Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Buharimeter, NASS and FG school feeding programme

Thursday, June 9, 2016 is a day to remember in the annals of governance in Nigeria. On that day, three important events took place, all in Abuja. The first was the town hall meeting held at Sheraton Hotels by Centre for Democracy and Development on Buharimeter, which is an online platform designed to track implementation of all the 222 campaign promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari. The second is the celebration of first anniversary of the eight National Assembly while the third is the launch of the federal government Home Grown School Feeding Programme by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.

Starting with the Buharimeter Town Hall meeting which I attended, it was heartwarming to have five of the cabinet ministers of President Buhari coming to give account of their stewardship. In attendance were: Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe; Minister of Environment, Hajiya Amina Mohammed; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the minister in charge of Works, Housing and Power, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fasola, SAN. The meeting was moderated by human rights activist, Barrister Ayo Obe and ace broadcaster Mr. Imoni Mac Amarere of Africa Independent Television.

The five ministers took turn to address the gathering made up of members of the civil society and the media. They all spoke robustly about what they have been doing since their inauguration on November 11, 2015. The town hall meeting was highly interactive as participants took the ministers to task about their party’s campaign promises and the slow delivery on those promises. They asked them probing questions and sought clarifications on some of the things in the public domain which were not clear to them.

 I listened with rapt attention as Fasola reeled out his plans and activities since assumption of office. The minister talked about challenge with electricity supply which he blamed on vandalisation of gas pipelines, the metering challenge with electricity distribution companies, high debt profile of electricity consumers, efforts being made in strengthening transmission lines and many other initiatives. On housing, he spoke about model mass housing being planned. He asked whether there could be anything like low cost housing when there are no low cost building materials or low cost labour. He also repeatedly asked whether Nigerians prefer rapid result to sustainable result. When asked if he is not overwhelmed by being in charge of three key ministries in one, he answered that he is not because he has a Minister of State as well as two permanent secretaries and a crop of highly skilled and dedicated staff to work with. He reminded the attendees that as governor of Lagos State he had a bigger task overseeing over twenty ministries and over fifty agencies.

On her part, Minister of Environment talked about the various initiatives of her ministry and the recent flag off of the cleanup of Ogoniland; Minister of Information spoke about how government is dealing with the security challenges and successes recorded so far. He flagged the security challenge posed by the drying up of Lake Chad to the seven countries whose citizens are depending on the lake for their livelihood. He also defended the government when accused of inadequate information. According to him, apart from regular press conferences and press releases, his ministry has also organised four town hall meetings across the geo-political zones to inform the public about what Buhari administration is doing.  Minister of Agriculture spoke about the issue of grazing reserves and ranches as panacea to incessant herdsmen and farmer clashes as well as his plan to end rice importation in two years’ time following his proposed programme of rapid expansion of local production. The Minister of Budget and Planning also talked about the 2016 budget as well as the robust coordination of all ministries.

On the first anniversary of the National Assembly, it is important to note that at inauguration on June 9, 2015, the two chambers of the NASS were embroiled in power tussle with the current leadership emerging against the preferred candidates of the leadership of their political party, the All Progressives Congress. It took a while before the entire principal officers of both chambers were eventually elected or appointed. NASS has also embarked on several recesses to the chagrin of many Nigerians who believe that the elected parliamentarians are not alive to their responsibilities. The current trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki on false asset declaration charges  by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the investigation of his wife for corruption by the Economic and Financial Commission are some of the things that dents the image of Nigerian parliament. There was also the issue of padding of 2016 budget with constituency projects not proposed by the executive arm as well as the double emoluments being received by some of the former governors, now Senators, who are already on life pensions and other welfare packages and still get paid as legislators.

On the whole, the Senate passed only 11 bills in one year. Senator Babajide Omoworare who is the chairman of Committee on Rules and Business said the bills were among the 300 bills brought before the Senate. He equally said the Senate passed 96 landmark resolutions, confirmations and received 159 petitions.  In the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara said the House passed 85 bills out of the 685 bills received. It is important to note that the conference committees of both chambers still have to sit to harmonise the bills before it will be sent to the president for assent. In this this second year, Nigerians would like NASS to pass critical bills such as the Petroleum Industry Bills and several anti-corruption bills before it. Nigerians are also hoping to have the breakdown of the federal lawmakers N115bn in this year’s budget as well as effective oversight of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on June 9 launched the strategic implementation plan for the national home-grown school feeding programme. The plan is expected to run till 2020 and will form the cornerstone of the nationwide Home-Grown School Feeding programme which when fully realised will provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary school children.  According to the presidency, under this scheme the children will benefit from nutritionally balanced school meals which will reduce hunger and improve education outcomes; farmers will benefit from improved access to school feeding markets and communities will benefit from new catering, processing and food handling jobs. According to the Vice President, “not only will the Home Grown School Feeding programme help our pupils become better students, it will also boost the local economies, and create new jobs along the way.” Osun and Kaduna State are the two states already running similar programmes.

The Federal Government said that N93.1bn had been appropriated for the first phase of the scheme to take care of 5.5 million pupils in 18 states from three geopolitical zones. The FG school feeding programme is reportedly meant for Primary 1 to 3 pupils while the state governments are expected to cater for pupils in Primary 4 to 6. Unfortunately, many states have allegedly claimed not have money in this year’s budget for the welfare programme.  More so, given their parlous financial status which has made payment of workers salary difficult. The other issue is whether FG is not putting the cart before the horse as this programme is bound to increase school enrolment. This will likely overstretch the existing inadequate school infrastructures. Furthermore, is there any policy or legal backing for this laudable  initiative such that a new administration will not be able to discard it? How do we ensure accountability and transparency in the project? There are indeed more questions than answers.

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