Sep 23, 2019

Nigeria And The Right To Food | Eberechi May Okoh

Following the President’s announcement last month that Nigeria had attained food security, questions arose from several quarters on food security in Nigeria. The underlying issue in any food security discourse is that the right to food is and must be recognized as a human right protected by law. Consequently, food security is a human rights obligation, not simply a preference or policy choice, or an aspirational goal.[1] The first instrument setting out the right to food was the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”).

It provides that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food.[2]  The provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, expanded this to include a right to adequate food. Several other international instruments abound. Though Nigeria ratified the ICESCR in 1993, the instrument is not yet domesticated. 

The right to food in Nigeria is provided under the Constitution as a non-justiciable right. The combined effect of not domesticating the ICESCR and making the right to food a directive principle means that the Nigerian Government cannot be held accountable for the current violations of the human right to food. Clearly, the right to food is meaningless unless it is upheld. [3]

 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the right to food does not imply that governments have an obligation to hand out free food to everyone who wants it. It is not a right to a minimum ration of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients, or a right to be fed. It is about being guaranteed the right to feed oneself. This implies availability, adequacy and accessibility. For Nigeria to be seen as protecting this right, workable policies must be in place to ensure the economic reality of the citizenry accords them availability, adequacy and accessibility to food.

Early 2018, Nigeria became the World Poverty Capital and has maintained the position to date. The statistics responsible for this include not only the insecurity crisis in the North but also lack of access to food in the South and the rest of the country. In a 2018 report, Action Against Hunger’s food security programs were said to have reached approximately 1 million people in 2018, while in Yobe, Borno and Jigawa States, their nutrition and health services supported approximately 2.7 million people.[4] The Lagos Bank Food has reached over a million beneficiaries especially between the ages of 0-16 in Lagos State in terms of food and relief materials.[5] Without question, the work of the FAO accounts for a high percentage of food aid in Nigeria. Then there are the undocumented accounts of food charity carried out by religious and non-governmental organizations. 

It is important to point out that the Government is the primary duty bearer of the right to food under international human rights law.[6] It is also notable that the obligation to ensure citizens have access to food is not diminished by a claim of scarce resources. The Maastricht Guidelines on violations of economic, social and cultural rights provide that scarce resources do not relieve States of minimum obligations. It also notes the need to differentiate between inability to comply with treaty obligations from unwillingness to comply.[7]

The likely way out might be for Nigeria to join the league of Nations that provide for the human right to food as an enforceable human right. In Nigeria, overconsumption occurs alongside underconsumption. Thus, the consideration should not be whether the country has adequate resources to protect this right positively but whether the country is committed to economic policies to ensure the Nigerian’s human right to food is protected.

By: Eberechi May Okoh 

[1] Ahluwalia Pooja, The Implementation of the Right to Food at the National Level: A Critical Examination of the Indian Campaign on the Right to Food as an effective Operationalization of Article 11 of ICESCR  (2004) 8  Center for Human Rights and Global Justice Working Paper, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Series 13.
[2] Article 25 (1) UDHR 1948.
[3] Pooja Ahluwalia (n1) 16.
[6] Girmay Teklu Analysis on Legal Status of The Right to Food 2019 7.1 Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs 361.
[7] Masstricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Maastricht, January 22-26, 1997. accessed 14 July 2019.