The federal government recently launched the Strategic Plan for the rollout of the Homegrown School Feeding Program (HSFP), one of the campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the buildup to the 2015 general elections. In its first year of operation, the program is expected to cater for 5.5m primary school children across the country, and gradually increase to 24m children when it is fully realised, according to a statement by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whose office is coordinating it.
The benefits of a program like this are clear – school enrollment is expected to increase, nutritional needs of the kids will be met at least once a day and there will be a ripple effect on the local economy as farmers, caterers, among others will be engaged.
However, here is the catch: For a state to be eligible to benefit from the program, the state government must be ready to provide 40% of the counterpart funding while the federal government provides the other 60%.
Gov. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti does not like this condition. He says that even though Ekiti is interested in the program “because Nigeria belongs to all of us”, it will not contribute any counterpart fund because the program is solely an electoral promise of the APC “and we were never consulted before the promise was made.” Besides, according to the governor, Ekiti simply does not have the “capability to make any financial contribution even if it is 10 per cent because our financial condition is such that we can’t even pay workers salary.”
Fayose said that by asking states to contribute 40% counterpart funding, the federal government was simply looking for an excuse to give when the program fails because it knows that a majority of the states cannot afford it.
Now, Fayose is right on several key points with this. This truly was an APC electoral promise. In a style typical of campaigning in Nigeria and perfected by the APC last year, the party did not do serious work on the viability or practicability of the project before announcing it. It did not tell Nigerians how much it was expected to cost the nation. The APC did not inform Nigerians at the time that the program would rely on counterpart funding from states. Its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, could not even be bothered to attend a debate where he may have been challenged on some of the APC claims.
Fayose is also right when he says that many states in the country are in dire straits and will find it difficult to match the funds.
But in Fayose’s typical governance by obstructionism, he is not creative with solutions. Fayose has a defeatist mindset when it comes to problem solving, such that if he cannot see a solution at first glance, he throws hands up in surrender or look for where to apportion the blame. When workers in the state went on strike, Fayose’s solution was to join them in the action rather than think of how to solve the problem. Now there is a problem where FG plans to embark on an ambitious program at a time of dwindling revenue for all the tiers of government, rather than Fayose to offer solutions, his strategy is to write off the program, predict its failure, and criticise the FG.
Who does this help? Definitely not the Ekiti state primary school students. Not the local farmers. Not the caterers in the state. And not the state government. Several other states including Enugu, a PDP state are already throwing their weight behind the project and thinking of solutions. In fact, in Kaduna, the state government has began the program on its own.
40% is HIGH as counterpart funding for a national program for which the APC government did not try to get a buy-in first from other stakeholders, including PDP governments. However, Fayose should be thinking of what Ekiti can give and suggesting same to the FG. That’s what he should have been doing from the beginning. Instead, the governor does not even attend meetings called by the FG. His only recourse is to get his spokesman behind a laptop and dictate a bombastic statement. He assumes that such obstructionism is what an opposition government should look like. He is wrong.