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Re: 349 ‘Ghost’ Schools Included in Federal Govt’s Feeding Programme – Gov. Sule 

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The attention of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development has been drawn to the above – captioned report in the Tuesday, October 4, 2022 edition of the Leadership newspaper. In the said report, the Leadership reported, inter alia, that “the rot in the federal government’s school feeding programme has been exposed after the Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi (Sule) revealed that 349 nonexistent public primary schools were included in the scheme, for which money was disbursed and pocketed by officials”.

His excellency, Governor Sule, reportedly made these revelations when he received in audience members of the Project Task Team (PTT) of the National Home – Grown School Feeding Programme of the NSIP, who paid him a courtesy call at the Government House, Lafia, on Thursday, September 15, 2022 to brief him on the plans for the commencement of the second phase of the pupils’ enumeration exercise in the state.

The meeting with His Excellency also provided an opportunity to discuss and review the first phase of the exercise that took place last year, during which the said insertion of multiple and nonexistent schools by some officials of the state implementation team was uncovered. In its coverage and reporting of the proceedings of the said meeting, however, the Leadership newspaper perhaps unwittingly created the wrong impression in the minds of its readers to the effect that the infraction in reference was committed at the level of the federal government, which could not have been further from the truth. It is, therefore, imperative that the Ministry responds and promptly corrects this manifestly wrong impression, with a view to setting the records straight as to the true situation of things regarding this particular issue.

The Federal Government’s National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) was launched by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2016, and has remained under the guidance and effective supervision of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHADMSD) following its creation in August 2019.

The head of the State NSIP implementation team at the state level is a Focal Person directly appointed by His Excellency, the Governor, just as the state – based Programme Managers and staff of all intervention programmes under the NSIP, including that for the National Home – Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), are drawn from the staff pool of the state civil service and also appointed solely by the respective state governments.

In addition, the entire beneficiaries and participants across all programme clusters are bona fide indigenes of the state, even as payments to those participants and beneficiaries are also made directly into their individual bank accounts. Again, by way of emphasis, the entire spectrum of the targeted interventions under the NSIP, though federally – funded, are strictly being implemented by state government – appointed officials and indigenes, who work alongside the NSIP team at the national level to deliver the inherent benefits of the various intervention programmes to the poor and vulnerable persons in their respective states, in line with the good intentions of Mr. President to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by the year 2030.

The NSIP activities are coordinated and managed under the office of the Focal Persons at the state level, who oversee all the four programme clusters (the NHGSFP, N-Power, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, and the Conditional Cash Transfer) in their states, just as the NHGSFP is managed by the state – appointed Programme Managers in the respective states, who report to the Focal Person, along with the heads of the three other clusters.

The NHGSFP itself is a Federal Government intervention designed for junior level pupils in Primary 1 to 3 of government – owned schools, who are essentially citizens of Nigeria by nationality, but also indigenes of their respective states. And the Programme design is such that whilst the FGN funds the Programme via the NSIP of the FMHADMSD, the implementation aspect is carried out entirely at the subnational level across all 36 participating states and the FCT, which are responsible for the management of primary education and also own the schools where the feeding takes place. The states are also directly responsible for the recruitment, selection and appointment of the cooks and aggregators in states where aggregators are used.

It is, therefore, a joint and collaborative partnership, with the Federal Government providing the funding and the state governments handling the implementation end of the equation.

The NHGSFP has grown steadily over the years as more states and beneficiary schools join the Programme following its formal launch in 2016, with a total of over 9.7 million being fed across the federation. This figure, however, continued to remain a statistic, more or less, prior to the formal launch of the enumeration exercise in 2021, with no central database of beneficiaries in existence containing the individual names and/or photographs of the targeted beneficiaries submitted by State Program Offices that serves to verify and back those numbers up. The NHGSFP enumeration exercise is, therefore, designed to address this challenge via the pragmatic deployment of appropriate resources to the beneficiary schools in the respective states to identify and capture the data of both the participating schools and their targeted beneficiary pupils, and also maintain their updated records in a standard database. The primary objective of the exercise is to establish and verify the existence of the beneficiary schools, first and foremost, complete with their distinct geocoordinates, and also verify and humanize the pupils’ figures in use.

This is by way of putting faces and identities to the numbers, such that the beneficiaries will no longer be mere statistics alone, but indeed real human beings with verifiable names, personal details and specific identities, thereby contributing towards entrenching the spirit of transparency and accountability into the Programme implementation. The enumeration exercise itself is a joint and collaborative endeavour between the Federal Government, as represented by the Ministry, and the respective State governments of the beneficiary states, with the active collaboration and participation of the state offices of two key federal agencies, comprising the National Orientation Agency (NOA), charged primarily with sensitization and mobilisation, on the one hand, and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which provided the bulk of the Enumeration Officers (EOs) from the pool of Youth Corps members serving in those states, on the other.

Other collaborative partners in the exercise include: National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the National Population Commission (NPC), the respective States’ Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs), and the state Ministries of Education, amongst others, constituting a Project Task Team on Enumeration, led by the FMHADMSD.

The enumeration exercise has indeed been eye – opening and has also flagged several issues for the Ministry, which the NSIP team has duly noted and appropriately dealt with. The Ministry has now successfully created a credible database of beneficiary pupils that is steadily growing on a daily basis as enumeration continues with the resumption of the new school term across all participating States.

One such issue that was identified by the Ministry through its enumeration exercise  was at the level of the distribution of the enumeration forms in readiness for the formal commencement of the enumeration during the first phase of the exercise in 2021 in Nasarawa State, where the Project Task Team led by the Ministry’s representative uncovered a total of 349 nonexistent schools from the then total of 1,203 beneficiary schools enrolled in the state, leaving a figure of 854 schools verified as authentic. The specific individuals, led by a State appointed officer, who were directly involved in acts around the unlawful conduct were indicted in a report submitted to the Ministry, and have since been suspended and withdrawn from participating in the programme implementation, and the force of law deployed to ensure that justice is served.

This reprehensible act was further worsened by the fact that Nasarawa State indeed has well over 1,200 public primary schools in the real sense that could easily have accounted for the total number of beneficiary schools on the initial list submitted by the state implementation team to the Ministry. But rather than spread the programme to reach all targeted pupils in the entire schools across the state, several duplicated and other outrightly nonexistent schools were surreptitiously smuggled into the scheme, thereby effectively denying other eligible pupils the opportunity to equally benefit from the feeding programme at their respective omitted schools.  Efforts are now being intensified by the new state implementation team, working in active collaboration with the NBS office in the state and the NSIP team of the Ministry, to spread the school feeding programme to cover all eligible schools in the State under the established procedure for enrolling new schools onto the scheme. This will be achieved by replacing the 349 nonexistent schools with those currently not benefitting under the scheme.

It is very important to emphasise, at this point, that the insertion of the 349 nonexistent schools into the list of benefitting schools in Nasarawa State was perpetrated solely by some programme officers at the state level, and it was the enumeration exercise embarked upon by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, through the Project Task Team specifically deployed to the state for that purpose, that led to the eventual discovery. That much has been acknowledged and attested to at the September 15th meeting by His Excellency, Governor Abdullahi Sule, who went on to commend the enumeration team for the successes achieved during the first phase of the enumeration exercise and also used the opportunity to send a very clear warning to other state officials to steer away from committing such acts, going forward.

On its part, the Ministry also wishes to reaffirm its unwavering commitment to promote the effective implementation of the school feeding programme in all states and at all times, beginning with the provision of a creditable database of all participating schools and beneficiary pupils across the 36 participating states and the FCT.

To this end, the Ministry is continually deploying multiple layers of the standard monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tools and other effective controls measures, in conjunction with the relevant law enforcement and anti-graft agencies, to check these and other similar infractions and also mete out the appropriate sanctions to offenders, going forward. An ongoing partnership with Law enforcement and Anti-graft partners is already yielding the desired results as the programme continues to promote and strengthen its compliance enforcement strategies across all the States.

The onerous task of effectively delivering impactful interventions to targeted beneficiaries across the country is, no doubt, a collective undertaking. The FMHADMSD, therefore, calls on members of the general public, especially at the community level, to join hands together and contribute to this collective endeavor by providing the necessary support towards the effective monitoring of the delivery of the school feeding programme. This will significantly assist the Ministry in ensuring that the targeted pupils are given what is due to them at all times during each feeding cycle, once the federal government releases funds to the state – appointed vendors across all states of the federation and the FCT.

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