Opinion: Nigerian Values – Food For Thought

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Opinion: Nigerian Values - Food For Thought
Ndidi Uwechue
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14th April 2020

Life seems to be much about FOOD in Nigeria. There is regular talk about how to get food for oneself or for the children. People worry about not getting “three square meals” a day. Nigerians talk about the “national cake”. Young women look for a man to marry who can put food on the table. There is a great sense of satisfaction when food has been obtained or eaten. A good day is a day when food has been eaten.


Taking it further, politicians use food to either bribe people for votes, or to keep aggrieved citizens quiet. “Just give them food and it will all be ok”. Moreover, when a group is agitating for some kind of civil or human rights, we hear things said such as, “They must be hungry”. The rights or issues being addressed are disregarded, sadly, even by the public who would have benefited from the improvement sought. Society it seems, has equated living well with eating well (having a full stomach, and not necessarily eating a balanced diet). A well-fed person would see no need to go out and join a protest since he/she has food to eat (thus is living well), so let those who are hungry (therefore not living well) go out and protest. Giving support to a good cause does not come into it!


Thinking about the place that food occupies in Nigeria, I wondered: has FOOD been given too HIGH a priority? So please come with me on this food question journey. We see a woman stripping the husks off corn and throwing these discards on the ground, adding to all the litter already present there before unwashed, she places the cobs on a metal grill to roast them. Plenty of customers eagerly buy the roast corn, oblivious to the filth all around and the unhygienic preparation of the corn, they just see FOOD. Again, we have those outdoor shacks called bukas selling food in a filthy environment but people ignore that because the focus is on FOOD.


Here is a description of how life can be in a malgoverned country and where FOOD is given a very high priority, possibly even top position:

  • Roads are bad with potholes everywhere. People complain but do nothing effective to improve the situation. They do not need to, they have FOOD for today.
  • Public schools are in a dilapidated state with no toilets for the children. People complain but will accept this for their children, they have FOOD for today.
  • Hospitals lack equipment and are in a disgraceful state. People complain but tolerate it as their lot in life in this part of the world, they have FOOD for today.
  • Electricity is lacking, businesses are struggling or shutting down. People complain but will hope that somehow they will succeed, they have FOOD for today.
  • Religion is plentiful, but there is lack in everything else. People tell themselves that they are “blessed”, they have FOOD for today.


Naturally, every living thing needs food. We see chickens and goats daily seeking nothing but FOOD. Food is their life’s priority. These animals forage in litter-strewn shrubs, on rubbish heaps, inside gutters – anywhere to find food. What do animals know or care about hygiene and environmental cleanliness! Food is all they want in life. Animals we can say, live to eat. But humans are not supposed to be so. Humans are expected to eat in order to maintain life, so food is important, but should not be given overarching importance.


If instead that same malgoverned nation had something else, for instance EDUCATION, not food as a top priority, then this is what could be: Politicians would offer citizens food as a bribe for votes. The citizens would accept the food, but reply: We will not vote for you until our schools look exactly like schools in Britain, with properly equipped science laboratories, functioning toilets, clean canteens, well-stocked school libraries etc. And the same goes for our Polytechnics and Universities. They too must be like those in Britain. This would mean constant electricity in our homes too because our children must be able to do homework and coursework when they are home after school and during the holidays.


Thus, simply by Nigerians shifting the main focus off food and onto EDUCATION, would mentally energise citizens to put our all into ensuring a better life and lifestyle for our children and young people. People would no longer be satisfied with just having FOOD every day. Now, EDUCATION every day would be the target.

Rather than hearing traders, workers, and parents saying: I need money for my children’s food. We would hear them say: I need money to buy my children books, or a chemistry set, or a science kit, or a computer, or internet data.

An added bonus if EDUCATION were to be noticeably prioritised is that the loud habitual environmental noises would diminish because parents would then become interested in ensuring that a quiet and conducive environment for learning is made possible for their children.


Returning to our street food discourse. If EDUCATION was given a higher priority than food, the impact is that citizens would become INFORMED CONSUMERS seeking then using relevant (scientific) knowledge. People would insist on eating clean, nutritious food in a tidy environment. So food sellers would be obliged to sell their fare while also maintaining hygiene and clean surroundings, rather than what we find in Nigeria today.


Many things afflict Nigeria therefore some people are fleeing the country for a better life abroad. However, for some the response to Nigeria’s challenges is to keep on identifying the things that hinder progress, and to be part of an Alternative Culture where the thinking and thus the behaviour are different. Clearly FOOD has been overvalued by Nigerians. We should now decide what rational value to give food. Should we live to eat? Or should we eat to live?


This post was written by Ndidi Uwechue.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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