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Senate constitution review committee to consider food as human right

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In the ongoing efforts to tinker with the 1999 Constitution, the Senate Committee on the review has been urged to consider the right to food of every Nigerian as part of the fundamental human rights ingrained in the constitution.

As food production, storage, processing, and marketing suffer challenges, lawmakers and policymakers are called upon to make the right to food a human right in the constitution to ensure accountability, good governance, policies and favourable environment for food production.

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A coalition of non-state actors and food-poor Nigerians, particularly the 75 million small-scale farmers, as well as 12 million people in chronic hunger, demanded the right to food of Nigerians without reservation, through a memorandum submitted to the Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution, Abuja, on June 4, 2021. 
 
A food right activists and president of the Farm and Infrastructure Foundation (FIF), one of the advocates, Prof. Gbolagade Ayoola, urged the committee to be positively disposed to recommending the Right to Food Bill currently pending before the Senate (SB Bill 240), in consideration of the attributes, values, and virtues of the bill.

The proposal requires the amendment in chapter two (Directive Principles of State Policy, wherein not justiciable), and in chapter four (Fundamental Human rights, wherein justiciable) of the constitution.

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By moving the food security provision from chapter two to chapter four, citizens can better engage the government over failure to make food available and affordable by not providing requisites such as irrigation facilities, rural road networks, market, and other rural infrastructure as well as enabling policies and resources, thereby influencing policy authorities to create an enabling environment and productivity and security of the farm population (crop and livestock farmers alike); these being the responsibility of the government and connected to food production and availability in all parts of the country.

“Our demand belongs to item eight on your agenda - Socioeconomic rights as contained in chapter two. In this regard, we seek to move the food security aspect to chapter four to make it a fundamental human right; one that is inalienable, actionable, justiciable and remedial by law. 

“In placing this demand, our memorandum was submitted in collaboration with several other actors: AFAN; FACAN; ASSAPIN; RIFAN, with the written endorsement by some of them (FMARD and AFAN) and also in partnership with NHRC, FCCPC and FAO. 

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“The problem pertains to pervasive nature of hunger in the land and other manifestations of food insecurity all over the country; the perennial policy failure to make the nation food-secure, so much without consequences on the policy authorities,” Ayoola said.

He added that making food availability non-actionable leads to policy impunity, policy instability and policy inconsistency on a widespread basis, hence the national population is perpetually at risk of hunger. 

The memorandum submitted to the committee also states: “Therefore, we seek to create a mind, policy and practice change, from the traditional notion of food as a mere human need to the contemporary notion of food as a fundamental human right. This is to engender better participation and inclusion in the policy process for achieving food security. 

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“The policy participation theory at work here states: ‘When people from low and middle-income levels participate in economic development policy discussions (by right, not by need only) locally, nationally, regionally or globally, they can bring a deeper understanding of the social, political and economic context of government policies, compared to policy or political elites and experts. 

“This brings about more participative and more inclusive policy debates that lead to more effective policy choices and more sustainable development outcomes that better respond to local needs, such as food.’”

The advocates said the right to food is a universal policy anchored on human rights principles, and this reflects in many treaties and conventions that Nigeria is a signatory to but not complied with to date.

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Such treaties, they said, include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights 1948; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966; Rome Declaration on World Food Security 1996; UN Resolution 23 on Food Security 1998 and the African Charter on Human Right 1986.

They said the “Right to food is about enabling the government to prioritise food security on top of policy agenda, and also about making government accountable for the perennial policy in the agriculture sector.”  

They prayed the committee to consider the Right to Food Bill favourably and recommend it for passage by Senate in due course.

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A professor of root and tuber breeding, Lateef Sanni, also declared support for the movement, saying any legal or constitutional backing to support food production, processing, storage, value addition and availability should be embraced by lawmakers.

“Any legal provision that will assure the populace, especially the downtrodden, access to affordable quality and nutritionally balanced foods are recommended for immediate implementation,” Sanni said.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Wole Owaboye, expressed reservation over the ability of the change or movement of a part of the constitution to another part to impact positively on food production.

He said: “I wouldn’t know how moving from chapter two to four will help galvanise implementation, as our major headache in this country is the implementation of policies. If it would, in any way, then it should be tried.”

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