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.
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
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.