The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed appeared on a live CNN program anchored by Richard Quest recently. During the interview, Alhaji Mohammed was asked which country makes the most delicious Jollof rice in Africa. To the surprise and disappointment of many Nigerians, (or maybe not) the minister said “Senegal”.
It was like a hot slap across the face of many Nigerians who bothered with his response.
Richard Quest came back after the commercial break to clarify that what the minister heard was “which country did Jollof rice originate from”. Well, Nigerians will find it hard and impossible to forgive or forget this kind of ‘mishear’.
The discussion has been on the front burner for a long time now to the extent that it is always on the ‘menu’ when the citizens of different countries in West Africa, especially Nigerians and Ghanaians, engage in some sort of debate regarding which country does better in music, dance, food, making women happy etc. Nigeria had always carried the day on the Jollof rice issue, until the minister joined in the debate and gave the prize to Senegal!
Interestingly, Senegal has never, to the best of this writer’s knowledge, claimed any superior taste in this delicacy. So, how did the minister end up with Senegal as his first choice and not his country Nigeria? To cut him some slack, the honorable minister was right as regards the origin of Jollof rice for according to a Wikipedia source, Jollof rice is from the Senegambia region.
That said, a different look into this pot of controversy obviously puts Alhaji Lai Mohammed in the [hot] soup: He is supposed to be in the frontline of the campaign for buy and use made-in-Nigeria goods as part of the efforts to, at least, strengthen the naira. As the chief marketing officer of Nigeria, therefore, the minister is always expected to appreciate the sensibilities of image making efforts of his country, and the issues in the public sphere, especially this kind of issue that borders on national pride. How he missed that opportunity comes with a different cost to the burning collective issues of our national life!
Anyway, the Jollof rice debate rages online. Feast on the comments below from a Nigerian, a Ghanaian and a Senegalese. Enjoy!
Gideon Aduku a Ghanaian who lives in Ghana wrote on April 8, 2015 “According to a lot of sources, Jollof rice is originally called Benachin which in Wolof means “one pot”. The info on Wikipedia was recently updated stating that Jollof has Nigerian roots, which is strange because the Wolof people are sometimes referred to as Jolof people. I strongly believe Jollof originates from Senegal/Gambia because of its name of course and if Nigerians or we Ghanaians can explain exactly why it is called that, it would very much help. As it stands now, no one has actual evidence except a sense of national entitlement that Jollof rice originates from their country. It would be difficult to point out the exact country of origin because of the lack of reliable documented info and for the fact that most of the people who answer or will answer may be biased. Please let’s be honest guys. But I must add: the origin of the dish does not determine the final taste, because I can confidently say to you, after years of painstaking research, that Jollof from Ghana is the best”
Defe Aleladia, a Nigerian who lives in Houston, Texas USA;
“In the earliest days of civilization, when man first set foot on the beautiful, wide and rich landscape we call Africa, the gods and goddesses of old endowed their people with a gift known as Jollof. Sacred and holy, the people protected Jollof with all their might and selected a group of a certain lineage to guard and protect the secrets of Jollof. These guardians are today known as Nigerians. Although the Ghanaians have tried to pervert the ways of Jollof, the heroic Nigerians till this day, hold fast to its blessed ideals. Though Jollof is not of Nigerian, but of heavenly origins, it is we Nigerians who protect its secrets.
Mamadou Ernest Cissé, lives in Dakar, Senegal
“Hello Guys. I find your discussion very interesting. As a Senegalese citizen and Sociolinguist, I can assure you that Jollof Rice is undoubtedly from Senegal. This dish is one of the strongest symbols of our cultural history. We even know the name of the woman who created the recipe … her name: PENDA MBAYE from Walo (actual Louga). Jolof is the area of Senegal where wolof people lived and now it refers to the whole country. Now, I promise the best jolof rice ever to any of you that come around. I tried Jollof Rice in Accra and in Lagos. I vote for Lagos. Sorry Ghana”
To compensate for this lost opportunity, Nigerians are asking the minister to host food festivals across Nigeria every quarter. These festivals should be promoted to the rest of the world. Maybe Ricahrd Quest should be invited back to witness one of these food festivals. Secondly, the government should make Jollof rice the center piece of its school feeding program, if it is still alive.
Promoting our culture, our way of life and our food is the honorable minister’s primary job as the minister for culture and information of Nigeria – not of Senegal. He will have to apologize for doing this to our national pride. Although the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo at a recent event tried to reassure us that Nigerian Jollof is the best, Nigerians will still like to hear the last from Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Victor Ikem is a marketing and brand manager, lives in Lagos, Nigeria