The Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has said the development effort of Nigeria or any country must begin with providing good and nutritious food to school pupils and all children.
The Governor, during his presentation at the launch of the National Home Grown School Feeding programme strategy at the State House Banquet Hall, Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, held that well fed children will most likely be more successful in life than the hungry and malnourished ones.
A statement by the Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Office of the Governor, signed by its Director, Semiu Okanlawon, quoted Aregbesola as saying that the implementation of the programme began in the state in May 2006.
Aregbesola added that on his assumption of office in November 2010, he undertook a comprehensive review of education, including the school feeding programme, which was re-launched as O’MEALS on April 30, 2012.
He pointed out that the re-launch began across all the 1,375 Elementary Schools in the state, adding that the programme is consistent with his administration’s 6-Point Integral Action Plan of banishing poverty, hunger, creating work and wealth, functional education, restoring healthy living and engendering communal peace and progress.
The Governor emphasised that the overall objectives of O-MEALS are to improve the nutritional and health status of pupils by ensuring that pupils are dewormed regularly for healthy living.
He also added that the programme has enhanced enrolment, retention and completion of pupils in schools and to reduce poverty and stimulate development of small and medium scale enterprises.
Aregbesola noted that with the school feeding programme, the state has been able to engage the services of 3,007 community caterers to prepare the food for the pupils as hygienically as possible.
He said: “To be able to achieve this, the caterers were first medically screened and certified fit and proper, retrained on the rudiments of cooking and particularly made to understand the importance of, one, hygiene in disease prevention and secondly, good nutrition to healthy living.
“For effective administrative purposes, they were organised into 124 functional Cooperative Investment and Credit Societies (CICS) in order to benefit fully from bulk procurement and allied services. Necessary operational funds are then transferred to the personal bank accounts of each caterer through their CICS.
“The account from which this funding emanates is secure because it is not accessible through issuance of bank cheques. Funds can only be transferred from the account into the caterers’ and other contractors’ accounts by approved mandates. This will minimise, if not eliminate altogether, incidents of fraud and diversion.
“The caterers receive funds in advance concerning meals to be prepared for school pupils within a two-week period. For organisational purpose, the number of pupils assigned to each caterer varies and so is the fund allocated.
“Each caterer also benefits from a government facilitated interest-free loan of N41,500 for the acquisition of cooking and other kitchen utensils. The loan repayment period is spread over 36 months, with N1,152.78kobo deducted from their account every month.”
Aregbesola pointed out that the total number of pupils being fed in the state is well over 252,000, which comes to about N14.8 million per day, N74 million per week, N325.6 million per month and N3.6 billion per annum.
He averred that the amount spent by government can be reduced to about N50 per pupil, adding that N601,400 is paid out to the 3,007 caterers as transport fares on a daily basis.
According to the Governor: “The commitment, passion, prudence and seriousness we deployed to O’MEALS has earned us the worthy support and partnership of the Imperial College, London-based Partnership for Child Development (PCD).
“Through this fruitful collaboration, we have received technical assistance in redesigning the school feeding programme through endorsement of the Transition Strategy Plan Document, among others, from PCD.”
Aregbesola highlighted the immediate impact of O’MEALS within the first five weeks of introduction as an increment in elementary school enrolment by 38,935 pupils from 155,318 to 194,253, representing 25 per cent and the highest elementary school enrolment in Nigeria.
Aregbesola is of the hope that the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme will be extended to all pupils in public schools and made an integral part of education for all pupils in Nigeria, both public and private.