Cassava Bread for Chika

My bodily absence from the Nigeria amalgam has denied me the deepest longings of my taste buds and alimentary canal.

Though in a foreign land, yet each morning my ever patriotic eyes would scan the breakfast table in the hope of chancing upon the only bread made in Nigeria, by Nigerians, for Nigeria – cassava bread.

alt

It is hard to come to terms with the futility of my cravings, but I must wait until the soles of my shoes scratch the now renovated tiles of the Arrival Hall of Murtala Mohammed Airport, before the floor of my tongue will rest upon the presidential delicacy.

Why am I desperate for a taste of the cassava bread? Because it represents the government’s first – admittedly wobbly – steps at steering the country towards self-sufficiency in food production.

I had written an article in 2010, during the early days of President Jonathan’s administration, questioning the lifting of the ban on importation of cassava and toothpicks (Click here to read http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17238&Itemid=46 ). I would not delude myself with the thought that Mr. President read my article and decided to retrace his steps by the recent ban on importation of cassava flour. I would rather think that the viewpoint of the majority was tantamount to making that decision.

The salient point is that Nigerianization seems to be holding out a place in the policy decisions of the present administration. It appears the government is picking up interest in searching out and enforcing indigenous pathways for the country’s advancement.

Regrettably, succeeding government policies and decisions have been largely inconsistent on the issue of home grown alternatives to Nigeria’s growth. However, Nigerians - not untypical of the can-do spirit in us – have, on their own, pursued the Nigerianization option towards self-sufficiency.

Take the two very influential soft power areas of entertainment and fashion, for instance.

Just a little over ten years ago, the average Nigerian youth waited with bated breath for the release of the latest music album of American and British artistes. Remarkable Nigerian musicians were few and far between. With most lacking in originality, the Nigerian music industry was a mass of hustlers content with a few CD sales of shamelessly remixed American songs.

Today, the Nigerian music scene will be unrecognizable to the Andrew who checked out a decade and half ago. Several Nigerian artistes are appealing to both the younger and older generation. With fans spread across Africa, Europe and the United States, it is only a question of a few years before Nigerian musicians will become the most globally renowned. I know that someday soon, I will be proud, factually I mean and not philosophically, of being Nigerian. Dbanj, Asa, Tuface, Psquare and the many more rising artistes will make that happen.

Let’s talk about Nollywood, an industry that most middle class Nigerians, to show classiness and sophistication, have learnt to dismiss as senile. The greatest accolade I have received as a Nigerian in my sojourn to several African countries, and among Africans in the Western Diaspora, is about Nigerian movies. How many times has life almost been squeezed out of my delicate hands by a delighted fan of the Nigerian movie industry? I have been asked several times if I was Omotola, to which, flattered by such unintended compliment, I would demurely say no and ask if we are look alikes, hoping to be reassured for a second time.

Apart from its unfortunate christening, Nollywood is authentically Nigerian. Down to the hurried way it is produced and packaged, it is us. We are a people in a hurry, take a trip down Broad Street and see for yourself.

We talk a lot – the long scenes in Nollywood movies attest to that.

Why critic the overly supernatural content of Nollywood movies? Open the average national daily in Nigeria and headlines such as “Man turns to Goat at Police Station” “Prostitute turns to Snake after Marathon Session with Top Government Official” “Cleric Predicts Impending Doom in the Coming Year” appear as normal to the Nigerian reader.

Must prayers solve all problems in a Nollywood movie? Well , in real life, we as Nigerians seem to believe so. “It is well” is liberally used in official and unofficial conversations, and across boardrooms and bedrooms, “It is not my portion,” is a much welcome positive affirmation.

It would amount to a waste of hard earned Naira to buy even the more widely available pirated CD of any gospel song in Nigeria, just make a call to a friend, acquaintance or customer care number and you are assured that the ring tone will be gospel music. If one is crunched for airtime to make calls, s/he need only take a casual stroll down the street to freely lift up his/her soul on the music blaring from roadside shops, restaurants and residential homes. We are a people of faith.

The world’s most prolific movie industry, Nollywood turns over a conservative estimate of $500 million USD annually. A New York Times February 12, 2012 report ranks Nollywood a little below Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenue, and emphasizes that it is one of Nigeria’s largest source of private sector income, that is, aside from oil, banking and telecommunication. I hasten to add that there is enormous room for improvement, but that will only come by understanding and appreciating Nollywood and never by castigating and dismissing it.

In fashion, I predict that in next 5-10 years, Ankara fabrics and home sown styles will become official dressing for corporate entities like banks, telecommunication firms and other establishments in Nigeria. Already, graduates and Masters degree holders from Nigeria and abroad are coming down from their intellectual high-horse to bow to the scissors and tape if they must survive.

Nigeria’s fashion industry is worth billions of dollars, but since it is largely in the informal sector, it will be difficult, if not impossible to get a close enough estimate. It employs hundreds of thousands of household heads, and Nigerians are becoming known for being extremely creative and fashionable with the African fabric. What remains is the growth of the textile industry to ensure that not just the downstream end of the industry, but also the upstream is in the hands of indigenes. That is a pertinent assignment for the present administration.

Is it then Uhuru for Nigeria? Not yet. We have not started, but we have scratched the surface. We must learn to explore and extol our achievements in order to spur us to grow more. Continuous and unending negative criticism will blur the lines and leave us depressed and feeling unworthy of any progress. We are making progress.

What we need are more authentic, Nigerian based innovation in all fields, this includes education, agriculture, architecture, business, ICT, arts, engineering etc. Most importantly, is the need for the political will; skillful, consistent and strong political will to make Nigeria a truly independent country.

Beyond a public show of cassava bread and Ofada rice consumption, the government must as a matter of urgency embark on rigorous, serious and sustainable campaign to encourage the growth of indigenous systems and solutions in all fields.

Only babies are fed what others determine for them. Nigerians are not babies, we must cultivate and eat our own food, produce, sew and wear our own clothes, dance to our music, uniquely design and build our own homes with locally sourced materials, develop ICT solutions for the specific issues that plague us as a people, transform our academic curricular to embody our societal needs, reform our legal system, the list is endless. Only in indigenous solutions to indigenous challenges can the key be found that will ultimately lead to authentic advancement for Nigeria.

Chika is the author of Before We Set Sail www.beforewesetsail.com. English and French versions of some of her essays can be read at www.chikaforafrica.com



Please register before you can make new comment