Jonathan’s bitter recipe – by Jaafar Jaafar
Lawal, a 40-year-old driver, headed home from work, January 12. Near to his No. 3 Kazeem Street, Ketu, Lagos residence he saw that a crowd had gathered in his compound screaming. He lost his temper when he saw so many women shouting and disturbing the peace. Lawal decided to tongue-lash the woman shouting the loudest. But he was stopped on his tracks.
“Your son went into my kitchen and ate the food I kept for my children,” one of the women shouted at him.
“I felt so ashamed, I almost cried,” Lawal said.
I culled the foregoing excerpts from Newswatch edition of February 13, 1989, in which the magazine made a cover story on the hardship of Nigerians induced by IBB’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
Sounding like a funny anecdote, Lawal’s story, on the contrary, is real. I remembered his predicament when my 11-month-old daughter, Fatima, threw a tantrum and kicked a tin of Cerelac in protest for swapping her usual cereal, Frisocrem Gold. I had to find a cheaper alternative as the tot seemed to devour the tin of the stuff almost every other day.
Fatima’s roaring gluttony in the past few months informed my decision to find alternative that is commensurate with my income. Should we mix it with garri to swell up the mixture? I dropped the idea on the premise that it will be tough for her pint-size stomach. Koko? Yes, koko will be better.
The stories of Lawal and Fatima tell us lessons about life in the multi-strata Nigerian society and how often change brings rage. Whenever I reflect Lawal’s travail, I tell myself that Fatima’s cry is of joy – against Lawan’s cry of biting poverty.
Recently, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, further reiterated the federal government’s decision to decide what Nigerians eat. Before the malnourished nation, the minister said wheat and flour imports would now attract 65 per cent levy and 35 per cent duty. In a plain language, the federal government wants to check both the availability and affordability of wheat to Nigerians.
I actually can’t fathom the logic for this decision. I don’t know how cassava bread tastes but I can recall the oral torment I had when I tried chips with ogbono soup in the absence of ketchup at a restaurant in Enugu.
While the minister’s above statement only latently poisoned our bread, her further ranting poured the whole cyanide into the bread.
She said government would be committed to cassava bread because of its far-reaching benefits to the economy, noting that the Cassava Flour Development Fund (CFDF) would also be established to strengthen the technological and manpower capacities for the development of cassava value chain. I don’t know much about this value chain thing, but whatever economic benefit cassava can bring, wheat, cocoa, groundnut, oil palm or tomato can also bring if government shows commitment to their production.
Wikipedia has this sickening detail about cassava: “…Cassava contains anti-nutrition factors and toxins… Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis.”
And Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Dr Akinwunmi Adesina has this to say: “cassava bread is healthier because the glycaemic index of the cassava bread is lower than that of wheat bread.”
Even if we brush aside these technical details, we must take into cognizance the fact that food is a matter of choice not compulsion. The fact of the matter is that cassava bread is euphemism for garri bread. While those who formulate the policy can still buy 100 percent wheat flour bread, the poor would be forced to live on garri bread.
By waging war against wheat, the FG has impliedly made not only bread out of reach but other local delicacies and snacks like algaragis, sandar ba’are, tayota, fanke, bandashe, among others. Nigerians should now be ready to eat garri spaghetti, garri macaroni, garri vita and garri biscuit. In the new cassava regime, meat pie will now be rechristened ‘wheat pie’ because the cost of the flour will be up against the meat.
I keep wondering what sin has wheat or flour committed to incur excommunication from our table. Is it because the wheat flour is so expensive to Nigerians that the president decided to lace our bread with garri? What have we done to Jonathan? Is he not aware of the fact that bread is delicacy in Nigeria?
Had President Jonathan wanted Nigerians to savour their meal, mass cocoa production should have been encouraged in order to return Nutella and Pronto to our table. Nicco Sweet, Goodie-Goodie or Zig-Zag chocolate bars can also edge out ta-malo and awara in our children’s lunchbox. Mass dairy production should also be encouraged to make Carnation or Nido affordable to Nigerians as obtained in the past. Imagine how yummy would it taste for hallaka kwabo, dan tamatsitsi or ta-malo to be mixed with chocolate!
If there’s abundance of cocoa, against superabundance of cassava, Nigerians would be better off. Why can’t the FG encourage the production of the wheat itself? Simply, they hate to see us eating bread without grimacing. Why not tomato? Of course they hate to see Vegfru or Ciao return to the common man’s table. And they still want jar miya (stew) to remain elitist. The tomato glut we have every year in the North is evident in the way the commodity is dried on the roadside. Why didn’t government prevent this wastage by setting tomato processing plant at least at Kadawa?
FG has forgotten the fact that our livestock do not only prefer wheat chaff but detest cassava leaf and its byproduct because of the poisonous content. Even the shelf life of cassava flour is also relatively short. So chances are that our bread would be affected as some unscrupulous bakers may likely use expired garri (sorry, cassava) flour in their bakeries.
We need not just let this crass arbitrariness against bread go unchallenged. It deserves bashing because the rich don’t and won’t eat cassava. They can’t even eat our manually-kneaded bugun ‘kato let alone a bread made of cassava. How can we believe what these corruptocrats just claim they eat, while they feed fat on our commonwealth under oath?
Take note, even if they do not substitute cassava bread with Baker’s Delight, I believe Jonathan and his cassava campaigners would toast the cassava bread with eggs and fish or use butter or jam to counterbalance its bitterness.
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