.
She said: “Hunger is a serious by-product of this pandemic crisis, which is why, from the onset, the ministry has been evolving strategies to facilitate humanitarian interventions.
“The commencement of the school feeding programme today is based on Mr. President’s directive to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to liaise with state governments to develop strategies on the continuation of the school feeding programme.
“The ministry, in consultation and collaboration with state governments, identified the distribution of take-home rations (THR) to the households of the children on the programme as a feasible method of achieving this directive after exploring several options.
“This is a globally accepted means of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient- rich foods, despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding. Beginning today in Abuja, this programme will target parents and guardians of children in primary 1 to 3 in public schools participating in the programme.”
The minister further noted: “A total of 3.1 million households are targeted for this intervention. Lagos and Ogun states are the next ports of call before the programme moves to other states of the federation. As noted earlier, we are working with the World Food Programme, and the body is providing technical support while other agencies of government have been invited to provide an extra layer of monitoring.
“These other agencies of government include the Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau and a host of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs). The ministry is using the opportunity of this modified programme to collect and verify data with the support of CSOs and NGOs such as ActionAid, BudgIT, Tracka, and CMDA. We are thankful for the support of NGOs including Wimbiz, Waterlight initiative, AU ECOSOC, Orphans and Women Support Initiative, Youth Fighters for COVID-19, Nigerian Red Cross, Coalition of NGOs and CSOs against COVID-19, Africa Global Empowerment and Development Network and a host others supporting the ministry.
“We are working hard with our partners to mitigate the challenge posed by hunger, especially during this trying period. Please be assured that we are focused, determined and committed to cushioning the effects for Nigerians.”
Some beneficiaries, who spoke to the reporter, said the palliatives would help in feeding their children at home, who for months, have not done anything as a result of closure of schools.
Ken Dauda, while appreciating the gesture, said: “I have three children at home right now. All they do every day is to eat, play and sleep. This has been on for over two months. So, this palliative is coming at the right time. People have said many things about it, but for me, it’s good because my children will have something to eat.”
A nursing mother, who gave her name as Maryam, said she has four children out of which three are in school. She said her husband works in the informal sector and has been affected seriously by the closure of many businesses.
“My husband is the breadwinner of the family. He works everyday to feed us. But when the lockdown was announced and businesses were closed, it became difficult for us to get anything done. With these food items they have provided, my children will smile and have something good to eat.
“Many women you see here are either widows or are single mothers who are trying hard to feed their children. The rich may not like this food they’re giving us. But for us, it’s something that we cherish a lot and we are grateful to the minister for doing this for us.”