I have some dear Sierra Leonean friends as brothers.Their staple food is rice. And for me a proxy Sierra Leonean worth my salt, I don’t monkey with our rice. Yes, even though Sierra Leone is a poor country, if you were to ask us if we have had either our breakfast, lunch or dinner, we would ask you: is it Rice? We can have rice in the morning, afternoon and evening no matter the circumstances. Therefore, because of the special relationship which I have forged with my Salone brothers over the years, together with the avuncular role which one of them has played in my life, I have mastered the fine art of taking my rice with well-prepared Okro soup. Don’t wince. Try it. As a matter of fact, rice with Cassava leaves is a delicacy you might not want to look down on, especially when you consider that rice and stew very plenty helps cholesterol build up in your body.
But with us here in Naija, our delicacy is the world-famous swallow – eba, amala, tuwo masara, pounded yam, six-to-six aka Santana, packet shirt or Man power. While our Sierra Leone brethren eat rice 24/7, I know a great many Nigerians who would rather ‘swallow’ come rain come shine. For most of us Nigerians, rice may not be the king of our foods. It is either food for children or just culinary delight for spicing up occasions like weddings, birthdays and funerals. If you go to any party and people see you eat rice, you immediately become the butt of criticism.Most Nigerians will not eat rice at a party if there’s well-prepared pounded yam & Egusi/Ogbono soup with correct bush meat and kpomo.The latest world heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, even confirmed that Egusi soup and pounded yam is his secret pugilistic weapon. We can compare the way our society perceives you if you are eating rice at parties with the way Ebenezer Obey says society perceives you if you attend parties and go drinking Coca-Cola. And because of the special status we ascribe to our rice, it becomes a metaphor of sorts and comes in various varieties – white, brown, Abakaliki, fried and Jollof.
I don’t really like rice, and I am happy that we don’t produce it here the way we produce oil. In countries where rice production is at its peak, temperatures peak too: the reason is that whenever the husk from growing rice falls into the marshes of rice, it produces a dangerous gas which bites into the ozone layer and depletes it. I don’t likeJollof rice, aka concoction rice as well. Fried rice, yes, is more like it maybe because of the coat of many colours which the fried rice wears – from the carrots, green beans, onions and spices that accompany the meal. I know what’s inside those carrots, lettuces, green beans and so I don’t joke with them. The sight of the world famous Nigerian Jollof rice sometimes irritates me and if you catch me having it for dinner or lunch, chances are that am too famished to complain or that I have no other options. Unlike the Sierra Leonean rice which is healthy, Jollof rice is a mishmash of oils and processed tomatoes.
But hey, no matter individual preferences Nigerians love Jollof rice. It holds a special place in ouralimentary canals. For some, if there are special occasions and there’s no Jollof rice, the occasion ceases to allure. Just recently there’s been an orchestra of voices raised against our beloved Lai Mohammed. He had said to CNN’s Richard Quest that Senegalese Jollof rice is better prepared than ours. Thus, he stirred a rice debate which even Mr. Vice President got himself involved, and in stout defence of our Jollof rice as better than the Ghanaian and Senegalese.
I wouldn’t know about that. But I really must say this: Jollof rice is a metaphor for those little comforts in life which would make our lives a bit special. Jollof rice is power supply; it is food on our tables and it is good hospitals and good roads. Under these difficult times, if you’re not living on a street in Benin city where there’s a government official, you cannot get power supply. Your road will never be tarred. Solar street lights adorn only the house of the local demagogue. In today’s Nigeria, if you’re not close to some people in public office, there’s nowhere in hell you’ll be able to get near that plate of national Jollof rice. In the days when I was a child, I would hear people talk about the national cake. But now we look so like the French of 1789who had no bread, who asked for it and were asked to go get cake if there was no bread. Our national cake has long been eaten up, and getting a plate of Jollof rice today is really hard.