by Olalekan Adetayo
Penultimate Thursday, the Federal Government inaugurated the Federal Government’s National Home Grown School Feeding Programme. At the time of the inauguration, President Muhammadu Buhari was on his second vacation for the year. He was in far away London. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo presided over the event.
Even if Buhari was around, Osinbajo might still have been delegated to inaugurate the programme. The reason is not far-fetched. Apart from being in charge of the economy, the government’s Social Investment Plan of which the feeding programme is a component, seems to be domiciled in the Vice-President’s office.
The feeding programme is one of the five Social Investment Programmes of the Buhari administration. Rarely will a press statement emanate from the VP’s office without a mention of the investment plan and the N500bn that has been allocated to it in the 2016 Budget. If Osinbajo’s handlers are not announcing foreign organisations partnering government for the programme, they will be telling Nigerians the figure of pupils that will be enjoying “one hot balanced delicious meal” per day nationwide.
Even when Buhari spoke against a leg of the plan that he would not pay N5,000 to those not working, as Nigerians were made to believe that his government would be paying unemployed graduates, it was the Vice-President’s office that made clarification on the statement. Presidential aides in charge of the scheme all have their offices in the Vice-President’s Wing of the Villa.
Osinbajo was not alone at the elaborate inauguration event which was held inside the old Banquet Hall of the Villa. It was also witnessed by state governors such as Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo); Rauf Aregbesola (Osun); Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna); and Kashim Shettima (Borno).
Aregbesola’s state has not been enjoying positive publicity lately. News items such as the non-payment of salaries and the controversy over court judgement allowing the use of hijab in public schools among others have been dominating the public space.
So when the governor was invited to come and share the experience of his state that had been implementing the school feeding programme for some time, he saw it as an opportunity to at least shine and get positive publicity for once. He did that to the maximum.
The governor was bent on making good use of the opportunity. He attended the event with enough copies of booklets showcasing his administration’s feeding programme. When the compere introduced him as Osun State Governor, he refused to leave his seat until the young man corrected himself and re-introduced him as Governor of “the State of Osun.”
When he finally mounted the podium, Aregbesola started by rubbing it in on those in attendance that out of the 13 original pilot states of school feeding programme launched in September 2005, his state was the only one currently implementing the programme. He added that his state had since 2012 redesigned and scaled up its programme considerably. The governor said the scheme was being implemented in all 1,378 public primary schools in the state till date.
He drew laughter from the audience when he was listing the foods on the weekly menu of the pupils and he mentioned egbo (maize delicacy popular among Yoruba) and coco-yam pottage. He quickly lectured his audience on the nutritional value of coco-yam.
For a state that is finding it very hard financially, the audience again murmured when he said the government spends N3.21bn on the scheme per year at N50 per pupil daily. He was however quick to add that the state contributes 40 per cent (N1.21bn) while local governments contribute 60 per cent (N1.812bn). Aregbesola introduced another drama when he invited two pupils-a boy and a girl-and their female teacher who he brought to Abuja all the way from his state. He directed the teacher to be asking the pupils questions. He was beaming with smiles as the pupils were providing correct answers to the questions. He gave an impression that the pupils were able to offer correct answers to the questions because of the free meal his government provides in schools!
At a point, the governor took over from the teacher and asked the pupils to recite their school anthem. They erroneously recited the state anthem. The governor waited patiently for them to finish and called their attention to the mistake. He insisted they must recite their school anthem which they did.
By the time he was through, he had taken a lot of time. When the compere therefore invited el-Rufai to come and share the experience of school feeding in his own state, he was advised to make his presentation short.
Trust el-Rufai, he promised that his presentation would be shorter than his colleague’s because while Aregbesola, according to him, is a politician, he (el-Rufai) is “an accidental politician.” He kept his words. His presentation was short and concise.
He admitted that the state started off by sending a team to study the Osun State’s feeding programme and learnt many lessons from its successes and challenges. The governor said the Kaduna State primary school feeding programme was in its 18th week having been launched in January 2016. “We spend N318m every week in these lean times to feed our children,” he told the audience.
Deputy Governors’ Forum loading
The National Economic Council which is chaired by the Vice-President has all the 36 state governors as members. Some relevant ministers and presidential aides are also members. The council meets once in a month inside the Council Chambers of the Villa.
Whenever state governors are unable to attend the meetings, they send their deputies to represent them. But lately, it seems some governors have finally decided to leave the meetings for their deputies.
At the last meeting of the council on Thursday, there were more deputy governors in attendance than governors to the extent that some colleagues were whispering that just like in the case of the Nigerian Governors Forum, an association for deputy governors, Nigerian Deputy Governors Forum may be in the offing.
When those who attended were exchanging pleasantries before the commencement of the meeting, photojournalists noticed that deputy governors outnumbered the governors. They decided to focus on them. One of such group photographs of deputy governors they devoted attention to was the one involving Mr. Moses Adeyemo (Oyo); Mrs. Oluranti Adebule (Lagos); Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga (Ogun); and Mrs. Ipalibo Gogo Banigo (Rivers).
After taking a few snapshots, the photojournalists observed that Adeyemo who was the only man among his colleagues was standing at the extreme right. They therefore asked him to change position. They took another set of shots while the deputy governors posed for them to satisfy themselves.
Many other states were represented by deputy governors. It is my candid opinion that if care is not taken, a day will come that only deputy governors will attend the meeting. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olalekan Adetayo/Punch