Ideally, the debate about our Jollof rice shouldn’t have been about whether or not it is the best around the globe as much as the appeal that comes with its exceptionality. Afterall, Nigeria is a rare country with diversities that are unmatchable in several respects. We are simply a mix of wonderful people with breathtaking creative far beyond what the most delectable delicacies could approximate. To a large extent therefore, the uniqueness of Nigerian jolly rice could not easily be dismissed even if there are still preferences here and there outside our shores. Thus said, it would also appear the challenge with us a nation partly fits into the trouble with our jollof rice. Whichever way we perceive the delicacy; whether we like or hate it; eat or even detest it, there is something about jollof rice that is peculiarly Nigerian.
To a greater extent therefore, the tendency to take out of context; the high level debate elicited by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Information and Culture Minister and amplified by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo over the extraordinariness (or exaggeration of it) of our jollof rice fittingly explains why Nigeria is simply unbeatable in many respects. Those who argue there is nothing to belabour over this seemingly harmless issue are simply missing the point! The hoopla essentially boils down to the vibrancy of debate we accord issues rather than the irresistibility or otherwise of this popular Nigerian stable meal. But how exactly did CNN’s Richard Quest come about the brain-teaser; the billion dollars question that got Alhaji Lai Mohammed off guard? Quest meant business no doubt, but what exactly was he dragging at when he sought to know if our Jollof Rice was in anyway comparable with those of other countries like Senegal?
Unfortunately, the political economy of jollof rice would appeared to have been grossly underscored or underserved as much of the debate has not really dwelled on great expanse of spot occupied by the meal in social and domestic menu across the country. But if Alhaji Lai Mohammed had availed his sense of patriotism the full regalia, so to speak, by adjudging our jollof rice as one of the great things to have happened to Nigeria, trust his countrymen and women would still have reacted with overwhelming negative condemnation. The minister would have been upbraided for reducing Nigeria to a mere jollof rice eating country of unserious people in the comity of less- gluttonous nations.
For volunteering his opinion on what he considered a harmless engagement with a otherwise non-critical enquiry, the honourable minister must have learnt some few new things about how not to handle potentially sensitive issues like jollof rice. Poor Lai Mohammed, he apparently now understands better that even the supposedly common jollof rice is as delicate as other troubling issues in Nigeria. Any wonders then that Vice President got much less than an applause; and if not close to a scolding for putting up what looked like a spirited effort at setting the records straight over the jollof rice debate? Going by reactions that trailed the Vice President’s comment in a widely televised May Day programme, it was obvious Nigerians were not impressed by his daring affirmation (face-saving so it seems) of the ordinariness of jollof rice from other lands compared to ours which he acknowledged as the best in the world!
And coming on a day the Vice President also attempted yet another deafening definition or characterisation of another burning national issue; which amounted to a futile severance of the umbilical cord linking corruption and stealing, his patriotic gauntlet fell flat on an unyielding ground. It thus appeared neither has the Vice President learnt enough from the fate of the Hon Minister Lai Mohammed nor from the faux pas of former President Goodluck Jonathan with respect to the conundrum of corruption and stealing. It is the way with jollof rice; a metaphor of a sort for the many afflictions of the country. You may have had enough of jollof rice; but you can’t avoid its ubiquitousness; the undying; delicate recurrent decimals in a continuous national dialogue.
On a final note, it is crystal clear the chief protagonists of the debate over our jollof rice may not even know as much as the rest of us on this issue that seems so harmless but nonetheless sensitive. It is not unlikely both the vice president and the information minister may not be aware there are Nigerians who would not venture into the business of consuming this delicacy at the ever-bustling (Owambe) social gatherings that have become thriving business in the country for reasons which include inclinations for expertise and other preferences that go with jollof rice. One of the jokes about jollof rice is that handlers have mastered the skill of deploying the delicacy to a shelf-life that survives events regardless of the duration. And not to forget that jollof rice as a prominent feature of stomach infrastructure is fast replacing the Amala delicacy in its territory! There is much more about jollof rice that the world could learn from Nigeria. Maybe Richard Quest should return for the real business of exploring the political economy of jollof rice and to really unearth why jollof rice may have truly originated from Nigeria.
This article was first featured in HARDBEAT COLUMN; INDEPENDENT SUNDAY, 7th May, 2017