Tales the country told me: Hilda Baci and Seun Kuti

Wed, May 17, 2023
By editor
13 MIN READ

Opinion

By Reuben Abati 

TWO major events dominated the headlines in the weekend that just passed in Nigeria: the heroism, determination and the example of Ms. Hilda Effiong Bassey, known as Hilda Baci for short, and the sordid drama of Seun Kuti, son of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the eternal music icon, pushing, slapping and assaulting a policeman in uniform. Both subjects deserve commentary. But let’s start on a positive note, represented by Hilda Effiong Bassey, the Nigerian food entrepreneur, or chef, 27, who made up her mind that she wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by beating the longest cooking marathon record by an individual set by Lata Tandon, an Indian Chef in 2019. Tandon cooked non-stop for 87 hours and 45 minutes. Nigeria’s Ms Baci decided that she would break that record and cook non-stop for 100 hours. The event took place at Amore Gardens in Lekki, Lagos. She turned on her oven and cooker on Thursday, May 10, and indeed till Monday morning, Baci kept dicing, frying, cutting, cooking, baking and ended up achieving her target. By the time she reached the significant mark of 87 hours and 50 minutes, she had already broken the world record, but she kept going. Nigerians are an interesting lot. Who would ever have thought that culinary skills could bring so much fame and history? There are many lessons and issues to be extracted from the Hilda Basi cook-a-thon that Nigerians just witnessed. 

The first is that Nigerians are a creative and resourceful lot and should they put their minds to anything, they are capable of excelling at. These are the same people that President Muhammadu Buhari once referred to as “diamonds”, who represent the hope of the nation for the present and the future. When a gifted Nigerian seeks to excel, he or she does so. Ms Baci’s achievement is an indication of the can-do spirit of the Nigerian. The international community often complains about the unusual capacity of Nigerians for fraud and criminality, within the local and international arena, but there are in reality more Nigerians doing great things. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is representing us well at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Aminat Muhammed is a strong official at the United Nations in her position as a Deputy Secretary General. Asisat Oshoala, MON, is a big star in European women football. Tobi Amusan is world record holder in long jump.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a leading writer and voice in the global space of culture and literature. There are Nigerians occupying political positions in Canada, UK, Ireland and elsewhere.  We have Nigerians in the US military, in the US NASA programme and in the commanding heights of global trade and economy. Hilda Effiong Bassey has chosen cooking and are we delighted? Yes, we are. 

The second thing to say is: Congratulations to her on this remarkable feat, and her admirable qualities, now well-advertised of tenacity, of purpose, vision and determination. Nobody, she teaches us, by the way, can achieve anything in this life, except you set a purpose for yourself and pursue it. It will be recalled that in 2021, this same Ms. Baci won the Jollof Face-Off competition, and got a grand prize of $5, 000. But that was not enough for her. She wanted a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. And now here she is.  Every great achievement begins with a dream and the capacity to pursue that dream and stretch the dream to the end of the street. As of the time of this writing, we understand that Chef Hilda has stretched her target from 96 hours to 100 hours! Hilda, you too much oh! Indeed, because, despite all the good things that we have said about the Nigerian spirit, there are many of our compatriots who want the easy way out, they fake it, they cheat, they tell lies, they want the glamour but they do not want to apply themselves. Hilda Baci has just reinforced a simple lesson of life: that the surest way to distinction is through hard work, focus and rigorous self-application.   It bears no stating that cooking for more than 90 hours, with short intervals of rest as allowed by the rules is excruciating rigour. Many marriages have been ruined because some other women can’t even spare 30 minutes to cook for their own children. 

The third lesson is the innate Nigerian love for success, glory and achievement that is within us all. Nigerians have an inner craving for good things and when they see it, they gather around it like bees around nectar. This is what has happened with the Baci story. As she cooked, Nigerians trooped to the Amore Gardens in Lekki to hail her and offer support. Celebrities trooped to the venue in their uncountable numbers. Churches of the white garment variety kept vigil, calling on God to see her through. The Governor of Lagos visited. Senators of the Federal Republic led by Senator Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom North West, who wants to be Senate President by autocratic party anointment, also joined the cheer-leaders. Hilda Baci is from Akwa Ibom State. No other event unites Nigerians like that, apart from football. It rained overnight. The people refused to leave.  In football, and now in a cooking event, Nigerians have suspended their differences. They don’t think of ethnicity or religion, or geography. They have come together as one nation, united for the glory of the nation. Baci drew support across all the centrifugal borders of Nigeria. Her supporters in fact defied the rain. It rained heavily in the night of Sunday to Monday. The people refused to go home. They stayed under the heavy rainfall, and kept singing.  It was one of those rare occasions when we are reminded that this is a country after all. Thank you Baci, for reminding us with your culinary skills that it is possible to have a nation. Nations are made through symbols and the patriotism in the hearts of the people.  If this had been an election, the situation could have been different. Hilda Effiong Bassey would have been reminded that she cannot cook in Lagos, because she is a non-indigene.  The constituted thugs of Lagos, led by a well-connected Chairman would have gone to Amore Gardens to chase everyone away. But here we are: an Akwa Ibom woman cooking for the world in Lagos, has brought glory to the same Lagos. The clowns in high places who promote disunity simply need to lend themselves a little sense. Nigerian leaders can learn from Ms Baci how to cook a nation, and achieve results. Our leaders know how to eat, but they do not know how to cook. 

The fourth point that I see here is that Hilda Baci’s feat is an advertisement for the cooking profession. She has raised the profile of chefs. More persons may well be encouraged by her example to take to cooking as a profession. I have not even bothered to find out how much this has cost her and her sponsors in financial terms and how much she stands to earn. The glory is more important than the financial gain. But what I see is that Hilda Baci is now a cultural icon. It is good that she has been congratulated by President Muhammadu Buhari. This is most deserved. I am also of the view that when Nigeria compiles its next National Honours list, it is people like her that we expect to see on that list, along with Rema, another world record holder, Tiwa Savage, Kizz Daniel, Burna Boy, Tems, award-winning intellectuals, the boys doing wonderful things in fintech, not some funny characters in bulbous robes who take more from Nigeria than they give. As a father, I would like to advise her to handle fame with care.  Fame makes. Fame breaks. As her story developed, there were persons who were more interested in her beauty.  Her pictures have been posted online showing her beauty and physical attributes on full display. Nigerian men love food. There is this popular folk saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. A woman that is an acclaimed cook is a special target for stomach-driven Nigerian men. Ms Baci will get invited to cook by seemingly appreciative men who just want to taste.  Beware, Baci. There are too many idle men in this society of ours who promise marriage and heaven, but are closet idiots.  Focus on growing your business, and talent. Watch out for those who will soon begin to use your achievement to catch clout as they say. 

The fifth and final point here is to congratulate, Hilda Baci’s mother. She is herself a chef. She runs a restaurant in Abuja. Her daughter follows in her footsteps. She learnt the trade at her feet. I have seen a video showing her expressing her delight at her daughter’s achievement. It is the prayer of every parent that their children should do better than them. Mrs. Bassey’s glory came on Mother’s Day, a mother’s hilarious delight!  She has every reason to be grateful. Lecherous Nigerian men have observed that Mrs. Bassey herself is a very good spec. As a serious-minded person, I no longer engage in such conversations, so I won’t tell that side of the story.  What I see here is the importance of parenting.  In all of this, however, nobody has mentioned Mr. Bassey. Is he alive? This is the burden we bear as fathers. When the children do well, it is their mothers who step forward like characters from Bournvita cartoons. Still, we thank God for all children and mothers who bless the land as the Basseys have done. 

Now to Seun Kuti, the enfant terrible, about whom terrible things have been reported during the same weekend that Hilda Baci did us all proud. Seun Kuti was reported to have dropped the ball. He assaulted a policeman. There was a video in circulation that showed him telling a policeman in uniform that   he would deal with him. He slapped the police officer in uniform. He assaulted the policeman. He reportedly boasted thereafter that he has dealt with many policemen in similar manner in the past. Seun Kuti is my kinsman. I do not want anything bad to happen to him. But this time around I think he has carried his offering beyond the Mosque. It has been argued that it is a DNA thing. He is after all, the son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Fela did not wilfully break the law. He was in fact a law-abiding man. He challenged autocracy.   He questioned the law as all citizens are allowed to do so. He was like his mother, the legendary, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Seun Kuti’s forebears were defenders and promoters of good governance and the rule of law. Even when state agents attacked Kalakuta Republic, an assault in which Seun’s grandmother lost her life, the state prevailed, even if unjustly. I think therefore that those who think it is a DNA thing for Seun Kuti to attack a policeman are wrong.  People make their own choices. They do not inherit choices. What I am saying is that it would be most disrespectful to drag the dead into Seun Kuti’s matter. He is an adult and he must be made to answer for his own acts. The law does not recognize pedigree. You commit an act; you answer for it.  The only thing the law recognizes is the equality of persons before the law. Seun Kuti is not above and cannot be above the law because he enjoys hereditary privilege. 

From Saturday, there is a video in circulation showing him assaulting a policeman on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. The video evidence shows that he insulted the policeman and slapped him. He has since claimed that he has enough evidence to show that the policeman threatened his life and that of his family members. There have been other evidence notes on social media. We are told for example that he told the policeman before slapping him: “You dey craze? You dey mad?” In the meantime, the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission have ordered arrest and investigations. The Police have a duty to ensure that their officers are not routinely assaulted by Nigerians. Dr. Solomon Arase, the Police Service Commission (PSC) Chairman has commended the affected police officer for the restraint that he demonstrated. That officer whom nobody has named – we need his true identity- should be promoted by Arase’s PSC. In my view, Seun Kuti was indeed lucky. If that policeman or his colleagues had rifles with them, they could have gunned him down. By now, he would be dead and we would all be talking about extra-judicial killing. The lesson here is that people must know their limits. In today’s Nigeria, my father was this or my grandmother was that, is not a protection claim in the face of the law. The present generation of Nigerians don’t know ancient history anyway. They should not rely on what grandpa and great grandpa and daddy did. 

It is however refreshing to hear that Seun Kuti has shown up at the police station. He was reportedly put in silver ware. The offence that he has committed under Section 98 of the Police Act and Section 356 of the Criminal Code puts him in line for a three-year jail term. He says he has enough evidence to prove his innocence. He has a good lawyer: Femi Falana, SAN. Let them go and prove their case in the court of law, and as soon as the case is properly placed, let them address all the allegations including the underlying innuendo that Fela Kuti ‘s son is above the laws of the land.  Should anyone be above the laws of Nigeria? I am aware however that there are other interested persons and groups in the public domain who are now beginning to say that if Seun Kuti is let off the hook, they too will begin to slap and beat Nigerian policemen, and they would cite Seun Kuti’s case as precedent.  The substance of this matter lies in Seun Kuti’s relationship with the sovereign but whichever way it is resolved, his brand is already somewhat diminished. He doesn’t need that. This is the sad part of it. 

A.

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