Many unemployed rural women in Katsina State have been taken into the formal financial service system by the Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSF).
For the first time for many of them, they also own debit cards although many decried the travel distance to the state capital where they have to be before they can make proper transactions.
Indo Sheni, a beneficiary from Kaita Local Government Area, said she and her family lived from hand to mouth as a street food vendor before she was engaged in the initiative.
The mother of 17 children does not know her real age but guessed she is above 60 years. She is among thousands of women recruited as food vendors to cook, feed and serve the over 12 million pupils under the programme across Nigeria. She said the programme has provided jobs directly to rural low-income women as food vendors and brought more women across the state into the formal financial system.
Mrs Sheni serves 115 pupils food in primary 1A at Matse Primary School in Kaita. She told PREMIUM TIMES she did not have a bank account until she became a beneficiary of the SIP. She has one now but it rarely has money left in it.
“I use all my profits to take care of my family,” she said.
Mrs Sheni said three of her children help with the cooking.
The programme has been going on in Katsina State in the last three years. A PREMIUM TIMES investigation in the state shows it has recorded significant success, following the continued improvement in its implementation. Some of the benefits are financial inclusion and improvement of human capital among poor women in rural areas of the state.
The HGSF programme was introduced in 2016 as part of the N500 billion funded Social Investment Programme of the President Buhari administration. It was projected to provide 1.14 million jobs across the country, including community women who would be engaged as cooks.
The programme, with the support of state governments, aims to support states to collectively feed over 24 million school children, which will make it the largest school feeding programme of its kind in Africa. The goals include tackling poverty and improving the health and education of children and other vulnerable groups.
According to a 2019 government document titled “Investing in Our People,” the programme is feeding over nine million pupils in 52,604 schools across 30 states and empowered 101,913 cooks with bank accounts.
For instance, all the HGSF programme beneficiaries who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they never had bank accounts before. Many also narrated their vulnerability before they found placement in the programme.
Financial experts have said when women are financially empowered, it spurs economic growth within a country and in the global market and helps in reducing poverty.
According to a survey published in the Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA) bi-annual report 2018, 20.5 million Nigeria adult women are without bank accounts or access to any other formal or informal financial services. The number of financially excluded adult women in Nigeria is twice that of men.
The EFInA survey further showed that only 16 million adult women were banked in 2016. This is 33.3 per cent of the total 39.5 million persons that were banked that year.
In 2016, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also showed that 55.1 per cent of the financially excluded 96.4 million adult population were women.
In its efforts to tackle the sinking financial exclusion rate among women – the Women’s World Banking, a not for profit group, collaborated with the CBN to enhance women financial inclusion.
The initiative’s Vice President, Ade Ashaye, suggested digital inclusion as a potential solution for women inclusion. She made the suggestion in Lagos at a workshop tagged: “Making Finance Work for Women.’’
He said: ”Two-thirds of unbanked women have a mobile phone, and in Nigeria, roughly 20 million or 57 per cent of unbanked women have a mobile phone.
In 2012, the CBN adopted the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) in order to attain its 2010 commitment to reduce the adult financial exclusion rate in the country from 46.3 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020.
According to the strategy document, the NFIS was built on four strategic areas of agency banking, mobile banking/mobile payments, linkage models and client empowerment.
Although most of the banked adult women beneficiary in Katsina State said they were yet to understand how to use the digital banking system, many said that they already knew how to use their debit cards.
‘Cooking’ Aids Financial Inclusion
All the cooks who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they use the cards issued to them by their banks at a nearby financial service shop. Operated by bank agents, the shop enables transactions, such as transfers, deposits or withdrawals, among other services. These are made without a customer having to physically visit a bank.
Sekina Bala, also a beneficiary from Kaita town LGA, also hailed the NHGSF programme for its impact on the lives of women living in remote rural areas.
”Many of us never had bank accounts in the past,” Mrs Bala who is the head of the cooks at Kaita LGA said. She explained how the food vendors are now banked and using debit cards (ATM cards) to withdraw money for easy financial services.
Mrs Bala serves 63 pupils at Nongojal Nomadic Primary School, Kaita LGA.
”My children also eat from the food. I also use the profit I make from buying the foods stuff to cook for the pupils to cater for myself and my family.”
The 60-year-old mother of four said she has two staff members (Alimajiri) who help with chores for which she pays each N50 daily. A motorcycle rider helps with transporting the food.
Alima Lawal, also a beneficiary, said: ”I invested my profits in rearing goats.”
Mrs Lawal, who serves 100 pupils in Primary 3 at Gidado Primary School, Kofar Sauri Katsina Municipal in the state capital, told PREMIUM TIMES she bought two goats last year from the profits she made as a beneficiary.
Recruitment And Owning Bank Accounts
Abubakar Ibrahim, the NSIP state coordinator, explained how the beneficiaries were recruited into the programme. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the state government designed a form and sent copies to council chairpersons, members of the State House of Assembly, commissioners representing the LGAs. He said the officials ”shared the forms to women who do not have jobs in different LGAs.”
He also said after filling the forms, the women were told to visit banks. ”We directed the banks not to collect charges from them and we signed an agreement, sometimes the banks go to their local governments to open accounts which they did,” Mr Ibrahim said.
He said the banks gave the women debit cards without the normal bank charges.
“Asking them to pay something from the bank, it is like you adding more expenses to them because many are from remote areas. If they want debit cards, they apply,” he said.
He said the state government sent the beneficiaries’ details to the NSIO that does the assessment and recruitment. ” Only the National School Feeding Programme has the right to recruit them (beneficiaries).”
Challenges And Successes
Apart from the success in financially including the women; the programme also succeeded in improving school attendance across the state.
Findings revealed that the programme does not only have an impact on the feeding of pupils but also empowers the cooks who are given money to buy and cook the food so as to make profits.
In some states, the food items are purchased and supplied to the vendors by the state governments. Under such an arrangement, the cooks are only paid “salaries” as their role is to just cook and serve the meals.
The paucity of funds for a period, shortage of food vendors and administrative encumbrances relating to the processing of payments to vendors and low quality of food served to pupils are the main challenges slowing down wide penetration and coverage of the programme in Katsina.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that many children do not come to school on Fridays when they are served snacks.
“On Fridays, many of the pupils do not come to school because the government serves only snacks to the pupils on Fridays,” said Rabi Suliaman, the headteacher, Waziri Zayyala Science Model Primary School, Rafindadi in the state capital.
“They would rather prefer going to the farm with their parents or markets to assist them on Friday than to come to school,” she added.
Mrs Suliaman also appealed to the government to start serving the children normal food on Fridays instead of snacks.
“The programme is very good,” she said, acknowledging the impact the programme has had in terms of academics and the buzz it gives the pupils. “The children love it.”
Mrs Suliaman said ”Initially, we started with three cooks, later another three were sent, making six.”
The headteacher said 2,340 pupils are fed in the school.
”We have 18 classes; each class with approximately 130 pupils,” she said.
Aliyu Ibrahim, the headteacher at Ibrahim Shehu Shema Science Primary School, Kofar Sauri, told PREMIUM TIMES the number of cooks allocated to the school was not enough.
”We requested for 13 cooks but only eight cooks were deployed in this school,” he said.
He said the food is never enough to go round the pupils because of the inadequate numbers of cooks.
”Whenever the cooks come, we headcount the pupils and the number it gets when the food finishes we continue from the number where we stopped.
”We have 19 classes from Primary 1-3, which has five arms each. There are approximately 2,196 pupils but just eight cooks. He said the cooks stopped reporting from May 10 due to some administrative issues that were later resolved.
Asiya Usman, a parent who has nine children in Waziri Zayyala Science Model School in Katsina town, showered praises on the programme. She said her children now look healthier since they started feeding under the programme.
Mrs Usman urged the government to continue with the programme.
Cooks And Pupils
The state coordinator told PREMIUM TIMES that the state asked for 11,000 cooks from the National Social Investment Office (NSIO) but only 3,800 were recruited.
He also said 803,000 pupils were eligible for the school programme but only 334,488 are currently enjoying the free meal programme. The pupil-cook ratio in the state is 88 to one.
“On Monday they serve rice and beans Jollof; Tuesday we cook Millet and beans Jollof; Wednesday we cook Maize Porridge, Thursday they serve rice and beans and Friday they give them a coloured iced drink, popularly called Loli, and biscuit. He said the government contracted the supply of the biscuits and iced drink to a firm called “Amasarza.’’
He also said a cook is given N70 per plate.
“The cooks’ monthly payment is different from each other since they do not serve the same number of pupils.”
All the schools PREMIUM TIMES visited complained about the shortage of cooks, while the cooks complained that they had not been paid since the beginning of May.
However, this paper understands that as at the beginning of July, the federal government started crediting the accounts of the food vendors, following which the cooks resumed serving the pupils.
Food safety has become a growing challenge in Nigeria. More than 200,000 persons die yearly in the country of food poison caused by food contamination during processing, preservation and service, a professor of Food Science and Technology, Alfred Ihenkuronye, said.
Health experts said adequate sensitisation and hygienic environment would prevent food poison. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water and Sanitation of the WHO/ UNICEF noted that only 58 per cent of Nigerians has access to potable drinking water.
Northern Nigeria region is endemic for communicable diseases and other forms of infections. In 2018, 67 new suspected cases of cholera and four deaths from the infections were reported in Katsina.
“In Katsina State, the governor approved the formation of monitoring committees. The headteacher of the school is the chairperson, the health teacher is a member of the committee,” Mr Ibrahim, the programme coordinator, said.
”One religious leader within that locality is a member and one traditional ruler within that school is a member, including the class teacher of the school.
“They monitor the food every day. If the food has no quality they would reject it, because they are closer to the people, they know what’s better for their locality.”
The National Programme Manager, NHGSF programme, Abimbola Adesanmi, spoke about pupils’ reluctance to attend school on Fridays when only snacks are served.
In an email sent to PREMIUM TIMES, Mrs Adesanmi said it had remained a menace even before the programme kicked off.
”We found out during the inception situation analysis. The FGN introduced the drink and high energy snacks which were intended to bring them to school for the half-day they are there, to get them to learn.”
On the shortage of cooks, the programme manager blamed the state governments, saying they know why a cook was not recruited or cleared to feed in a school.
”Cooks who are recruited are sent to the federal. If the cooks’ Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) are not cleared by NIBSS, the states are notified – they have the option of either changing her or resolve her data,” she explained.
PREMIUM TIMES asked for data on the number of cooks recruited in Katsina State and the number of schools benefiting from the programme. But the office did not provide the figures.
It also did not speak about how the NHGSF determines the number of cooks it allocates to a school.
All follow-up questions were yet to be replied by Mrs Adesanmi at the time of this report, weeks after the questions were sent.
The investigations are in collaboration with Zeitgeist Aesthetics a not-for-profit organisation.