When President Muhammadu Buhari announced that relief measures would be extended to vulnerable Nigerians after announcing a lockdown and mandatory stay-at-home order in March, Mrs Ajala (not real name), a widow with three children, was among the poor and vulnerable Nigerians that looked forward to receiving the promised palliatives.

Mrs Ajala, by any standard, is a poor Nigerian.

The widow who sells leafy vegetables and jute leaves to survive, lives in an uncompleted building with her three children in an empty one-room apartment.

In her room, there’s nothing the widow can point to as valuable property.

One visible property apart from old clothes scattered all over the room, is a tattered mattress on which she and her three children rest their heads at night after hawking from one street to another.

Mrs Ajala lives in an uncompleted building with her three children (Pulse)
Mrs Ajala lives in an uncompleted building with her three children (Pulse)

An acquaintance who knows Mrs Ajala quite well said the woman gave birth to five children but only three survived.

Her husband died barely two years after the birth of Ishola, the last born of the family. According to the widow, the 8-year-old boy does not know his late father.

In a bid to get the promised palliatives to augment her meagre income during the lockdown, the woman, who is in her 50s, visited her children’s school on Friday, May 29, 2020, to collect the food items the government promised but was asked to come back on Monday, June 1, 2020.

When she returned to the school on the said date, she met no one as the school gate was shut.

When I went to the school to get the food items for my child, I met one Alhaja and four others who told me to come back on Monday,” she said.

Like other parents in her neighbourhood, the widow heard that parents were called by the school management to come for packaged rice, beans, half crate of eggs and a bottle of palm and vegetable oil.

The packaged food items the FG promised pupils of public schools
The packaged food items the FG promised pupils of public schools

But why Mrs Ajala was not called by her son’s teachers to come and collect the handouts remains a mystery to her.

“Even when I was hawking yesterday, someone asked if I had been called for the palliatives and I told her nobody has called us”, the poor woman told Pulse.

Ishola is a primary three pupil of Ilogbo Primary School in Oto-Awori Local Government Area of Lagos State, and he’s eligible for the palliative because the FG said the relief materials should be given to pupils in Primary 1–3 only.

Feeding during the pandemic-enforced lockdown was very difficult for most people, especially for a family that relies on stipends made from the sales of perishable goods like leafy vegetables.

Mrs Ajala's wares displayed at the front of her house (Pulse)
Mrs Ajala's wares displayed at the front of her house (Pulse)

But rather than continue to wait for the government’s palliatives, the mother of three and her youngest child returned to the streets to hawk leafy vegetables and jute leaves to survive in lockdown season.

Less than 27 out of over 500 pupils considered for palliatives

On May 29, when parents were asked to come for their children’s share of the palliatives, Pulse went to Ilogbo Pry School to observe the distribution of the relief items, but no parent was in sight around 11 am. A teacher told this writer that some parents had come for theirs and had left.

The teacher could not tell how many parents had come to collect the palliatives, but according to him, only 27 out of over 500 pupils were expected to get the palliatives in the school.

A WhatsApp message from the local government to teachers in the area showed the list of schools and the number of pupils that were supposed to be given the palliatives at each school in the area.

In the Whatsapp list seen by Pulse, only Anglican School 1 Ijanikin, LG Model and Command Primary School were given 100 allocations. Others ranged between 19 and 83 in schools where primary 1–3 pupils are about 500 in number.

A screenshot of the purported Whatspp list sent to schools to guide palliatives distribution. (Pulse)
A screenshot of the purported Whatspp list sent to schools to guide palliatives distribution. (Pulse)

The allocation of the food items was the same in Ogun state. An anonymous teacher at All Saints Primary School in Ado-Odo Otta, the largest local government in the state, said some teachers were assigned to different wards to compile the list of eligible pupils for the handouts. In his school, 68 pupils were considered for the palliatives.

We were briefed on how to go from house to house to compile the list of public school pupils especially those that really needed to be given palliatives. Each of us was given a stipulated number of pupils to ensure the list we compile is in consonance with government’s provisions. We have marked residences of families that got the palliatives. If there would be another batch of the project, we will get to other places,” the teacher said.

Mrs Akinola, a parent, whose son, Akeem Akinola benefited from the handouts, confirmed that some people came to compile the names of pupils in her neighbourhood.

She, however, complained that the palliatives did not go-round as an orphan in her neighbourhood did not get the palliatives because she was not enlisted for the programme. She also complained that the beans they received as palliatives were already spoilt.

In May, this writer called the attention of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development on Twitter to the negligible numbers of supposed beneficiaries of the relief in Lagos schools, where over 500 kids were qualified for the palliatives, but the ministry ignored the tweet.

Teachers went home with palliatives meant for pupils

How the Lagos state government arrived at sharing palliatives to 27 out of 500 pupils was one problem. How people who were not eligible for the relief items benefited from the programme, quite another.

On the day the palliatives were shared at schools in Oto-Ijanikin area of the state, a pupil, who is said to be in Pry 4, was seen with her brother going home with the food items. Pulse later found out that the pupil is a daughter of the Chairman of School-Based Management Committee of Ilogbo Primary School I.

A bag of palliatives found in the school premises when no parent was in sight to receive the food items on behalf of their children. (Pulse)
A bag of palliatives found in the school premises when no parent was in sight to receive the food items on behalf of their children. (Pulse)

As if shortchanging the eligible pupils through the list allegedly made available by the local government was not enough, some teachers also made away with some of the relief items.

In a chat with Pulse, a teacher justified the theft of the handouts by his colleagues. He argued that there’s nothing wrong with anyone who benefits from giveaways like this during a pandemic.

He alleged that the list sent to the school was reduced to 27 by some people, adding that if the school management had called parents and their number didn’t go through, it’s not a bad idea for teachers to take home the palliatives.

He said, “There are some things you do that you allow yourself to be cheated. There are also some things you do that you don’t allow others to cheat you.”

Days after the relief materials were shared, Pulse took to the streets of Ilogbo to ask pupils if their parents were truly called for the palliatives, because the reason for making away with the packaged foods was because some parents could not be reached.

The road that leads to Ilogbo Eremi community (Naira forum)
The road that leads to Ilogbo Eremi community (Naira forum)

A Pry 2 pupil, Aliya, said she went to the school when she heard the news but was sent home by her teacher after being told that her parents would be called.

Another pupil, Ruqayyah, said she was also sent back home.

Luqmon, a Pry 3 pupil who was found with his peers playing football on a sandy street, said he heard about the food items but didn’t get the palliatives because his parents were not called.

Another argument put forward for teachers’ inability to reach out to many parents was because the school does not have their phone numbers. But Mrs Ajala disagreed, saying the school has her number.

“When I took my son there for registration, his class teacher asked for his birth certificate, home address and my phone number. I dropped my number when I registered my two children in the school,” Ajala said.

While many people said they do not know anyone who received the palliatives, a tricycle operator identified as Baba Oyo in Iyana Era said he knows a child whose mother was called to come for the packaged food.

According to Baba Oyo; “I know someone who got the palliatives. One of my neighbours got rice, beans, eggs and a bottle of vegetable oil, but I am not sure if many people got the palliatives. I can take you to her house.”

To buttress his claim, he took Pulse to a woman who introduced herself as Mrs Saka. The woman, whose son, Quadri is a Pry 2 pupil, said she received a call from her son’s teacher on May 29, 2020, to come for the palliatives.

Asked if she knew any other parent who got the relief packages, she said she only knows of two other people in her neighbourhood.

Reacting to the purported list from the local government to schools for the distribution of palliatives, Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folashade Adefisayo, said the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board is in the best position to speak about the list.

Mrs Folashade Adefisayo, Commissioner for Education, Lagos State. (TheNation)
Mrs Folashade Adefisayo, Commissioner for Education, Lagos State. (TheNation)

During a telephone call with Pulse, Adefisayo said, “the homegrown feeding programme is a federal government initiative for primary school pupils from 1–3. While we were also part of the programme, I believe you can get the details from the Chair of Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). SUBEB worked with the FG, so if you talk to them you’ll get the details. And there’s an agency of the FG that was actually in charge. I think you should talk to all of them”.

“No school got such allocation…we did our best to be transparent”- SUBEB Chairman

In a chat with Pulse, Hon. Wahab Alawiye-King who is the Chairman of the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB), said over 37,589 households received the take home ration of 5kg rice, 5kg of beans, groundnut oil, palm oil, tomato sachet and half crate of eggs in Lagos.

He explained that the food items were shared based on the data provided by the Lagos SUBEB and the federal bureau of statistics.

Alawiye-King, however, said there’s no school in Lagos where 27 out of about 500 pupils were considered for palliatives, saying it’s not possible for LASUBEB to have sent such a list to any school in the state.

Lagos SUBEB Chairman, Mr Wahab Alawiye-King and parents of pupils who bebefitted from the palliatives (Lagos Govt)
Lagos SUBEB Chairman, Mr Wahab Alawiye-King and parents of pupils who bebefitted from the palliatives (Lagos Govt)

“That is not possible anywhere in the 202 centres across the state. We have a multi-layered system of monitoring to ensure transparency. The food vendors in each centre, the school-based management committee, the parent forum, the LGEA officers, officials of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, SUBEB Chairman and board members were spread across the centres to monitor,” he said.

Since the food items were shared based on the data provided by LASUBEB, Alawiye-King was asked if it’s safe to say LASUBEB sent the list to schools, but he evaded the question, saying he was aware of doubts and suspicion before the programme commenced.

He said, “We are quite aware of the doubts, apprehensions and suspicions before the programme even started. We tried our best to allay those fears and promised to be transparent as always. Glory be to God. The programme was adjudged to be a success by many. Thanks. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

FG refuses to respond to Pulse’ inquiry on palliatives distribution

The re-introduction of the feeding initiative during lockdown was greeted with outrage in some quarters as Nigerians wondered how the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development intended to share food items to pupils whose schools had been shuttered.

Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. [Vanguard]
Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. [Vanguard]

Explaining how they intended to go about the programme, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq in May said the ministry had consulted and collaborated with state governments and had identified a total of 3.1 million households across the country for the programme.

Before the programme started in May, the Ministry said it had come up with a new model to share the food items to the pupils, saying the model is in line with global best practices.

However, following the completion of the programme in Lagos and Ogun states, Pulse reached out to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs for comments on the controversial distribution of the palliatives. The ministry is yet to respond.

A Whatsapp message sent to two officials of the ministry, Ms Olamide Dauda and Mrs Illya Rhoda on Thursday, July 2, 2020, has also not been responded to.

While Illya promised to check and reply the message when she was called, Dauda on Friday, July 3, 2020, said the message had been forwarded to the minister’s Special Assistant on homegrown school feeding programme to draft a response. However, as of the time of publishing this report, the ministry has failed to offer any explanations on the world-standard model it deployed in sharing the palliatives to 3.1 million households.

Despite the obvious flaws of the programme, the ministry on Thursday, May 28, 2020, in a tweet, said the Modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme was remarkable in Lagos.

On Tuesday, June 2, Alawiye-King, SUBEB Chairman, said the programme was a success in Lagos.

With photos of a few beneficiaries of the palliatives in the media space, the federal government has convinced itself that the modified feeding programme was a success.

However, children of poor Nigerians like Mrs Ajala, believe the implementation of the exercise was ineffectual and riddled with corruption.