A Nigerian delicacy was an endangered specie until Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came through.
Nigerian Jollof was toast (pun intended).
Ironically, the executioner and undertaker was Lai Mohammed—Nigeria’s minister for information and culture.
As guest of CNN’s Richard Quest, the current custodian of Nigerian culture had just one job—hold up the local delicacy as the best on the continent and as a symbol of national pride.
Nigerians are famous for their grating bragging rights on the continent--on all subjects.
And the Jollof is no exception.
ALSO READ: Why are Nigerians so crazy about Jollof?
A million pair of eyes eagerly waited to watch Mohammed uphold the Jollof bragging rights when the inevitable question popped up from Quest.
“This is going to have people arguing over a drink”, Quest began, while holding a plate of delicately arrayed Jollof.
At this point, Nigerians were sure there was going to be only one winner.
“Which country makes the best Jollof?” Quest asked, still holding the bowl of Jollof briefly like an entire nation’s life depended on it, before shoving same aside.
“I just want to say…probably Senegal”, Mohammed answered with a stutter.
Quest was beyond himself with disbelief at this point. “Senegal?”
The CNN journalist couldn’t understand it.
If anyone was going to relegate Nigerian Jollof, it shouldn’t be a Nigerian minister.
“I hear a shock across the country”, Quest howled with a characteristic smile. “I hear a sigh across the country!”, he added.
The sound Quest was hearing was way beyond a mere sigh—it was the sound of knives exiting their sheaths.
It was the sound of guns being cocked.
Minister Lai Mohammed had just committed sacrilege in the estimation of millions of Nigerians.
The slaughter slab was going to be his portion.
To concede the place of Nigerian Jollof to Senegal was blasphemy for a population of some 180 million people.
No one gets away with saying Nigerian Jollof isn’t the best in the world.
And Mohammed would be hung to dry on social media immediately after the show.
It didn’t help that Nigerians retain a disdain for government officials.
Mohammed had just gifted them one more arrow for their bows.
“Lai Mohammed just said on “Richard Quest” that Senegal makes the best Jollof. Can we fire our Minister of information for treason!”, Tweeted social media influencer and blogger Cheta Nwanze.
“I actually screamed”, wrote TV personality and host of the last Big Brother Naija reality TV show, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu. “What a betrayed!!!!”
Nigerians across all social media platforms would spend the next couple of days berating Mohammed over what they considered a monumental gaffe and betrayal on international television.
Things got so bad for the Minister that Quest had to step in to save his a**.
“No, no, no, the minister misheard”, Quest pleaded. “He thought I asked which country first created jollof rice. By bad mumbling of the question.
“To be clear. The minister misheard. He thought I asked, who first created jollof rice—hence his (correct) answer Senegal”.
Nigerians weren’t going to be assuaged by Quest’s intervention and the barrage of attacks on Mohammed continued.
Certainly, someone had to save the Nigerian Jollof.
And it had to be someone as high up in government circles as Lai Mohammed.
In stepped Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
He must have been fully briefed on Mohammed’s slip some 72 hours earlier.
He must have been told that saving the Jollof was now officially a matter of urgent national importance—right up there with providing electricity and critical infrastructure for a nation in the throes of a recession.
Osinbajo is a master at reading the mood of a people correctly and he delivered once more here.
The stage was “The Platform”—a talk show and symposium organised by the Covenant Christian Center.
Osinbajo began by praising the Nigerian spirit and talking up Nigerian achievements across the world.
“We have everything, and our people are doing incredibly innovative things. For example, we are at the moment developing the most sophisticated animation technology in Africa,” said Nigeria’s number two citizen, as he warmed up to the mission.
“Our music and entertainment industry is the fastest growing in the world. Nigerians have won every prize in literature, from the Nobel Prize to the Pulitzer.
“Only last year, a Nigerian girl won a gold medal at the Olympics, Morolake Akinosun. Last Saturday, a Nigerian boxer won the world heavyweight title. Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua won the WBA--becoming the boxing champion of the world.
“Last year Oluyinka Olutoye, a Nigerian surgeon successfully took out a baby from her mother’s womb, operated on the womb, and put the baby back in, and the baby was carried full term and was born naturally — a feat previously unheard of”.
The Vice President was half chuckling at this point. It was a sign that he had more in his locker.
“And of course, nobody is as funny as Nigerians, whether professional or amateur. We even have a member of the national assembly who recently launched a CD; Aje kun iya ni o je. Who hasn’t heard of Aje kun iya ni o je?
“We are the most innovative entrepreneurs. The other day someone showed me a text; the young man had invited him to a book launch titled: Seven Steps to Becoming a Professional Whistleblower”, Osinbajo said, to immense laughter from the audience.
Osinbajo knows how to talk a good game. On the day, he was as witty, humorous and convincing as always.
But he still had one job—save the Jollof from the depths one of his Ministers had plunged it days earlier.
“And by the way, we all know that Nigerian jollof rice is the best! We beat the Ghanaians and the Senegalese hands down,” declared the nation's Vice President.
The audience was on its feet at this point, cheering and overjoyed.
Nigerian Jollof was back as the best in the world because the nation’s Vice President had just declared that it was.
Osinbajo may have just restored national pride and Nigerians are loving him for this.