Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
God often speaks of the poor and needy in the Bible and always admonishes us to give generously to them and speak on their behalf.
Two biblical injunctions, among several others, aptly capture the need to attend to the poor and needy amongst us:” Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you. — Proverbs 3:27-28; whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. — Proverbs 19:17.
In tune with the above biblical injunctions, Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu has offered succour for the indigent school- child in Abia who lacks the hope of one meal per day. He has launched a pet project tagged “Feeding of School Pupils”.
This project, which will ensure the feeding of pupils in 170 primary schools in the state three times a week, targets the poorest of the poor and children from indigent homes. The thrust of the project is to encourage these indigent children to remain in school. They are to be fed three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
By this initiative, Abia State has joined the league of states that have adopted the free meal project. The Abia State model is timely and auspicious because free school meal is the in thing and states striving to cut down the rate of out- of school- children and boost the enrolment rate are queuing into it.
Recently, Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State , while presenting the year 2016 budget proposal to the Lagos State House of Assembly, said that the government’s “A-Meal-a-Day” programme in the state’s Public Primary schools would commence in 2016.
Ambode, in attempt to drive home the import of feeding school children explained: “This programme promises not only to improve the daily nutrition of our children. “It will also create an economy of its own, with opportunities for job creation, income generation, poverty alleviation, and so on”.
The benefits of this project are multifarious and cannot be relegated to the background. Isa Yunusa in a paper entitled “SCHOOL FEEDING PROGRAM IN NIGERIA: A VEHICLE FOR NOURISHMENT OF PUPILS”, opined that “Malnutrition disorders affect more than 42% of school children in Nigeria and are responsible for 49% absenteeism of primary school age children. School Feeding Program (SFPs) is designed to overcome malnutrition disorders through regular school-feeding to improve the health/nutrition status and the education abilities of school children”. It is germane, especially in the face of a 2013 UNESCO report which approximates 10.5 million kids out of school, with Nigeria dominating 12 other countries with which it accounts for 47 percent of the world out-of- school population.
Like the saying goes “a hungry man is an angry man”, it is impossible for a child to learn well on an empty stomach. As Ifeanyichukwu Ochei captured in his article “School Meals For All Nigerian Primary School Children?” When I was in primary school in the 1970s in England, hot school meals were provided daily for every school child. I have fond memories of those meals and I’m sure they helped me concentrate better in class and participate actively in school activities including sports. School lunch was an integral part of the school day. When we sat down to eat with fellow children and teachers it cemented relationships and help develop social skills”.
The project will improve child nutrition and drastically –reduce the chances of children falling ill. It will increase school enrolment, improve class attendance, concentration in class, and children learning ability.
Abia feeding school project conforms with Article 24 (2c) of Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that” States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures: (c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution. It tends to achieve one of the targets of the millennium Development Goal, which is to “ensure that children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. To reduce child mortality”.
According to Ochei, to maximize the benefits of providing healthy meals in our primary schools, government should combine this policy with maintaining and upgrading learning education facilities. Ikpeazu is noted for his proactive approach to issues and he has taken steps to address the concern raised by Ochei. He has also launched the “School Adoption Initiative.
The motive driving this project is the involvement of well- meaning individuals within and outside Abia to give back to the communities that moulded them, especially the schools that raised them.
By this arrangement, they are expected to adopt indigent pupils and volunteering to renovate the dilapidated structures of the schools. This is a departure from the old tradition whereby government renovates and equips primary schools project in rural, urban and semi urban areas.
In this approach, the worst primary schools in each of the local councils will e identified and given face lift with the hope that when the worst of these schools are upgraded, the effect on the entire primary school system will be enormous.
While the project aims at turning around the poorest primary schools across the state, it is also designed to give hope to pupils from poor schools by getting well-to-do individuals within and outside the state to adopt such schools and in the process enhance their fortunes and by extension the intellectual horizon of the benefiting pupils.
These novel initiatives by Ikpeazu are not surprising to Abians as he has maintained the culture of keeping to his campaign promises. Ikpeazu captured in his manifesto thus:”Having recognized the key role of education in our reform and repositioning of Abia State, we will drive incisive reform of the public education system. The reformed education system in Abia State will also boost our IGR base, and contribute to funding our other social and economic development programmes.
“Our focus on education will be extensive as we believe that the strength of Abia lies in her people. As such, the transformation of the education sector in Abia will involve both the public and private institutions. We will develop an all-inclusive master plan to drive development and progress within the sector. This master plan will incorporate restructuring the education curricula for primary, secondary and state-owned tertiary institutions to ensure our children and youths are empowered with sound knowledge and technical skills required to survive and add value in the ever-evolving labour market.
“We will promote the emergence of Abia as an education hub/destination by attracting and diligently fast-tracking the establishment of internationally recognized education providers in the state; taking advantage of the secure environment and social infrastructure we will provide”.
Ukegbu is SSA to Gov. Ikpeazu on media