What happened to 1 cup of rice at 30 kobo?

By Adeola Aderounmu.

This article is also available in The Nigerian Guardian Newspaper:

What happened to a cup of rice at 30 kobo?

One of the oldest words in my vocabulary is thrift. I learnt it before I was 13. When I was a little boy, one of the keys to survival was the act of saving any money that I came by. My parents taught us this moral long before I also knew what it meant to save for the rainy days. My mother still calls me Alowo’nle (meaning the one who has money at home). It is now up to me to ask her the reason for that name. It’s high time I knew if it was a nickname or one of the undocumented names.

I was in primary school from 1978 to 1984. One day around 1979/1980 I went to school with N1 note. At that time, N2 was more than enough to pay NEPA bills but I didn’t know what I could do with N1 note until break time that day in school. Every time I bought something from the food sellers, they always gave me some change back. That day, my best friend and I bought all the things we wanted including fish head, tafirin (peppery groundnut balls), condense (locally made but strong ice cream) and poff poff and I still went home with some money in my pocket.

At the end of that day, I felt so stupid for daring to go to school with N1. I thought about how my mother could have possibly done some good cooking with the money. I remembered that my allowance to school even in 1987 was not more than 30kobo. So my break in school means that I can only buy the small size meat pie without the luxury of LIMCA or Gold Spot! Big size meat pie was 50k.

There was a time in my life that I felt so proud that I could save 70 to 80kobo/ week out of my daily allowance. My father worked as a civil servant all his life until he retired in 1988. My mother left her teaching job even before I was born to concentrate on motherhood and petty businesses. If your family was like mine, your parents must have taught you as well to save all the money that visitors, uncles, aunts and other people put in your pocket on their way out.

What didn’t I learn from my father? He told me that little drops of water made a mighty ocean before I sang it later in school during the morning assemblies. I found those precious lines embedded in the Songs of Praise. My father told me that an opportunity once lost can never be regained. He told me to work while it is day for the night cometh when no man can work. I found that later in the Holy Scriptures. It was my father who first told me to make hay while the sun shines. He said time waits for no one and that prevention is better than cure. Instead of saying goodbye, my father always says “remember the son of whom you are”.

When I think about these things, the words of wisdom and the endless hopelessness facing millions of Nigeria, I always end up not being able to place the real problems with Nigeria. What exactly was going on/still going on in the minds of the few people who have ruined the lives of the other people including the emerging and possibly the unborn generations? May I ask again, how did we get to this madden point such that a return to our days of glory looked almost impossible?

Who were those men who created their own mighty oceans in one night? Who are the men and women who threw away all the opportunities that we had as a great country? Why did they substitute the opportunities with penury and poverty? Who are those people who didn’t get to the river before fishing? Who are those men who worked at night to ruin our days? What did they do with the hay when the sun was shining? As a matter of fact, what have they done with the livestock? Who are the fathers of these men and women? Do they remember whose children they are and do they have names to protect?

When a cup of rice became 30kobo, my mother and the rest of us complained bitterly-how can rice be so expensive? She was very unhappy with all the successive governments of the 80s. Austerity measure was a calamity. The structural adjustment programme-SAP eventually sapped Nigerians of their meager salary and subsequently of their will and power. MAMSER was an attempt to stop the Andrews from checking out of Nigeria but the Andrews and the Joneses who left Nigeria have not regretted their decisions. Today, the siblings of Andrew are still on the march.

When Agege bread came, it was a buoyant choice for big families (in Lagos anyway) and you just need a little ewa aganyi (specially cooked beans) to balance your ratio. After a while everything went away and beyond our reach. Beans became scarce; eggs became invisible and damn expensive when visible. Milk became a privileged part of the meal. Sardines and Uncle Bens’ rice became extinct on the average Nigerian family center table (who dash you dining table?). For several years I could not have a taste of Milo and Bournvita. Even it was as if we became allergic to common Ovaltine. Blue Band butter melted away and Margarine evaporated.

We finally reached a point where no one asked you if you are satisfied with the food you ate. It was enough to ask you “have you eaten?” At that time, a cup was rice was no longer 30 kobo; it was now at a price that you had to choose between eating rice for breakfast or getting a pair of rubber shoes for the new school year. At that time, eating formulas vary from 0-0-1 to 1-0-0. Some prefer 0-1-0. I don’t know what point we have reached today in Nigeria.

I don’t think we can bring back the price of a cup of rice to 1 kobo or 5 kobo but we must do all we can to salvage the situation. We are in a complete mess and there is no one way out. In the meantime, we must begin to adopt and adhere to family control measures so that we stop producing children that we cannot cater for. In the face of harsh economic realities and a haphazard socio-political situation ridden with uncertainties and a special form of madness, we need to stop the exploding human population situation.

Afterwards, we should concentrate on the business of rebuilding Nigeria so that Nigeria can meet up with the rest of the developed world before the turn of the next century. As a short term palliative, the enthronement of a legitimate government with legitimate goals is paramount. Nigeria needs a government that will look into the sufferings of the masses and apply concrete measures that will resuscitate the hope and national pride of Nigerians. Eliminating corruption, greed and tribalism with be useful approaches among many others.  

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