El-Rufai’s School feeding programme: A conduit pipe for embezzlement?

El-Rufai’s School feeding programme: A conduit pipe for embezzlement?

From: Newimpression.com
By Peter Ibrahim

Nasiru El-Rufai, Kaduna State Gov.
Nasiru El-Rufai, Kaduna State Gov.

Since the introduction of the School Feeding Programme (SFP) by Governor Ahmed Nasiru El-Rufai’s led Kaduna State government in public primary schools, tongues have been wagging; some for and others against the programme. Those in favour of the programme claim it will promote learning, nutrition and motivate school enrollment. Those against claim the programme amounts to putting the cart before the horse because infrastructure in schools are in a sorry state. The latter group believe government ought to have rehabilitated dilapidated schools, ensure the provision of furniture in about 4,030 primary schools across the state and provision of water and sanitation before flagging off the feeding programme.

In his speech at the SFP flag-off, Governor Ahmed El-Rufai said the programme was aimed at expanding access to education to ensure that every child can have nine years of free, decent basic education. The governor said it was a separate plank “to expand access to education, to ensure that every child can have nine years of free, decent basic education, no matter the income level of their parents”. El-Rufai also said the SFP is meant to serve as a direct intervention in the health of the school children. “…We launch this programme today as a direct intervention in the health of our children, situating our schools as places to promote education and nutrition…”

There is no gainsaying the fact that infrastructure in public schools in Kaduna State are in a terrible state and need concerted and sustained efforts to address it. It is also evident the previous administrations of Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi and late Patrick Yakowa showed commitment in according top priority. While education experts have expressed concern at the level of decay in education sector, they are quick to say that what is needed now is a holistic plan to salvage the sector.

Critics of School Feeding Programme have left observers with unanswered questions as to its importance, priority and necessity of the SFP as against other needs of the education sector. James Kanyip, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner questioned the rationale for the hurried implementation of the programme when other necessary inputs that could guarantee the improvement of the quality of education and enrollment are lacking. Critics disagree with the governor that the programme was conceived, premised and is now being implemented for the achievement of twin purposes: promotion of education and nutrition.

School pupils sitting on the floor
School pupils sitting on the floor

Kanyip posed a few questions such as, “Has failure to feed pupils in Kaduna State ever been a serious contributing factor in the decline in the standard and quality of education, or the rot in the education industry? How would the feeding of school pupils, ipso facto, promote education and nutrition? What verifiable indices did the government employ to determine that feeding of pupils would automatically transmute to promoting education and nutrition? To what extent does hunger hinder education? Is ‘hunger’ relative or expansive/universal here? That is to say, is it only hunger in relation to stomach? Or, hunger in relation to the provisions of other basic needs of education and life? If feeding is an incentive employed to get the children back to schools, what or how is the quality of the education to be imparted on them? Is it not going to be counter-productive to feed pupils who will still come out of the school without any education to show or justify for the feeding? How will the feeding transmute to quality education?”

Other questions also begging for answers are: “How can education be promoted when the salaries of some teachers are still being owed and their welfare package not enticing?” On the promotion of nutrition, James Kanyip Esq also queried, “How healthy is the food to the pupils considering their population of about 1.5 million? Has the government taken care of those pupils who are placed on special diet for medical reasons? How hygienic and healthy are the cooks employed to cook the food? What measures are on ground to constantly and sustainably check the health status of the cooks? How hygienic are the environments where the foods are being cooked? How hygienic are the schools where the pupils are to be fed? How hygienic are the foods being served? What are the standard, quality and quantity of the foods? Would the standard and quality of the food not be subjected to the quality control of the National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in view of the population of the pupils involved?”

New Impression reliably gathered that the current number of pupil enrolment in primaries 1 – 6 of the 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) is put at 1,600,000 while N80m is spent feeding the pupils.

Archaic blackboard still in use in the 21st century
Archaic blackboard still in use in the 21st century

New Impression visited some selected primary schools in Chikun, Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Sanga, Kachia, Jama’a, Igabi, Zaria, Ikara, Kagarko and Zangon Kataf Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state for on-the-spot assessment of SFP and sampled opinions of pupils and parents on its desirability. During the visits, it was discovered that a reasonable number of pupils ate their meals with unwashed hands thereby portending danger to the pupils.

In virtually all the LGAs, it was condemnation and mixed reactions. Some parents condemned SFP when the schools are in bad shape and children sit on bare floor to eat and be taught under dilapidated classrooms. Many of the parents called on the governor to stop the feeding programme and ensure that classrooms and the school environments are put in order.

Haruna Musa, a Kachia-based farmer whose three children attend one of the primary schools dismissed the programme as deceitful and a conduit pipe to waste public funds.

“I am very sad that this governor is trying to play on our intelligence in Kaduna State. He is only deceiving people by using this white elephant project to steal taxpayers’ money. How many pupils do we have in Kaduna State? If you are told what it cost to feed the total number of primary school children in this state, it is then that you will know that this is a fraudulent programme. And I want to tell you that this programme will not last. It is not feeding that is the major problem in our public schools. Let him repair the schools, buy enough desks and chairs, supply chalk and other teaching aids, and also ensure the prompt payment of teachers’ salary and see whether the quality of education will not improve,” Musa thundered.

In his speech to kick-start the programme on January 18th, 2016 at Aliyu Makama Road Primary School, Barnawa, Governor El-Rufai admitted that “…We inherited a baleful legacy of dilapidated schools, inadequate classrooms, no furniture for 50% of the pupils. The schools often lacked water and toilet facilities…”

New Impression recalls that the administration of former Governor Mukhtar Yero paid little or no attention to the decay in the education sector, notwithstanding the fact that huge monies were withdrawn in respect of rehabilitation of schools during his tenure.

James Kanyip also believes that since the governor himself admitted that the decay in infrastructure in schools are enormous, it would have been wiser to first fix them before embarking on the feeding programme. “If the primary schools in the state are in such a bad state, one would have thought that the pressing thing to do was to fix them and make them conducive for learning and feeding first before implementing the SFP. To me, it is preposterous to fix more than 4,000 dilapidated and unhealthy schools in the state and at the same time be feeding pupils who are still schooling there. This defiles and affronts common sense and logic. Is the SFP so pressing and urgent that the government cannot wait to fix and rehabilitate the schools first before implementing it? What is urgent and pressing about it? I think the timing for its implementation is a bit hasty,” Kanyip posited.

When parents heard the governor’s pronouncements to address holistically the infrastructural deficits and decay in public schools through massive and accelerated rehabilitation, constructions and reconstructions of classrooms, laboratories as well as provision of basic facilities for all government schools in the state, their joy knew no bounds. Of particular appeal was government’s intension to basic education free and compulsory for Primary 1 to Junior Secondary School. The governor also promised free uniforms, books and ipads with customized learning apps for modern learning. The tablets, he said, will be for senior secondary schools students.

New Impression has learnt that this programme was partly copied from one of the APC controlled states in the South-west which has failed.

The governor also spoke of recruiting more teachers, improving their welfare and training in addition to SFP where government, through food vendors or contractors would provide one meal per day for each pupil in all primary schools. Of the promised programmes, feeding was the first, followed by the purchase of few desks and chairs, which are not sufficient to provide for 10 schools in one Local Government Area.

In what appears to give credence to the allegation of Haruna Musa that the SFP is only a conduit pipe to siphon public funds is that although the government has announced the feeding of the 1,600,000 pupils government owned primary schools, New Impressionchecks revealed that no single primary school in Sanga Local Government has so far benefitted in the programme. Most teachers who spoke to our reporters on condition of anonymity for fear of victimization said they did not have information on when it would start in Sanga LGA.

A pupil eating with unwashed hands
A pupil eating with unwashed hands

Given the huge amount of money involved and the state’s only sources of revenue (monthly subvention from the federation account and internally generated revenue) there are fears that SFP will not be sustained when pursued along aside other projects. Should it succeed, it would be at the expense of other critical sectors such as agriculture, health, science and tech, and civil servants’ salaries.

New Impression reliably gathered from ministries of Finance, Economic Planning and Education, that exactly N80m is expended daily in feeding an estimated 1,600,000 pupils. The estimated number of teachers in the state is about 42,000. No one knows the number of non-teaching staff in the 4,030 public schools.

Junior Secondary School students also sitting on the floor
Junior Secondary School students also sitting on the floor

In his speech, Governor El-Rufai never made reference to the cost implication of the SFP. Critics believe he tried to hide the figure for ulterior motives. However, it is the constitutional rights of Kaduna State tax-payers to know what the cost of food per pupil is. Critics ask whether all these were deliberate omissions. “The cost implication is very important and the people ought to have been informed of it. This will aid in determining the quality of the food being served,” Kanyip said.

If the information sourced from the ministers is anything to by, it can be assumed that it will cost the state government N50 to feed each of the 1,600,000 pupils. This translates to N80m daily. This means government will spend N320m to feed 1,600,000 pupils on four school days each week. This does not include the cost of snacks that the pupils are given every Friday. The total cost of feeding the pupils for nine months, being a full academic session, is N11.52 billion. James Kanyip believes that it is important for the cost implication of SFP to be disclosed as it will aid in determining how sustainable the programme will be as well as its effects on other sectors.

He said, “The cost implication is very important and the people ought to have been informed of it. This will aid in determining how sustainable this programme will be and its effects on the other sectors of the economy and the fiscal policy of the state in view, especially, of the dwindling fortune of price in the international oil market which is the fulcrum upon which budgets of the federal and state governments are hinged and bench marked.

“This is also more so that this programme is not under the capital expenditure profile of the state budget. Instead, it is under the recurrent expenditure profile where monies are spent without any physical or tangible project to be seen on ground.

“Therefore, the fear is that, if large scale monies are expended on this programme, capital projects and other recurrent expenditures like personnel cost which include salaries, allowances, and welfare packages of teachers who are also integral to the success of this programme will suffer. The balance should not be tilted more on the side of feeding than on the side of other equally important aspects in the education industry.”

Education watchers are asking where the governor will source for money to sustain this initiative. Interestingly, the education sector in Kaduna State got the third highest allocation in government’s spending proposal for 2016 with about N27 billion. If nearly 12 billion of this is for feeding, it will leave 15 billion to take care of the construction of new classrooms and the rehabilitation of old ones, furniture and supply of teaching materials. Currently, 50 per cent of students in public schools sit on bare floor to take lessons, a fact the governor alluded to. The question begging for an answer is whether feeding is among the factors that will catalyze the provision of quality education?

A serving inspector of education confided in New Impression that feeding is not among the basic things to improve learning. In his words “Quality teachers, good teaching environment and teaching materials are the three basic things that government ought to provide as a matter of urgency before anything else”. For now these are either lacking or in short supply in most public schools.

An examination of the 2016 budget shows the SFP’s allocation is more than agriculture’s with N5.5 billion, which is nearly 60% less than the feeding programme. Health sector is also less than SFP; it has N6.6 billion, which is nearly 50% less. Water supply for a population of more than six million Kaduna citizens has an allocation of N11.4, which is also a billion Naira less than the feeding programme.

For a cosmopolitan state like Kaduna, spending more than 7 per cent of its annual budget to feed just 1.6 million pupils, when that has not been known to improve the quality of education, begs for reconsideration. Analysts believe government ought to have left feeding to parents and concentrate on the provision of critical infrastructure for the schools. New Impression has learnt that it cost a maximum of N4.5m to construct and furnish a block of two classrooms and administrative bloc. Consequently, the N80m currently spent to feed the pupils daily, if ploughed into building and furnishing of new similar classrooms with offices, can provide about 18 classrooms, while N320m being the total for feeding 1.6m weekly in the state can also build and furnish about 72 classrooms. The N1.280bn, being the total cost of feeding 1.6m pupils per month can build and furnish about 285 blocks, while N11.520bn will build and furnish about 2,560 new blocks of two classrooms with office.

Pupils on the cue collecting their meal while others are sitting on the floor waiting for their turn
Pupils on the cue collecting their meal while others are sitting on the floor waiting for their turn

A teacher in one of the junior secondary schools in the metropolis said they use to have about 105 students in a class and most of them sit on bare floors. He said because of shortage of manpower, teachers in his school take between 26-32 lessons.

Corroborating the dire shortage of manpower in some public schools, an inspector of education in Jema’a local government said, “There are schools with no teachers at all in some rural areas of Sanga and Jema’a Local Government areas. In Wasa station, we have examples of such schools”. Another teacher said lack of teachers mostly affects rural areas mostly.

He said, “Schools that do not have teachers at all are mostly in rural areas and that if teachers are posted there they would not want to go because of the difficulties. But when teachers are well motivated and paid, no one will play with his job”.

On non-payment of teachers’ salaries in the past seven months, the Chairman of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) Kaduna State branch, Comrade Audu Titus Amba denied the claims of teachers. Amba said less than 20% of the teachers in the state have challenges with the payment of their salaries.

He said, “If I tell you that we have not been getting out monthly salaries, I am not being sincere to myself. Payment of salary is going on. Teachers in Kaduna State have been receiving their salary but few among us, I repeat, few among us, are still having challenges with the issue of salary. They are not up to 20%. The thing is that even if it is 1%, you hear noise as if it is the entire teachers that are not getting their salaries. Out of 40,000 or 42,000 primary school teachers, or say the 20,000 secondary school teachers; when government pays say 18,000 teachers, do we say government has not paid teachers’ salaries? The same goes for the primary school teachers. If government has paid up to 38,000 teachers, we don’t have the right to go out and shout that teachers’ salaries are not paid.”

New Impression, however, spoke with some teachers, many of them expressed disappointment over his comment, which they described as an act of betrayal. A primary school teacher in Chikun LGA said he is not being owed salary but expressed shock with the NUT Chairman’s outburst. According to him, even if it is only five members of the NUT that are being owed, a union leader worth his salt and one who cares for their welfare would be worried.

“I really do not know whose interest the NUT Chairman is representing. In unionism, we believe that ‘injury to one is injury to all’ but those comments by the NUT Chairman sounds like those of a government PRO. Let me tell you the truth, even if it is only five member of the NUT that have not been paid their salaries, a union leader who is worth his onion and truly cares about the welfare of his members should be worried,” Mr. Adamu said.

A former NUT Chairman, Comrade Jonathan Musa, Sarkin Malaman Jaba, believes a union leader should always be concerned with the welfare of his members no matter how negligible the percentage is. He faulted the position of Comrade Audu Amba when he (Amba) said, “The thing is that even if it is 1%, you hear noise as if it is the entire teachers that are not getting their salaries… we don’t have the right to go out and shout that teachers’ salary are not paid.”

Comrade Musa said if the NUT Chairman feels the number of teachers who have not received their salaries for seven or whatever number of months now is negligible, he should then pay them.

Another negative development following the cancellation of school fees is that public schools are now run from teachers’ private pockets. Since the governor declared basic education free for both the primary and junior secondary schools, most of the schools are being run on credit. With no revenues from school fees, they now depend completely government for their needs to run the schools. Unfortunately, since making what people deem political pronouncements, funds have not been released to the schools, thereby forcing them to continue running the schools from their pockets.

New Impression investigations revealed that on many occasions, schools’ managements use their money to buy chalk and other consumables and solve many of the contingent needs of their respective schools. Sometimes they buy the items on credit. Many creditors have since run out of patience and no longer provide them credit facilities.

Critics have accused government of making pronouncements that have not been implemented. While swearing-in the disbanded local government caretaker management teams, the governor promised to release in full each local government’s allocation from the federal account. This is in an addition to 10% from the state internally generated revenue, which insiders say he has not fulfilled.

A head teacher who pleaded anonymity told New Impression, “We are suffering in silence because if you complain, you will be told to go because you don’t want to work. The non-release of funds to the schools has compelled most of us to buy chalks, typeset materials, and provide our daily necessities ourselves.”

Another head teacher in a primary school in Kaduna South LGA disclose that head teachers were asked to go and collect drinks and snacks for their schools at the local government secretariat which would be used for the pupils’ Friday meal but that they were not provided with means of transportations. All head teachers in the LGA were summoned and told it was their responsibility. This teacher was left with no option but to hire a Tricycle and paid from his purse. The head teacher also informed our reporter how he had to permit one of the teachers under him to go and run round (doing kabu-kabu) with his motor-cycle to be able to raise some money for the sustenance of his family, as he had not been paid salaries for over five months.

Many head teachers of Junior Secondary Schools in LGA in Kaduna metropolis told New Impression that their schools could not conduct terminal exams last term because they did not have funds and had not received any provision from government. They were handicapped because they had been stopped from collecting school fees from students from where they used to get money to prepare for students’ examinations’ invigilators. For schools that managed to conduct the examinations, because of the large students’ population, resorted to writing the questions on blackboards while those who could not, closed for the term without examinations.

James Kanyip Esq. Accused the governor of misplacement of priority
James Kanyip Esq. Accused the governor of misplacement of priority

Interestingly, in all the schools visited, pupils were asked what they preferred: feeding and chairs and desks. The pupils and students said they preferred chairs and desks.

Mr. Andrew Adakole has lived in Kaduna for more than 40 years and his children attend one of the LEA primary schools at Narayi. Adakole told New Impression, that as a parent he does not see the wisdom in leaving children and teachers to learn under deplorable condition while pretending to be feeding them.

“For me, I do not see any wisdom in this school feeding programme when our children are sitting on the bare floor and the school buildings are almost collapsing on our children’s heads. We have not complained that we cannot feed the children. It is a misplacement of priority. Instead of this feeding programme, government should use the money to provide the children with chairs and desks,” Adakole said.

An inspector of education in one of the schools in Rigasa told New Impression that learning is not effective since the SFP is disrupting some periods in all the schools. This means some lessons do not take place each day. The inspector explained that Governor El-Rufai did not consult with teachers for inputs before the commencement of the programe otherwise, he would have been told areas of priority, namely learning, infrastructure, teacher and good teaching environment for government to have channeled its resources. He also took a swipe at the government policy of converting some clerical staff from MDAs that were purportedly overstaffed to classroom teacher, which he said wais antithetical to quality education that this administration is clamouring for.

As El-Rufai’s SFP continues to generate public criticism, there are fears in many quarters that with the huge money expended on the programme, capital projects and other recurrent expenditures like personnel cost, which include the salaries, allowances, and welfare packages of the teachers which are also integral to the success of this programme will suffer. The balance should not be tilted more on the side of feeding than on the side of other equally important aspects in the education industry.

The only glimpse the governor gave in respect of sourcing money to fund the programme was when he said, “We are also grateful to the federal government which has, through the office of the Vice-President, provided technical support and has committed to reimburse the Kaduna state government up to 60% of the cost of the School Feeding Programme…”

Observers are quick to ask how realistic is the commitment to reimburse the state on the part of the federal government? Primary and secondary school education, especially those established by state governments are under the direct and exclusive management, administration, control and supervision of such state governments. These schools are not in any way under the management, administration, control and supervision of the federal government, except where any Act of the National Assembly so permits. Therefore, federal government is not under any constitutional or statutory obligation to reimburse state governments that embark on a programme like this.

Even if the federal government made such commitment to Kaduna State, it is a mere gentleman’s agreement that cannot be legally enforceable by the state government in the event that the federal government reneges specially in the absence of any law backing the agreement and the programme. Besides, if the federal government extends the same gesture to all states of the federation, it will go bankrupt and cannot even be sustainable.

Also, it is not certain if the federal government made budgetary provisions in its own budget for such reimbursement or whether the federal government is a party to the electoral promise made to the people of Kaduna State by the governor during his election campaigns? Should the federal government fail to provide the 60% reimbursement to Kaduna State government as stated by the governor, what will be the fall back position? How will the state government source money to fund the SFP? Is there any contingency plan on ground for this eventuality? With these questions daily starring Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai in the eyes, only time can vindicate him, or confirm allegations of parents and critics that the Kaduna State School Feeding Programme is a conduit pipe for wasting public funds.