Foundation prepares CSOs to monitor school feeding and basic education funds

Amina Salihu

At a recent gathering of MacArthur Foundation’s current and potential grantees from across Nigeria, the conversation on accountability and service delivery was both lively and passionate. The discussion was moderated by Amina Salihu, Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation, whose astute communication skill helped tease out the fine points, especially when it came to the question of how best to galvanize active citizens to make accountability demands. Balanced and nuanced, the conversation placed equal focus on the demand and the supply side of the service delivery chain. The discussion further underscored the critical place of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as agents in the push to get governance to work for the ordinary people of Nigeria.

Looming large in the conversation was the problem posed by the monster of retail corruption. Corruption, whatever its shade, festers in the absence of mechanisms for promoting accountability. The reality of retail or petty corruption hampers the achievements of the laudable objectives of policies that are meant to deliver basic services.

Through its country-focused strategy of rethinking priorities and areas of intervention in Nigeria, MacArthur Foundation’s Africa Office reached the conclusion that support to civic agencies to implement programmes, which would stimulate accountability demands in the delivery of basic services, is an important dimension of the quest for good governance. It was also reckoned that addressing the challenge of lack of accountability in the delivery of basic services would impact on other interconnected issues of development. The foundation’s Director, Africa Office, Dr. Kole Shettima, in his opening remarks drew attention to the tragedy of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.

He said the Boko Haram menace could be partly linked to the failure of governance to deliver a service as basic as education, due to lack of accountability in managing the resources meant for that purpose. The result of this failure is the recruitment of impressionable, but barely educated young minds into the camps of extremists and terrorists, who have since been using them as cannon fodder in their attacks against the state.

In terms of service delivery, a nationwide survey by Geo Poll, which was commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation, identified education and electricity as two top services where corruption and lack of accountability have precipitated poor delivery. Thus, grantees were brought together to gain insights relating to how their projects and programmes focused on monitoring how financial flows could deliver real value in terms of ensuring accountability and preventing corruption. The two policies of focus for grantee monitoring are the Homegrown School Feeding Programme and Universal Basic Education in selected states. The meeting also provided an interface between frontline managers of two programmes and civil society leaders. The essence of the interface was also to help CSOs understand the undercurrents shaping the programmes, such that they are able to carrying on with financial flow monitoring, from a perspective of clear understanding of what the issues are.

CSO leaders could see for example that while UBE Act provides for a child of school age to get nutritious meal a day, the challenges of proper governance have made this a pipe dream for the Nigerian child of school age. It is in this context that the Homegrown School Feeding Programme was introduced to boost enrolment, and arrest the dropout rates in schools. Ms. Abimbola Adesanmi from Imperial College, who also works in the office of the Vice President on the implementation of school feeding, explained the goals of the policy of school feeding. CSOs used the opportunity to ask questions relating to mechanism for oversight and data gathering, to ensure the programme is not derailed by corruption. For instance, the Special Assistant informed that the Federal Government has committed to taking up the feeding of pupils from primary 1 to primary 3, while the state and Local Governments have been left to feed pupils in primary 4 to 6.

Part of the measure to ensure the scheme is free of corruption is the direct payment of monies to the cooks through their bank accounts after every 10 days of feeding. There is also a standard menu with each cook detailed to feed between 70 to 150 pupils at the rate of N70 per day. So far, according to the office of the Vice President nine states have started feeding, while 28 others are being processed to join the scheme.

Notwithstanding the dismissive posture of some skeptics to the School Feeding Programme, experts are unanimous that it is one of the tested ways of boosting enrolment, and retaining pupils in schools. It is for this reason that some states are already working on laws to institutionalize the School Feeding Programme in their respective domains.

Using some of the insights gleaned from the discussion, MacArthur Foundation grantees who would be on the field are expected to collect financial flow data, and conduct visits to schools to scrutinize the process. Their work will ensure funds earmarked for the feeding get to the beneficiaries in the form of a nutritious meal a day. According to the foundation’s Deputy Country Director, Oladayo Olaide, this would entail the design of a uniform tracking template to help monitors collect the needed data, process them and put the resultant information in the hands of citizens across benefiting communities.

The task of monitoring is similar for foundation grantees tracking the use of Universal Basic Education (UBE) funds. UBE Act was signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 26th, 2004. It guarantees the right of the child to compulsory basic education. States contribute 50 percent of the cost of the project. It is meant to take care of school infrastructure, teacher’s professional development, instructional materials and monitoring. In 2017 alone, N664 billion was appropriated, while N291 billion has been disbursed. Several grantees raised questions relating to the poor state of many primary schools, with many having no furniture, instructional materials and qualified teachers.

This is the prevalent situation in spite of the huge funds that have poured in from the UBE. CSOs mandated to monitor UBE funds would also put in place structures to monitor the financial flow in the expenditure of UBE funds. There is also a clamour that the Quality Assurance exercises of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), should go beyond the issue of access to funds by the participating states. CSOs are clamouring for an objective scrutiny of what those monies are eventually used for. For the monitoring to be robust and effective, it is clear that actors at the state level need to endorse the push for accountability. This means that the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs), the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA), the School Based Management Committees and the communities which the schools serve, have to be part of the push to ensure accountability and value for money. This implies also that CSOs would have to cultivate the relationships and synergies that would push the debates and attitudes towards accountability and quality service delivery.

The conversation ended with an understanding that the focus on accountability as the crux of civic engagement in the basic education delivery chain puts an issue that is relevant to the lives of ordinary citizens in the front burner of the governance discourse. There was unanimity that what the ordinary citizen is interested is: how can I get basic service like water, education and health. This quest for quality service, backed by accountable use of resources, should propel actors in the civic space to challenge retail or petty corruption in service delivery.
Ajanaku is Media&Civic Engagement Manager at the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED)

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