Right to food Act: Nigerians Must Not go to Bed on Empty Stomachs
Right to Food Act: Nigerians Must Not Go to Bed on Empty Stomachs
By Prof. M.K. Othman
Professor Gbolagade Ayoola is an obscure personality among the downtrodden Nigerians, the category of people he has doggedly fought for all his life. If Nigeria is a country that recognises and celebrates heroes and fighters of human rights, Ayoola would have been the Mahatma Gandhi of Nigeria; his portraits and objects immortalising him would have littered every nook and cranny of Nigeria.
Today, we are grateful for Ayoola’s success in drafting the Right Food Act, which allows Nigerians to hold their elected officials accountable and even take them to court if they go hungry.
The government is not required to provide food for the people free of charge. However, the government has a constitutional responsibility to formulate and implement policies to ensure all Nigerians’ right to food and food security.
Failure of government policies to guarantee people access to qualitative food empowers the people to take the government into account. It means the government of Nigeria bears legally enforceable obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the right to food for citizens based on treaty obligations and existing laws.
The right to food is in tandem with the right to life, as access to food is necessary for human survival. It is also part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger in all its forms worldwide before the year 2030.
Prof. Ayoola resigned from his teaching job at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, when he realised the enormity of the fight to draft the Right to Food Bill and transform it into an Act. It took Prof. Ayoola 16 years of struggle, disappointments, delays, unquantifiable financial resources, and man-hours before the bill was signed into law.
This is why ordinary Nigerians should celebrate Prof. Ayoola. Alas, Nigerians celebrate money bags irrespective of how they emerge; they celebrate kleptocratic politicians. That is why Prof. Ayoola and his co-travellers are relatively unknown and uncelebrated, despite their dogged fight and subsequent constitutional victory in ensuring that Nigerians’ right to food is guaranteed. Prof. Ayoola deserves one of the highest national awards.
It all started in the early 2000s, when Prof. Ayoola was teaching agricultural economics at the university. He worried about how Nigerians were going to bed on an empty stomach despite their tireless effort to earn a living and decided to change the narrative. He initiated a ferocious war to eradicate hunger in Nigeria using his intellectual capabilities.
Being a field man, he knew the vastness of Nigerian agricultural potential—land, favourable climate, active labour, and technologies—and the missing link—enabling policy and strategy. So, addressing the missing link is the fulcrum of his war, which requires time, financial resources, and effort. That knowledge made Ayoola prepare for a total fight for victory. He developed and sponsored a private constitutional bill at the National Assembly and the 36 state assemblies.
The bill was to make access to quality and nutritious food in the correct quantity a fundamental human right for all Nigerians. Efforts and time were essential in making the bill see the light of day.
Prof. Ayooola realised he could not put in the required effort and time while still teaching at the university, so he resigned from his lucrative teaching career to dedicate himself to the fight. While Prof. Ayoola maintained his arrowheadship, he gathered like minds.
He ensured the right to food was pursued as a bill to become an act at the 6th Assembly (2007–2011), 7th Assembly (2011–2015), 8th Assembly (2015–2019), and 9th Assembly (2019–2023), which eventually was assented to by the former President Muhammadu Buhari on March 3rd, 2023.
The bill was a constitutional issue and, therefore, was required to be passed by two-thirds of the state House of Assembly.
Thus, the fight was extended from the national to the state level, which made 27 state houses of assembly pass the bill into law. The state assemblies’ passage of the bill surpassed the 24 state houses of assembly required for it to become a constitutional act. What is the Food Rights Act?
It is an act that altered “the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to require the government to direct its policy towards ensuring the right to food and food security in Nigeria, and for related matters.”
Furthermore, the Act states, “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (in this Act referred to as “the Principal Act”) is altered as set out in this Act.” The Principal Act is altered by substituting the words “suitable and adequate food” for “right to food and food security” and “food security.” What is the responsibility of the government to ensure the right to food and food security?
The Act states: “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that strategies that guarantee the food security of the nation regarding the availability, accessibility, and affordability of food to the citizens are reinitiated, undertaken, and implemented;
1. The means of production, conservation, and distribution of food are upgraded and improved upon continuously, and
2. Adequate measures are provided to ensure that no individual, group, or institution compromises the nation’s food security.
3. The state shall promote and sustain activities that enhance food security.”
Are federal and state government policies addressing these three key strategies? Are the activities of bandits and insurgents not compromising food security?
The federal government is certainly not sleeping on the issue. President Tibunu’s declaration on food security and the name change of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security may not be unconnected to the emergence of the Right to Food Act. The declaration was a comprehensive intervention plan on food security, affordability, and sustainability, taking decisive action to tackle food inflation.
The intervention plan stated twelve key actionable points. They include a directive for immediately releasing fertilisers and grains to farmers and households and creating a synergy between the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources for irrigation and all-year-round farming.
Now that the Act is about ten months old, what is the food security situation?
The situation is dicey as the astronomical rise of inflation denies many Nigerians food on their tables.
Recently published West Africa Regional Supply and Market Outlook, published jointly by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), and others, has predicted notable annual declines in national cereal production in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali. What is the way out?
As written in this column a few weeks ago, the food security situation in Nigeria is a precarious ailment defying treatment but not a hopeless case. It requires persistent, diligent, and collective action to energise the food security programme in the right direction.
Constitutionally, agriculture is on the concurrent list, empowering state governments to formulate and implement policies for the development of agriculture in their states. However, most states are giving lip service to the agricultural sector through low budgetary allocation and untimely release of funds. State governments have to join hands with the federal government to implement strategies for making food available and accessible with nutritious values, as stated by the Food Rights Act.
Professor Gbolagade Ayoola has done his job; it is now the responsibility of all Nigerians to task our leaders for the full implementation of the Right to Food Act until hunger is eradicated in Nigeria. Nigerians must not go to bed on an empty stomach. This is a clarification call.
The Right to Food Act: Nigerians Must Not Go to Bed on Empty Stomachs