Sunday, April 23, 2017

Osun perspective on free school feeding

Free School Meal in Osun State

PERHAPS, the biggest news in Nigeria’s education sector today is the latest declaration by the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to commence a free school feeding scheme across Nigeria. This comes as a veritable and timely response to what is being feared as the worsening case of malnutrition further compounding the educational problems of the country. The Federal Government appears to have realised the ripple effects such scheme promises and how that in itself has all it takes to energize the Nigerian economy.

However, it is also trite news that Osun remains the first reference point when it comes to free school feeding programme in public schools in Nigeria. The programme has been on for more than four years where school pupils eat delicious and rich-nutrient foods on daily basis. This programme, tagged O’Meal has been acknowledged both home and abroad for its significant values to the proper growth, development and future of the public primary school pupils in the state. It is, however, ironic that media focus on the beauty, excitement and what should be the modus operandi of the coming free school feeding on a national scale appear to have ignored the veritable template that abound in the Osun format in this school feeding programme.

In recent times, The Punch Newspaper’s editorial of Friday, 18 September 2015 entitled: “School Feeding for Nigeria’s Neediest Children,” and The Guardian newspaper’s editorial of September 25th, 2015 all adumbrated the need to adopt the free meal scheme as a national project. It is important to postulate on what should be the modalities to an effective implementation of such a laudable move. It is also necessary for the media to point the way to a successful implementation of the scheme.

However, what appears to have been missing is a proper recognition of the template which the Osun model has set in its four years of implementation. In The Guardian’s editorial of September 25, the newspaper claimed that “Lagos, Osun and Kano states, among others, have at one time or another introduced school feeding scheme but could not sustain it with the programme always bogged down by poor funding, poor logistics, corruption, greed of contractors and nepotism.” I cannot say what happened to other states. However, the Osun model has been a success story which media could help amplify to ease the problem of implementation on a national scale. On its part, The Punch had suggested that before the commencement of the programme, Federal Government should take biometrics of prospective beneficiaries so as to provide accurate data to work with and also thereby prevent fraud.

Interestingly, this was the first step the Government of Osun took before the take-off of the scheme. And that is why today the state can accurately say it feeds 254, 000 pupils in the public primary schools across the state. Besides, there is data, via biometrics, of those who cook for the children – 3, 007 food vendors in all. However, Osun went a step further – and this is to guide against corruption – by making sure that no physical cash is involved in the whole transaction for the payment of the food vendors. The food vendors are registered with the First Bank of Nigeria, the financial clearing house; which pays them at the end of every month with the tendering of receipts of their expenditure bill signed by the school. These state the number of children and the cost of meals they consumed for that particular month.

This mode of operation has been a safeguard for smooth implementation of the feeding scheme thereby making it difficult for any corrupt practices or underhand dealings. Taking cognisance of the many implementation strategies put in place before the implementation of the scheme in Osun, perhaps, the best thing was to recommend the Osun perspectives as a guide towards a successful implementation on a national scale. By glossing over the safety catches put in place by Osun, and suggesting them afresh instead of simply acknowledging and recommending same template to the Federal Government, the media appear to have robbed interested readers and concerned stakeholders of the opportunities of being adequately informed of the existing guidelines for such a scheme which had even won international recognitions.

The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has consistently called on the government at all levels in Nigeria to follow the Osun model. The Partnership for Child Development in the United Kingdom could not have invited Governor Rauf Aregbesola share with some members of the British Parliament two years ago, the nitty-gritty of his government’s implementation of the scheme. The truth of the matter is that even in the face of harshest financial situation, the Aregbesola administration has never considered for a day stopping the scheme, confirming that it stands till date as one of the most high-profile programmes of the government.

The Osun school feeding model presents a very robust one. The children are not just fed. They are fed food items that show clear concern for health and mental growth of the children. Do not forget the fact that the yam, beans, egg, fish, beef and fruits with which they are fed with are sourced from the Osun farming communities, creating a new wave of opportunities for farmers in the state

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