By James Ibech
To say that the once popular home-grown school feeding programme arm of the FG-initiated National Social Investment Scheme in Benue state is now a shadow of itself, is an understatement. It has failed.
This is because the nation’s governance system has refused to improve, under the watch of the present crop of many inept leaders in the country.
From the centre to many states of the federation the narrative of governance system is a sorry pass.
The imminent collapse of the school feeding programme in the state specifically – unless VP Yemi Osinbajo takes a conscionable step to halt the slide – is a confirmation of what a friend of mine says that “Nigerians never lack good ideas.” But their problem, he continues, “is the knack for abandoning the ideas soon after initiating them, or allowing them to die due to lack of proper management.”.
Either that is the case with the school feeding programme in Benue or the government – state or federal – has decided to deliberately obfuscate the running of the scheme on which crest President Buhari rode back to power, at least as far as Benue state is concerned. Buhari won the votes of the women because of the success of the National Social Investment Scheme, especially the school feeding programme in Benue state. But that success seems to be short lived as failure now greets the programme for the feeding of the primary school pupils.
The aim of the obfuscation of the programme soon after Buhari won reelection which unfortunately signposts its death in Benue appears to me just to punish the lots of women food vendors for reelecting the President. Or what is the sin of the innocent food vendors in the state?
They have been at the receiving end of the tragedy rocking the scheme. Something inexplicable has surely been allowed by the govt to creep into the home grown programme. And innocent pupils plus the food is have become the victims.
Or perhaps mischief on the part of the national officials of the scheme as well as those of the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS is likely at play. But if it is not a mischief, then there is high level of incompetence of the national officials of the scheme unfolding like a drama before our very eyes. And President Muhammad Buhari cannot afford to ignore this tragedy that will likely cast slur on his regime’s earned reputation.
Or how does one explain the grisly situation where an alleged corruption perpetuated by a former state Focal Person, Conrad Utaan, had prompted a probe into the operation of the programme in the state with the view to weeding out ghost vendors allegedly smuggled in by Utaan, and ending up leaving thousands of pupils and innocent food vendors stranded as what the national office has now branded as “standby food vendors” who are not known to be officially sacked but are not paid. They are under a kind of suspension, but for what offence? Nobody knows; whereas the food vendors that are tagged as “priority vendors” are being paid.
What is the sin of the innocent vendors tagged as standby? No one can tell. This is a shame of a nation. If the FG has commenced probe of the operation of the programme why not carry it out effectively? The screening by the NBS to the best of my judgement is a fraud, lackluster and should be condemned to abbreviation by any discerning Nigerian. The blame for the failure of the school feeding programmes in the state is at the doorstep of the federal government. I boldly say this without apology.
The failure of both the NBS and the national office of the scheme understandably stems from an independent screening they carried out to ascertain the real number of pupils in Benue public primary schools, triggered by the allegation of sleaze of the former focal person, Utaan.
Unfortunately, based on the believably genuine explanation of the current FP in the state, Terris Damsa, and as investigation revealed, the NBS screening exercise failed probity test. It does not only smack of shoddy job done, it was also not holistically carried out. Nor was it done with the knowledge of the state office of the scheme. The concomitant result of which was an over 113 000 pupils in schools not captured with the resultant effect of the thousands of the innocent food vendors suffering the brunt of the officials of the NBS and the national office of the programme.
As learned on good authority, efforts by the state FP and his team to get the NBS and the national office of the scheme to reconcile differences in the figures and correct mistakes made by the NBS did not work, because the national office sticks to its errors, and appears to be happy that thousands of real food vendors who were recruited and trained for the programme, right from the get go, are suffering.
Oju LGA of the state is worse hit. Many schools and food vendors alike are not captured in the NBS screening, at all. In fact, it is even believed that the NBS screening officials sat some where and arbitrarily manufactured the figures they are using now, to pay the priority vendors, without doing enough to find out the existence of the schools that they failed to capture during their harried visit.
To this end, a task is placed on the House of Assembly member representing Oju 1 and of course , that of Oju 2 by the people of Oju to swing into action to address their constituents over this state and national shame. Many have absolved the state office of blame though. The affected vendors who are largely uneducated are powerless. It behooves their representatives, to act to their defence. This is therefore a wake up call and a task for the Oju leaders, especially the two representatives at the state Assembly to act now. This is part of their responsibilities as the people’s representatives.