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Nigeria And The Hilda Baci Syndrome by Reuben Abati

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The last time Ms Hilda Effiong Bassey featured in this column was in a piece titled “Tales The Country Told Me: Hilda Baci and Seun Kuti” (ThisDay, May 16) wherein I commented on her courage and heroism for using her culinary skills to bring herself to global attention by breaking the Guinness World Record in cooking, what has now become known as cook-a-thon. Hilda Baci, 27, cooked for 100 hours at the Amore Gardens, Lekki, Lagos, from Thursday, May 10, till Monday, May 13. 2023. Her exploit was a big social media event, a big, welcome distraction for a Nigerian community that was becoming weary of corrosive and febrile politics arising from the country’s 2023 general elections. Celebrities trooped to the venue of the cooking marathon for photo opportunities. Hilda Baci became an instant celebrity too. Many defied the heavy rainfall to support her.

As it turned out, the Guinness World Record, after assessing her submissions ruled that she had in fact made up to 93 hours, 11 minutes – seven hours short of her target but remarkable enough to dethrone the then-cooking marathon champion – Indian Chef Tata Landon who set the existing world record of 87 hours, 45 minutes in 2019. Ms Baci became an instant megastar. She won endorsements. She was given a royal reception by her home state of Akwa Ibom. She even got to meet billionaires and because she is backed by a good social media team, and looks really stunning, stylish, a head-turner in appearance on top of everything, she generated so much excitement. Some people tried to cash in on her fame by organizing a “Meet and Greet Hilda Baci” event for an admission fee which she promptly turned down. She has since been reported as using her celebrity status to raise funds for widows, by cooking more. She has since received her certificate from the GWR. I wrote in praise of Ms. Baci’s creativity, how through sheer imagination and effort she got transformed from being a great unknown into a global figure. But I have since noticed an emergent Hilda Baci syndrome that speaks to the character of the average Nigerian, and this is a problem, an abnormality. Not long after Hilda Baci was recognized by the GWR, the Hilda instinct started crawling out of many Nigerians who wanted to be like her. These persons have since turned the country into one big kitchen of emergency cooks. It is not funny. It is beginning to look like the spread of mass psychosis! Ms Tata Landon kept the record for marathon cooking from 2019 – 2023. Nigerians are not even allowing Ms Baci to enjoy a month of fame, before they started rolling out their own kitchen utensils in larger numbers to displace her.

By June 9, another Nigerian lady, Ms. Damilola Adeparusi, popularly known as Chef Dammy had entered the kitchen in Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State with the mind to cook for 120 hours and prove that she could do better than Hilda Baci of Akwa Ibom State. She did 120 hours, June 9 -13.! The people of Ekiti were excited. They had produced their own marathon cook, so they thought. Chef Dammy was celebrated by the First Lady of Ekiti State. The Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Oye Ekiti, Professor Sunday Abayomi Fashina led a delegation of University Council Members to visit Chef Dammy, a student of the university, to thank her for putting the university on the global map. Imagine a whole university throwing its weight behind a cooking event. Ekiti persons in diaspora also expressed their excitement with one of them sending a return ticket to the US and N500, 000 in appreciation, someone else sent a gift of N1 million but as Chef Dammy herself disclosed later, she didn’t make up to N2 million. She also got some endorsements. But she did not displace Chef Baci. What she got instead was a statement from Guinness World Record advising that anyone who wants to break a record must first apply and follow due process. Chef Dammy did not. She was courageous, but hers was a waste of time and energy, more or less. She has however threatened to cook again in July and follow due process. We were told in an official statement by her handlers that “Chef Dammy is coming back!”. But before then, other cooks have since stepped into the fray. In Ile-Oluji, Ondo State, Ms Adeola Adeyeye, aka Chef Deo announced a 150-hour cooking marathon again to beat Hilda Baci. Unlike Chef Dammy of Oye-Ekiti, Chef Deo followed due process and took the precaution of informing the Guinness World Record, hence from June 30 2023 – July 7, she too started cooking round the clock and crossed the 150-hour mark. If she submits her evidence to the GWR, she could break Ms. Baci’s record and become the new champion.

But again, she is not alone. About the same time that she applied to GWR, an Ogbomoso-based chef, Temitope Adebayo also applied for a 140-hour cooking marathon, and his application was verified but it is just that he has been asked to wait till November 2023 before he enters the kitchen. He says he is ready and he has been taking lessons in endurance and stamina building. He is probably thinking of extending his advertised 140 hours, to surpass Chef Deo of Ondo who is expecting a response from GWR. Generally, this is very much like what Nigerians refer to as a “wahala be like bicycle” situation, and understandably, the obsession of young Nigerians (age range 26 -31) with cooking marathon has generated comedy skits with one Chef Damilda Adeoci clowning around on instagram that he intends to break the cooking record by 363 hours, 11 minutes. There is never a shortage of humour around here. Nigerians joke with everything and everything. But there are others who do not think this is a joke who have proposed other options in pursuit of a Guinness World Record. Here are a few examples, because nobody knows what may still come up tomorrow: At the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) a computer science lecturer, Joshua Hassan Bature is now proposing a 150- hour teaching marathon which he calls ‘aca- a-thon”. The GWR people have given him an October 16, 2023 date. I hope “Lecturer 150 hours” would have enough audience for his computer jargon.

Similarly, one Oluwatobi Kufeji, Alejo Pataki, is proposing a 200-hour singing marathon. He calls his proposal: “Praise Worship-a-Thon”. There is also Joyce Ijeoma, the Nigerian lady who wanted to set a record for the longest hours for body massaging. She collapsed in the process and had to be revived! There is also a lady from Benue State, Treasure Joseph who says she wants to set a record for the longest video on instagram with a target of 125 hours between July 5 -9. Woli Arole – I want to believe that one is truly clowning, has also been quoted as saying that he wants to do a “Prayer-a-thon” for 5, 000 hours. Please, who has to pray to God for 5, 000 hours before he answers? The Catechist taught us that God sees our mind. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. Apparently, whatever God Woli Arole worships needs over 5, 000 hours before he can hear His children’s pleas. But the more ridiculous aspect of all this is that the Hilda Baci syndrome has since gone across the border. Nigeria is the main leader in West Africa and to a great extent in Africa. Other countries within the sub-region look up to us. That is probably one of the reasons why President Tinubu is now the Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Governments, within 41 days of his assumption of office as President. It also probably explains why when our President decided to remove fuel subsidy on May 29, some motorcyclists in Cameroon had the temerity to stage a public protest to question President Tinubu, asking him to reverse himself because the economic policy in Nigeria is not in their best interest in Cameroon.

It further makes sense to see why and how the Nigerian Hilda Baci syndrome has crossed the border. In Cameroon, a 25-year-old lady who wants to be the Hilda Baci of Yaounde has now announced a sex-a-thon. She wants to have sex with able-bodied, strong men for 200 hours non-stop. She wants strong men to line up. In Ghana, another lady is proposing “eat-a-thon.” How did we get here please? Nigeria is now a country that is exporting psychosis to demonstrate leadership? Other countries are demonstrating leadership in cutting edge science and technology, artificial intelligence, and global politics, we are here, a country of over 200 million people, with youths that are obsessed with cooking, prayers, singing, sex and a culture of frivolity. Nigeria should not become a sub-regional leader that exports mass, intercontinental psychosis. Can anyone in fact believe the fact that in this country today, one Nigerian lady is now launching what she calls “snails–a-thon”? She wants to cook and fry snails for 500 hours and get into the Guinness Book of World Records. At least one person has called on the Nigerian government to stop the madness from spreading further. Not many would disagree, and we already have an example in this regard.

In Ekiti state, one guy called Sugartee showed up the other day proposing to organize what he called a 72-hour “kiss-a-thon”, that is a kissing marathon. The same Ekiti state government that accommodated the cooking competition by Chef Dammy and the proposed lecture marathon by lecturer Bature immediately stepped forward to ban the proposed kissing marathon as “unhealthy, absurd and an attempt to denigrate the image of Ekiti State.” In my view, the Gov. Biodun Oyebanji administration acted rightly in the interest of public morality. Coincidentally, the GWR itself had banned kissing world records among its categories because of the risks involved. It has since accommodated a revised kiss-a-thon but with a different set of rules, and procedures. While individuals have the right to express themselves, it is also important to stress that there are no absolute rights. As the Ekiti state government has done in the case of the so-called “kiss-a-thon”, the Nigerian government must draw a line in the sand with regard to all the GWR psychosis that has overtaken the country. Danny Lammy of Cameroon for example is calling on strong men to come over and have free sex for 200 hours. If any Nigerian man shows up at that free sex event, assuming it eventually happens, such a Nigerian male citizen should be arrested on his return for engaging in an act that is against public morality and the order of nature. When the accused person gets to court, he and his lawyers can go and argue their case about jurisdiction, human rights and morality. What nonsense!

The real problem is that Nigeria is a troubled country and the evidence shows in the psychotic conduct of its people. It was Aristotle who told us that “imitation is a form of flattery”, and in addition that “a child learns by imitation”. The people imitating Hilda Baci and seeking a Guinness World Record are not children. It appears they are envious people, lacking in originality who simply want to pull down Hilda Baci, and prove that they are better than her. Envy. Jealousy. Desperation. In a country where inflation is galloping, and more people are slipping into the poverty trap, salaries and pensions are not paid, it must not be too surprising that the young people have become so desperate they would imitate anything that can bring a little fame and opportunity. Hilda Baci cooks for hours, gets famous, everyone else rushes to the kitchen. It is an emergent trait in our land. People don’t think. They copy. If you set up a business, and you seem to be doing well, before you know it, everyone in the neighbourhood would set up a similar shop. And if they have their way, they will stop at nothing to pull you down, in typical crab-mentality fashion. It is a crime to succeed at anything in Nigeria. And it is in every facet of our lives: in politics, business, academia and even in personal relationships. When as a politician, you give people opportunities to also grow and rise, the next thing they would be gunning for is to dethrone and send you into retirement while they move past you. Many friends whose colleagues die, pretend to be helping the widow, but their main interest is to take over the wife whom they have always been eyeing by the way. This is the root of the psychosis.

Worse still, this character flaw is often justified as did the kiss-a-thon Sugartee of Ekiti state. After the state government banned his proposed programme he later came forward to say that he actually did not want to organize any kissing marathon. He, being a musician, would ordinarily have proposed a singing marathon, but if he said he wanted to sing, nobody would have paid any attention. So, he had to announce a kissing marathon which got him the attention and influence that he needed. “People now know Sugartee,” he said. “In this country, you need something to get people to talk about you.” Sugartee also reported that he was invited to the Ekiti State Government House, and that he, the same man that the past administration in the state ignored, is now being invited by the new administration. And he has the effrontery to take the people for a ride and promote a scam? Sugartee and others like him who have turned the pursuit of a Guinness World Record into an opportunity for clout-chasing, misrepresentation and deception should be made to face the full wrath of the law. There are too many jobless people in this country, particularly among the younger generation who are willing and ready to turn everything into a joke. Can we all get serious for once please? Administrators of The Guinness World Record also have an obligation to review their procedures and introduce more stringent rules to protect public morality and humanistic values. Nigerian youths have a bigger obligation to dig deeper into our culture as Africans to evoke and embrace profound authenticity, innate resourcefulness and heritage that we have across board instead of competing viciously for Western style-records that come across as a validation of their own limitations rather than true strength.

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