Food Insecurity: Why Tinubu, lawmakers may soon clash

• Lawmakers’ Political Ambitions Threatened By Constituents
• Experts, CSOs Decry Weak Policies, Legislations On Food Security

There are indications that increasing food insecurity and the resultant high cost of living is putting some strains on the smooth relationship between the National Assembly and the executive arm of the Federal Government. Ahead of the resumption of both chambers of the National Assembly next Tuesday from their five weeks Easter/Sallah holiday, lawmakers are under pressure to sanction relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) over failures to checkmate the worsening food insecurity across the country. 

In the last 10 years, over 72 food-related legislative processes were initiated in the two chambers of the National Assembly but failed to produce desired results, given the apparent escalation of food insecurity in the country. It was gathered that the lawmakers, most of whom are currently threatened by constituents to show results or be voted out in 2027, are set for a showdown with the executive arm over what they called disregard for parliamentary resolutions.
Findings further revealed that members of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s economic team risk a no confidence vote by both chambers of the National Assembly for not executing parliamentary resolutions regarding food insecurity.  
With food inflation rate at 40.2 per cent, according to the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), prices of basic food items like garri, yam, beans, bread, rice, have risen far above the reach of ordinary people, a development that is fueling anger across the country. 
“The people we represent in the National Assembly are becoming too impatient with us because of the increasing cost of living. Calls for patience and understanding no longer make sense to them. I think we need to devise more proactive steps to address these issues in a manner that will make them see reason or risk being chased out of the National Assembly,” a lawmaker stated.
Another source of anger is what some legislators called poor attention to promotion of large scale farming in place of subsistence.  “It is very disturbing that Nigeria’s teeming population still largely depends on subsistence forms of agriculture as against highly mechanised farming in other parts of the world. What is even more dangerous is that at the moment, the country can boast of only 5,000 tractors! This officially came from the Agriculture minister himself just a few weeks ago. How can we promote extensive and mechanised farming with 5,000 tractors?” another senator queried. 
The Senate, prompted by its chief whip, Senator Ali Ndume, had adopted a resolution urging the Federal Government to introduce food stamps believing that the measure would provide temporary relief to the teeming population of hungry and angry Nigerians. The resolution has not been acted on by the executive arm of government, a development that has put more pressure on the relationship between the legislative and executive arms. 
Ndume had drawn attention to the danger of allowing the present level of food insecurity to persist, explaining that, “at the unveiling of the October 2023 Cadre Harmonisé Analysis on food insecurity, it was projected that in 2024, Nigeria is expected to see about 26.5 million people grappling with high level of food insecurity.”
Ndume said it was worrisome that many hungry and angry Nigerians have been expressing their frustration and anger over the recent increase in food prices by demonstrating on the streets in several cities across the country.
According to him, in other countries like the United States of America, Food Stamp, which is a government-issued coupon that is given to low-income and non-income persons, have been used since 1933 to date as a measure to cushion the resultant hardship and suffering on the poor/less privileged as well as low-income earners.
Meanwhile, a group of stakeholders in the agricultural sector under the aegis of Voices for Food Security (VFS) and Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum (NZHF) has insisted that the National Assembly should revisit and pass the Constitution Amendment Bill seeking to make food security a fundamental right of citizens. 
The group, led by VFS chairman, Prof. G. B. Ayoola, explained: “The aim of the bill is to address the successive failure of agricultural policies to ensure food security in Nigeria; given the philosophical context that there can be no food security without the right to food. Thus, the bill is geared towards a policy and practice change, from the traditional notion of food as a mere human need to the contemporary notion of food as a basic human right.
“Thus, food security is an end in itself but right to food is the means to reach that end.  Hence, as contained in the title of the bill, the purpose is to make provision for right to food and food security, both together in Chapter 2 (where it is not justiciable) and Chapter 4 (where it is justiciable).
“The bill was introduced to the National Assembly as a policy responsibility and accountability bill, seeking amendments of the constitution to introduce the words ‘right to food’ and ‘food security’ in Chapter 2 and Chapter 4 of the constitution.”
According to Ayoola, “the bill neither calls on the government to produce food for people free of charge nor places any financial burden on the government by any means. 
“The fundamental reason the National Assembly exists is to uphold the rights of citizens at all times, including the right to their freedom from hunger; and also to make laws to enable them enjoy the rights in full measure,” he stressed.
The group believes that if the bill is passed, “the Government of Nigeria will develop a better sense of policy responsibility and accountability in recognition of the words ‘right to food’, while the millions of people who are hungry in Nigeria will feel a deep sense of gratification thereby.”  
Ayoola added: “As originally stated in the draft bill, the obligation of the government in a right to food regime is threefold; i.e. to recognise, protect and, in special circumstances, to fulfill the right to food.”
According to him, “the right to food flows directly from the Charter of the United Nations and runs through the various conventions and protocols, all that Nigeria is a signatory to.”
Ayoola listed more statutes of the United Nations for upholding the concept of food as a right to include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; 1966 Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition (1974); Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975); General Comment on the Right to Life (1982); Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security and the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (1995).
President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, in an interview, expressed disgust at the rate farmers abandon their farms because of worsening security situation across the country.
“We are faced with so many challenges, especially now. The biggest challenge is insecurity. Farming is a rural vocation; there is some bit of urban agriculture and all that. But essentially it’s a rural vocation. You need to go to the villages and hinterlands to be able to do that. But if there is insecurity, you have no confidence in cultivating anything in those areas,” he said.
The AFAN president called on the government to put in place measures to address the surging inflation, which has continued to erode the value of the naira. Ibrahim further lamented the high cost of transportation and its effect on the cost of food in the country. According to him, transporting food from farmlands to the market has been a difficult task due to poor road infrastructure, which also encourages post-harvest losses.  He believes that achieving sustainable agriculture requires focus, education, mechanisation and storage, among other things.
“Nigeria’s agriculture needs higher investment than we have now from both the private sector and the government.
“A lot of things are happening; even embracing biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) foods to scale our productivity because of our growing population. Thirty years from today, Nigeria will have 400 million people. If today with 270 million people we are grappling with food security, what will happen in 30 years?” he queried.
In the House of Representatives, an earlier resolution to convene a National Summit on Food Security and Nutrition may be activated. The Green Chamber had also asked the Federal Government to improve on short-term food subsidies, assistance to farmers, especially those engaged in dry season farming, improved supply chain control to reduce wastage and short-term price control. 
These resolutions were sequel to a motion moved by Chike Okafor (APC, Imo), titled, ‘Food Scarcity in Nigeria, Nutritional Dangers and Urgent Need for More Government Remedial Measures To Address Food Shortages Ahead of the Rainy/Farming Season.’

In his debate, Okafor noted the spreading issue of food scarcity in Nigeria and the impending nutritional dangers that accompany it. “As we approach the farming season, it is imperative that we take immediate action to avert a worsening crisis and ensure the availability of food and the well-being of our citizens.

“The current state of food scarcity in Nigeria poses a grave threat to the health and livelihoods of millions of our people. Insufficient access to nutritious food not only leads to hunger and malnutrition but also exacerbates existing health conditions and undermines the overall development of our nation,” he noted.
Many senators have also initiated a series of bills to amend the constitution to improve food security situations in the country.  Among the amendments proposed are: A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Food Bank sponsored by former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Food Safety Council sponsored by Senator Mohammed Tahir Monguno and A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Food Reserve Agency sponsored by Senator Saliu Mustapha.
Prolonged insecurity in the North East and other parts of the country has had devastating effects on Nigeria’s food production, leading to the harsh reality confronting the nation.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, who stated this in an opening remark at a session in the House, noted that food shortage had affected socio-economic situations in the country, adding that the trend was posing an imminent threat to the country’s stability.
Assurances by the Agriculture minister, Senator Abubakar Kyari, about plans being put in place to expand food production by utilising the vast land available don’t seem to impress the lawmakers. 
In one of the sessions with the House of Representatives, Kyari, who lamented that Nigeria’s food production was largely dominated by small holder farmers who grow what to eat and survive with only little going out of their households, said plans were being put in place to expand food production by utilising the vast land available.
Kyari added that there were various programmes on ground involving thousands of farmers in the country to improve the production of rice, wheat, cassava and other crops.
The minister said the government had begun talks with large scale farming entities like WACOT, Olam and others for an intensive mechanised agriculture. He lamented that Nigeria, which needs over 70,000 tractors, currently has less than 5,000.
He, however, said the government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with an American company to bring 10,000 tractors in five years, adding that 2,000 are expected to arrive before the onset of wet season.
The minister also informed that a programme, Green Imperative, which is a $1 billion dollar arrangement to establish a one-stop shop agricultural service centre in all the 774 local councils, was also in the pipeline.


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