An exclusive interview with Prof. Gbolagade Ayoola, Chairman, Voices for Food Security [VFS] on the occasion to mark World Food Day at the National Agricultural Show Ground, Nasarawa State. Ayoola, who is also the President of Farm and Infrastructure Foundation, underscored the need for government to accord food security as a fundamental human right of the citizens enshrined in the Constitution, need for the passage of the Right to Food Bill before the National Assembly, among other sundry issues in the agricultural sector. He spoke to CHIBUZOR EMEJOR.
How would you assess the attendance of this year’s National Agricultural Show?
Thank you. We need to activate all the departments of this agricultural show such that the Show does not die. It is a wonderful legacy of past administration to accord the outputs of agriculture the status of a national show. It is very impressive and encouraging. Unfortunately, the show this year does not fall within the harvest season. Therefore, we have not seen several agricultural commodities we used to see. We have seen the software component of the agriculture, in terms of the intellectual and technology displays. We would like the organisers to keep it up. It is a very good thing to happen to Nigeria.
Considering the theme of this year’s World Food Day, which is,”Our Actions are our Future: A Zero Hunger World by 2030 is possible.” do you think that it is realisable and feasible to achieve zero hunger in Nigeria?
Why not? It has been realised in advanced countries across the world. It is simply because they have given the appropriate priority to agriculture, to food security in particular, that makes it possible for them to realise it. If we do the same, we are going to realise it.
What are the appropriate policies and priorities that made it possible for these countries to realise zero-hunger?
First and foremost, is that you cannot not achieve zero hunger without a policy environment that does not recognise food as a human right. That is my first criterion. When you recognise the policy about food as a fundamental human right of the people, you are helping them to generate demand. So, it is a demand management strategy. Demand of all kinds of food, micro food elements, macro food, the vitamins and the minerals, that we don’t consciously demand, we come to play because people will place demand for it. And as you demand in the market for certain food items, so the farmers will be responding to your demand pressure, by growing those things that you called for. They will be growing things that people actually need. That will translate to an improved income and livelihoods for famers so also it will translate to human capital development of the entire nation. People develop a nation. The body of the people is a machine. The fuel for that machine to work is food. When you are paying priority attention to food, you are actually developing the human capital base of that country to catapult itself to high level of Gross Domestic Products [GDP]. That is what we are looking for. So, we have been lackadaisical on how to grow the food sector. There are two critical pillars to develop the agricultural sector: one is the pillar of technology. We seem to be emphasising and over-emphasising technology. The other pillar is the policy environment. What government does, what government does not do, how well it does it, govern the effective use of machines. Therefore, to make things work, the two must balance each other. In that way, it is going to work to make this country get out of hunger.
I listened to you on a radio programme this morning where you talked about the Right to Food Bill, what does the Bill seek to achieve?
The name of the Bill is Right to Food Bill. It was introduced in 2010 at the House of Representatives to modify or amend Chapter Two of the Constitution that fails to give any recognition to World Food Security as a right. Unfortunately, at the end of that Assembly which was the sixth Assembly, we did not move more than the first reading stage. So in the 7th Assembly, we moved to the Senate. We re-introduced it. We now targeted it at amending Chapter Four of the Constitution where all types of fundamental human rights are listed. We want food to be part of them. We want to insert it there as a special clause. Unfortunately also, we did not move beyond first reading stage. We then re-strategised by combining the two bills together and moved to the two chambers of the National Assembly. And we have moved far enough. Within six months, the Bill has passed through first and second reading stages. I heard the National Assembly is skipping the public hearing because we have generated a lot of public awareness and support for the Bill. It is currently at the table of both Senate Committee on Human Right and House Committee on Human Right. They should please pass this Bill during this 8th Assembly.
When this Bill is eventually passed into law, can the government or any institution be taken to court for violation of the provision of this Bill on food security?
Yes, a right is a right. If anybody’s right is violated, he has that right to exercise it any way he likes. That is why we are carrying it from Chapter Two of the Constitution where its provision is not justice able to Chapter Four, where things are justice able. That is the strategy.
Sir, the implication is that the citizens can sue the government in case of any violation?
The citizens have the right under the law to sue. We have made some provisions with checks and balances to avoid frivolous litigations. We have put it in such a way that the Bill is a policy inducing bill. Not a bill to be used to fight. We want government to fear the right of the people so that the government can do the right thing. It is not necessarily to empower people to continue to take government to court. Look at the Freedom of Information Bill [FoI], how many people have taken the government to court, that was the fear. Because once you say it is now a right, government itself, becomes self-checking. And government will be afraid of being taken to court. If you go to any ministry and say you need any information, even if they don’t have such information, they will treat you respectfully, so that you don’t get annoyed and go to court. Except lawyers that will be arguing their cases in court, we have not heard of any body who has taken the government to court on the violation of FoI. That is what we intend to achieve. We want to situate the right to food in the proper context of Chapter Four of the Constitution. Government, in whatever they are doing, will seek to respect the right of the people. They will not only respect the right, they will fulfill and protect it under the law. Once they are respecting it, fulfilling and protecting it, nobody has any basis to take government to court. If you look at the societies that have grown, they have grown by applying the right approach to food security and agricultural governance, in the context of right that makes it work in other countries.
Before I we conclude, Prof, do you think that the present administration is doing enough to guarantee food security for Nigerian citizens?
Yes and no. Yes, every government, every minister is doing what is right in his own eyes.
Which may not be right in other people’s eyes?
Just let us limit it that way. So you cannot blame the government for not doing what you perceive as not being enough. To that extent, they are doing something. No, because subject to the constraints, that they face, they are not doing enough. The financial constraints, manpower constraints, foreign exchange constraints and other competing needs of the nation under which they function, they are not doing enough. We need to encourage government in this way. We are putting in place, policies that will gear them up. Otherwise, every government will do what is right in its own eyes.