Rights to Accommodation, Food, Education and Equal Opportunities


Rights to Accommodation, Food, Education and Equal Opportunities

Following the Delhi declaration (1959) and the Lagos Law (1961), the Rule of Law has been expanded to include the use of law for establishment of rights to food, medicine, shelter, education and employment. The Government of Nigeria accepted this in principle and provided for them in chapter II of Constitution.

In this article, we shall examine some of these Constitutional provisions.

After completing this article, you should be able to identify important economic, social and cultural rights, compare and contrast the above rights with other fundamental

Human Rights, indicate the extent to which the provisions of Chap II of the  Constitution are observed or violated and proffer solutions to the impasse between UDHR and ECOSOC Rights in Nigeria.


Specific ECOSOC Rights

Economic social and cultural rights (ESCR) include the rights to adequate food, to adequate housing, to education, to health, to social security, to take part in cultural life, to water and sanitation, and to work

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides for certain ECOSOC rights.

Let’s examine some of these provisions.

Section 14: The Government and the People:

1. The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principle of democracy and social justice.

2. It is hereby, accordingly declared that:

a. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.

b. The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government

c. The participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.


Section 16: Economic Objectives

The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring:

- That suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.


Section 17: Social Objectives

1. The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.

2.  In furtherance of the social order:

a.  Every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law

b. Governmental actions shall be humane

3. The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that:

a. Conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life.

b. There is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or any other ground whatsoever.

c. Children, young persons and the aged are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect.


Section 18: Educational Objectives

1. Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.

2. Government shall promote Science and Technology.

3. Government shall strive to eradicate literacy, and to this end, government shall as and when practicable provide:

- Free, compulsory primary education

- Free secondary education

- Free university education and

- Free adult literacy programme.

Compare and contrast fundamental Human Rights Declaration and

ECOSOC Rights and Chap II of the Constitution, 1999.


Also read: Fundamental Human Rights: Section 37, 38, 42 and 43 of the 1999 Constitution

Reality of ECOSOC Rights

We shall now relate these Constitutional provisions to such specific rights as accommodation, food, education and equal opportunities.


Right to Accommodation

a. See Sections 14 and 16 (2) (d) of the Constitution. Read the provisions over.

b. Compare the expectation of “suitable and adequate shelter” with the reality.

c. How near or far are we to housing for all citizens.

The economic laws of supply and demand interplay with the availability of housing units and population growth to impose on the majority of citizenry a deteriorating socio-economic condition.


Right to Food

a. See the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Sections 14, 16 (2) (d)

b. What do you understand by the term “suitable and adequate food”?

c. Consider the percentage contribution of agricultural sector to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

d. Consider also the capital expenditure on agriculture in relation to planned expenditure.

e. Look at the external trade and expenditure on importation of food items.

In situation where percentage contribution of Agriculture sector retrogresses, capital expenditure on agriculture declines and import of food items increases, there is likely to be deficiency in the quantity and quality of food supplies.

The obverse situation will also yield to enhanced quantity and quality of food supply.

Jenkins and Kposowa said:  “No matter what actions are taken now, living standards (in Africa and the rest of the third world) appear to set to decline for some time to come in the face of rapid population, growth and an accelerated deterioration in the size and quality of natural resources”.

As early as 1949, Lord Boyd-Orr noted: “the rapidly increasing population of the world, together with the decreasing productivity of the soil makes world famine as great a threat to our civilization as the atomic bomb”. Note the role of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP)


Right to Education

Read Section 18 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 once again. The government objective is to ensure that there are “equal and adequate opportunities at all levels” “as and when practicable”. Also note Section 14.

Ade Ajayi Nigeria and Education: The Challenges Ahead defines education as the ‘process by which every society, as a people, acquire the skills and resources necessary for its survival, and transmits this through formal and informal means to the next generation”.

Philosophers from Plato to Rousseau and Dewey have identified five bases for education: namely:

i. Education for civility and culture

ii. Education for individual empowerment

iii. Education for public enlightenment and democracy

iv. Education for manpower and economic development. v. Education for national power.

The National Policy on Education states that: Education is the most important instrument of change in any society.

Any fundamental change in the intellectual and social outlook of any society has to be preceded by an educational revolution…

The Federal Government shall undertake to make life-long education the basis for the nations education policy and that at any stage of the educational process after primary education, an individual will be able to choose between continuing his full-time studies, combining work with studies, or embarking on full-time employment without excluding the prospect of resuming studies later on.……

The education, system will be restructured to develop the practice of self-learning.”

Education is the most important instrument of meaningful change generally and fundamental change in the intellectual and social outlook in particular.

In all ramifications, education is the engine of development.

Consider the number of primary schools at independence (1960) and today.

Consider also the number pf secondary and tertiary institution in 1960 and today.

What is the learning population like at each tier?


Also read: Right to Life: Nigeria Abortion Law

Unemployment and Equal Opportunities

How has the Constitution provided for employment possibilities? See the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999:

1. Section 14

2. Section 16 (2) (d)

3. Section 17 (3) (a); (f)

The average unemployment rate ranges between 3.5 and 5.0. In Lagos State, this rate has been higher than 7.0.

However, unemployment and under employment (seasonal or structural) appear more critical than official statistics admit. The spate of retirements, dismissal and withdrawal of services is an exacerbating factor.


Equal Pay for Equal Work

The Constitutions provides that the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there is equal pay for equal work.

Does equal pay for equal work mean the same thing as equal pay for equivalent educational certificate? How does one measure the quantity or quality of work, in the private sector and the public sector for example?

Different states have different minimum wage. Does this reflect the policy of equal pay for equal work?

It used to be the practice that women enjoyed 12 weeks maternity leave when they were pregnant. And during the period, they received full salaries for the first 6 weeks and half salaries for the latter 6 weeks. 

In some other jurisdictions, (not Nigeria), the ratio of men to women salary is 10.9. This discrimination has been removed and women (to the exclusion of men) enjoy maternity leave with full pay.

The rights enumerated in Chaps II and IV may not be exhaustive. The maxim “expressio unius est exclussio alterius” does not seem to apply.

But Nigeria has no similarity to the IXth amendment to the US Constitution which provides that: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or dispense others retained by the people”.


Also read: Right to life Human Rights

The Constitution and the People

Are the provisions of chapter II of the Constitution binding or are they statements of contemporary political realities only to be observed or ignored at will by the government of the day?

The Preamble of Nigeria’s Constitution States “WE THE PEOPLE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” made, enacted and gave to ourselves the Constitution. The Constitution is an original law of the people. It operates with supreme authority and any government under it must act in accordance with it.

In Ghana and TC-had, it has been held that the Preamble to the Constitution cannot create legal right or obligation. It has mere moral force. Where it is intended to protect human rights, the normal method is to guarantee them in the substantive provisions of the Constitution; but the efficacy of such guarantee depends upon how it is formulated. An example can be found in the Central African Republican Constitution.


Judicial Interpretation

The judiciary does not inhabit a vacuum and cannot be completely isolated from the political realities and social pressures.

The Simon Commission on the Indian Constitution, 1930 states: “Abstract declarations are useless, unless there exists the will and the means to make them effective”.

An English judge with his positivist background would shun noble phrases, metaphysics and dialectical materialism. He would opt for pragmatism and literal interpretation.

The francophonic African is likely to respect all beliefs and attachments to the fundamental human rights provisions.

The Nigerian approach is a cautious one: - provisions are difficult to enforce; and their presence in the Constitution merely defines beliefs widespread among democracies and provides a standard to which appeal may be made by those whose rights are infringed.

In this view, chapter II provisions would be outside the purview of judiciary scrutiny and therefore legally ‘irredressible’ if they are breached. See (1) Archbishop Olubunmi Okojie V. Attorney – General of Lagos State (1981).

Sokefun has observed that the judicial attitude to the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy (Chap II) has consistently been one of non-justiciable. The provisions he said, are probably mere “homilies”.  Ipaye was obviously agitated.

He states: “the Constitution is always a serious document which essentially is an embodiment of the systems and principles according to which a state or organization is governed. Can it be acceptable that provisions or certain portions of the all-important document are merely inserted with no serious intention of pursuing and implementing them?”


The Modern Trend

There appears to be a gradual shift in the direction of a legal right to compel observance of these fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy in other jurisdiction: 

Let’s take the example of India.

1. Keshavananda Bharati V State of Kerala (1973):

The majority of judicial opinions was that what is fundamental in the governance of India cannot be less significant than what is significant in the life of an individual.

Mattew J. went as far as asserting that “in building up a just social order, it is sometimes imperative that the fundamental rights should be subordinated to directive principles”.

In Mohini Jain V State of Karnacata (1992), the Indian Supreme Court confirmed that the right to education is included in the concept of right to life.

The reason of the court is that one cannot have a meaningful and successful life without any education, more particularly in the present age of technology and information. 

The Supreme Court, in that case, declared invalid, a state law which permitted a medical college to charge expensive admission fees that in effect discriminated against poor applicants.

The Court in various divisions, have expanded the right to life to include:

a. The right to the means of livelihoods.

b. Right to Education: Krishna V State of Andhra Pradesh (1993).

c. “the right to live with humanity and all that goes with it, namely the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings.

The magnitude and components of this must include the bare necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human self”. [Francis Mullin V the Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi (1981)].

It would probably not be long for the Indian Court to hold that individual right to the dignity of human person encompasses the cognate rights to health, safety and welfare, all of which are conceived in ECOSOC Rights which are Nigeria’s fundamental objectives and directive principle of state policy.

Nigerian courts need to adopt a more activist posture and liberal interpretation of the constitutional provision so as to effectuate a full realization, enjoyment and protection of rights to basic essentials of life.

 Read on: Judicial Attitude to Individual or Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria

Conclusion on Rights to Accommodation, Food, Education and Equal Opportunities

In Nigeria, expenditure on social services is sharply down; over-all school enrolments are falling, shortage of food, deterioration in nutrient value and of calories deficiency continue to be high.

Unemployment and underemployment in the Urban, especially of graduates, is also on the increase. Livings standard appear set to decline for some time in the face of rapid population growth and an accelerated deterioration in the size and quality of natural resources.

These constitute erosion of right to life and right to human dignity. One cannot but feel much concerned that the objectives and Directive Principles are “homilies” and utopia. The state of affairs may linger on for some time or so long as the Legislature and the judiciary remains inertia.

The Constitution provides that the ideals of democracy and social justice, security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose and responsibility of government. Social justice implies moral principles such as that all people are equal and have access to basic necessaries of life, e.g. education, employment, shelter, food and Medicare. 

Security ranges from ability to protect both the collective national interests and the legitimate interests of the individual citizens and groups from internal and external threats to the physical, social, psychological quality of life of a society and its members both in the domestic setting and within the larger regional and global system.

The domestic socio- economic and political conditions of the state on which the tranquility and well-being of its citizens primarily depend are important and critical pre-conditions of its security.

Access to accommodation, food, education, medicine and employment therefore is a sine qua non to security. It is compelling in the circumstances to ask as Ipaye did: “Can it be acceptable that provisions or certain portion of the all-important document are merely inserted (in the Constitution) with no serious intention of pursuing and implementing them?”

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