As usual of some of the multiple sensibilities that enrich the Nigeria political space, one is divided between some of the narratives that define the experiences of Nigerians, amidst the economic woes that have made life very uncertain, when the news reportage of Israeli offensive against Hamas has certainly silenced the concerns that used to follow the attacks of Russia on Ukraine. It continues to be envisaged that the emotions of vicarious fighters of the Israeli/Palestine war, found in religious bigots mostly in pauperised developing nations, would not burn over, precipitating avoidable combustions. The ethno-religious wars that are now being propagated by Boko Haram members, ISIS vanguards, ISWAP agents, and mercenary bandits have left Nigeria on the teeters, even as Nigerians die, both by installment and definitively. Ransoms keep rising rapidly for captured Nigerians who are tired of the country, but desperate to live.
My previous commitment to interrogate Nyesom Wike’s kitchen worth and expertise since he became the Abuja ‘landlord’ got complicated by the recent necessity to examine the mother elephant in him and the baby elephant in his political protégée and successor, Siminalayi Fubara, the governor of Rivers State. Amidst the many reasons adduced to the raging fights between Wike and Fubara, it is safe to simply frame the political hiccoughs that have thrown up turmoil in the oil-rich state on the Yoruba proverb that an elephant can’t trumpet and its baby will trumpet too. To this end, it is believed that a baby elephant that wants to trumpet will go seek its own forest. As things stand, the forest of Wike, the mother elephant, is not just Rivers State but Nigeria. Wike has left no one in doubt that the bone of contention between him and his estranged godson is not just cash or monetary influence, but political relevance.
Few weeks after he was appointed the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the self-styled politician, Wike, was seen in a viral video where he was cooking and entertaining some guests, including the Chief of Staff to Tinubu, Femi Gbajabiamila, who peeped across the left shoulder of his host, evidently in a supervisory-like posturing that was laced with bewilderment. Wike later clarified with newsmen that his cooking expertise was nothing extraordinary, as that was one of the things he grew up learning, having stayed back in the kitchen to help his mother prepare meals. He went further to justify the need to cook one’s foods, citing healthy meals as one major motivation for his commitment. It is not clear how frequently Wike does his cooking, given his busy schedules, but it is obvious that madam Wike would not always be a guest in their luxurious kitchens at all times.
Beyond the need to always be in the news that some might want to use to explain Wike’s media currency, there is the desirability of unpacking his culinary commitments in relation to some other possibilities that exist within the dictates of semiotics. Either as sign or signification, the avowed cooking proclivity of Wike calls to question the old myth of women’s consignment or confinement to the kitchen, which was believed to have led to classroom be taken away from them, as part of the larger dispossession occasioned by patriarchy.
Going by the unrelenting westernisation and liberalisation of African socialisation, younger generations of Nigerians have been excused from culinary activities, as parents, house helps and live-in relations cook for them, while they get busy with postmodern gadgets like phones, computers, television, video games, etc. In some cases, people in this category turn public eateries, taverns and supermarkets to their kitchen, with fast-foods made available to respond to fast appetites and demands.
For these youths that are estranged with the kitchen, they eat what they like, within the dictates of what are available, leaving them at the mercy of compulsive choices. Nutritionists have linked the various health challenges relating to obesity, kidney failure, high blood pressure and other dietary-aligned matters to diet and eating style. It is a fact that notwithstanding the good customer relation that commercial food vendors put up, their major preoccupation is profit, which is secured through devaluing adjustment to the material content of the cuisine, to maximise the profit derivable from their cooking enterprise. Economic reasons, work schedules, transformation of rural places to cities, lazy attitudes of dwellers, social gathering, etc., are some of the indices that support outdoor eating, as against indoor culinary commitment.
Cooking provokes a lot of scintillating aromas that announce the content and elements involved in the cooking to someone who has a reliable olfaction. However, there are people whose chemosensory system is faulty, probably due to the malfunctioning of their olfactory sensory neurons. It is for the foregoing reason that someone could distinguish between the smell of a cooking beans from that of meat (even as against chicken). In behavioural psychological, smell is one of the elements that elicit salivation.
Talking metaphorically, however, cooking could be used to refer to the act of brewing or precipitating trouble or crisis. In this wise, the flippers from a trouble zone could fit into the mould of smells that natured the properties of the various ingredients brought into play in a culinary exercise. It is on this note that we would read Wike’s alleged instigation of political tensions in Rivers State, from Abuja, as a transnational percolating aroma that is troubling to actors far removed from the kitchen. As we turn to this direction, we should also be reminded that Wike cooked ‘a ton’, politically, in the build-up to the 2023 presidential election that saw his support for the opposition candidate, Tinubu, winning the election, with the ‘national award’ that came in form of compensatory appointment as minister. Tinubu seems to have assumed the position of the ‘father of the nation’, with his intervention in the crisis between Wike and his political son, Fubara, riding on the bridge constructed by a revolting Wike, through his participation in the government of the ruling APC, even though he still remains a member of the opposition PDP.
Back to the proverbial baby elephant that is forbidden from trumpeting when its mother does, it is no longer news that godfathers in Nigeria politics are almost entangled in fisticuffs with their political godsons, who they always believe must remain a faithful Man Friday, to his own detriment and calamity of the people. Apart from the allegation made against Wike that he wanted to choke, dominate, gag and control Fubara to have access to the resources of the state, the grandiose political termagant personified in Wike, as prophesied by Ayo Fayose, has seen him confirming his unwillingness to surrender his political structure in Rivers State to his successor, and now former ally, in whom he was well pleased. The belligerence of Wike has paid off up until now, as the grandstanding presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, eventually got humbled by the decision of the Supreme Court that upheld the victory of Tinubu.
The one time simmering frosty relationship between Wike and Fubara recently attained a conflagration in the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex that was turned to a contentious space for attacks and counter-attacks. From the bombing of the complex to the suspension of the former Leader of the House; from the notice of impeachment on Fubara to the emergence of the suspended Leader as the new Speaker of the House of Assembly; from the harassment of Fubara and his supporters who attempted to march on the Assembly Complex to the alleged removal of the Chief Judge, keen watchers were reminded that River States politicians are not only colourful in their appearance, youthfully rugged in physicality, but sternly courageous in seeking and retaining access to commonwealths. It was good that Fubara was willing to confront the monsters he saw in his tormentors, damning the consequences of his possible removal or martyrdom, provided the people, and not tyrants, are the winners.
We cannot forget in a hurry how Evans Bapakaye, an audacious member of the Rivers State House of Assembly led an invasion of the house in July 2013, with other four members of the House alleged to have contemplated removing the then speaker, Otelemaba Amachree, and later the governor, Rotimi Amaechi. The mace, which is the symbol of authority of the legislature, became desecrated and duplicitously abused, to perform legality in illegality and for physical assault in the violated hallowed Chambers.
As the interest of the masses gets submerged by the factional struggle for political structure and economic relevance in Rivers State, Wike should be reminded that too much embellishment would vitiate the tastefulness of his soup, not minding his culinary skills. He and his political estranged son, Fubara, should note that Nigerians nay Rivers’ people now have fewer things to cook, given the stultifying economic situation in the country. Wike should be reminded that empires do not last forever, and that his political relevance in 2027bwould not be as potent as it was in 2023. Between the mother and the baby elephant, only time would tell which would trumpet more, and enduringly.