OPINION PIECE

UNCLE BEN’S RICE & MANY OTHER REASONS TO BE ANGRY

Uncle Ben's rice

One of the side effects of being a 90s baby is having to listen to nostalgic tales of how Nigeria was once a sane nation, and at the core of these stories, is usually Uncle Ben’s rice.

To a large extent, these stories were so good that it almost felt weird that I was starting to long for a time I never witnessed. Then it got to a point where these stories began to lose the hope they supposedly gave, and became more of an anguish-telling of a past that might never return.

Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to stories. As a researcher, history and historical representations are some of the things I find quite fascinating and interesting, whether in motion picture, novels, paintings, etc., but the fact that Nigeria was once a country that lived in plenty, but now shuffles between penury and national debts, as a result of reckless leadership, is quite an excruciating reality to relive daily.

UNCLE BEN’S RICE AND OTHER STUFF

According to some of the stories my father told me, the researches I made, and the things I grew up to see around me, I learnt that sometimes the past might just be the road that leads to a better future. In the 60s/70s/early 80s (1981-1983), unemployment wasn’t a challenge because students had companies, and business organizations seeking them out for work opportunities and possible employments, even before they left school. More like graduates weren’t looking for jobs, jobs were looking for them.

the fact that Nigeria was once a country that lived in plenty, but now shuffles between penury and national debts, as a result of reckless leadership, is quite an excruciating reality to relive daily. Click To Tweet

I mean, I do not have to state the obvious about the unemployment situation in present-day Nigeria, it only dates back to the sad reality of how much a past can seem to offer better than the present. Not only did people attend school in the 60s/70s/early 80s without paying a dime, they also got transport allowance and ate free meals, Uncle Ben’s rice inclusive.

lawn tennis racket
My father bought this Champro Lawn Tennis racket for N60.00 in the 80s.

My father who only enjoyed this for a year (1983-1984), before it came to an end in ’84-85, all thanks to Generals Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon’s regime, spoke of what it was like back then. According to him, science students (who attended Federal schools) were given 80 naira college allowance (by the government), while students in other disciplines got 60 naira, minus transport allowances which he said was around 80 naira also. I know what you think, but forget it, it’s not the same at all. 80 naira back then had more value than 80 naira now. Basically, naira had value then.

According to some of the stories my father told me, the researches I made, and the things I grew up to see around me, I learnt that sometimes the past might just be the road that leads to a better future. Click To Tweet

If there’s anything I can never forget when it comes to listening to my father tell the old stories of Nigeria, it is always how fondly he speaks of Uncle Ben’s rice. I could always tell that Uncle Ben’s was the shit. He’d speak of how they open the pack and pour in a can of geisha, and enjoy the best stuff ever, while still not forgetting to rubbish the geisha we eat now.

I do not try to hurt myself by imagining and wishing that the life then, is the life now (I mean, I try, even though I fail mostly), but getting angry is what I cannot help sometimes. When my father tells me that part of his constant reality as a student in the 80s was sharing a whole chicken with three other students, I do more than wow, I also try to picture how incredibly rich Nigeria must have been, and how affordable and comfortable, living must have been for its citizens.

One of the side effects of being a 90s baby is having to listen to nostalgic tales of how Nigeria was once a sane nation, and at the core of these stories, is usually Uncle Ben's rice. Click To Tweet

AWAY FROM UNCLE BEN’S RICE

My father went to Federal College of Education, Obudu, Cross River State, and from Abeokuta, he’d take “standing” to Ijebu-Ode for N5, and from Ijebu-Ode to Benin was N15. From Benin to Onitsha was N10, and Onitsha to Ogoja, N20, and from Ogoja to Obudu was N10. So, all it took him to move from Ogun State to Cross River State was N60 naira, and Abeokuta to Gombe via train was just 13 naira.

ibukunwrites uncle ben's rice
My father bought this iron in the 80s for N30, and we still use it till today to iron clothes.

As if that wasn’t enough, when he started working in the 80s, his salary was one hundred and eighty naira (N180.00) – I can’t imagine being paid 180 naira right now. But seriously, he was collecting 180 naira back then as salary, and it felt so enough. Now compare it to this present day Nigeria when people who are “lucky” enough to get a job of a 100 thousand naira per month cannot even meet all their monthly needs. Isn’t it where we are now as a country supposed to be better than where we’re coming from?

There was a time my father was paid two-months salary, which equals N360.00, and from that money, he bought an iron bed (N80), a foam (N60), a KDK table fan (N70 – which we still had until two years ago when it stopped working). The fan had a colourful part that gives an aquarium feel when it’s on. . . lol (I did try looking for it online, but I couldn’t find it), and he still comfortably took care of himself for the rest of the months.

I think the most interesting parts aren’t the things that my father bought then, and some of which we still have now (e.g. the pictures above), it is the revelation that there was a time in Nigeria when the government paid its workers a year salary at once.

E shock you too? I know right!

Uncle Ben's rice
Chief Jerome Oputa Udoji

UNCLE BEN’S RICE AND OWO UDOJI (UDOJI’S MONEY)

You might be wondering who Udoji is or what owo Udoji means. Don’t worry, I will tell you.

In 1972, during Nigeria’s oil boom period, Chief Jerome Oputa Udoji, a Nigerian business administrator and famous public servant, from Anambra State, Nigeria, was assigned by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon to chair a commission put in place to review the public service standards and make recommendations.

In 1974, one of the many beautiful recommendations and reforms made by the panel was actualized, and that is the increment of salaries and payment of ONE YEAR ARREARS for all civil servants. This implementation which is known as the Udoji Award, was also sung about by the Apala Legend, Ayinla Omowura.

From my findings, this period was such a joyful one in the history of Nigeria and public service. My father who wasn’t in service then, told me that so many people built houses, bought lands, and most importantly, bought cars. It was a period that ushered in Peugeot, and the popular two-door Datsun car known as ṣálaáàáké (cut it with hoe).

when there is an excessive longing for an imperfect past, it's time to revolutionize the present, and make it align with the future we dream. Click To Tweet

ṢÁLAÁÀÁKÉ AND OTHER STORIES

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I heard it was called Ṣálaáàáké not because it was literally hacked with a hoe or anything, but because most people who owned this car at that time, found it very stressful getting to the back seat through the front door. So, what they did was take the car to the panel beaters, who then turn the car into a 4-door car by manufacturing two extra doors, that created easy access to the back seat. So this process of turning the 2-door car into a 4-door car is what named the car Ṣálaáàáké.

this illusion of togetherness, how long shall we continue to live it, and how far will it take us?#NigeriaAt60 Click To Tweet

If there is anything I found intriguing, it is how almost everybody who witnessed this period, spoke of it with so much fondness and longing, without also failing to emphasize that there will never be a time like that in the history of the country anymore.

Although, I do not find it so much of a coincidence that it was under the military regime of the present President of Nigeria that a lot of good stuff such as free education, feeding, transport allowance, etc. were put to a stop, I think the present situation of the country validates these antecedents, and also attests to his leadership capabilities.

nigeria at 60

While I have come to a conclusion that my anger towards the leadership of this country can be channeled towards personal reformations and edifying causes, I still think there are crucial questions to be asked as the country clocks 60.

Even though I believe that if we continue to dig deeper into the good old stories of there was a country, we’ll do nothing but keep sabotaging the tiniest possibility of a glorious future, this illusion of togetherness, how long shall we continue to live it, and how far will it take us?

Happy Independence Day, Nigeria!

when there is an excessive longing for an imperfect past, it’s time to revolutionize the present, and make it align with the future we dream.

Ibukunwrites.

2 Comments

  1. Roseline

    October 1, 2020 at 11:59 am

    The payment of salaries part was shocking for me and to think now it is a chore for the government to even pay pension, a lot of people in government need to read this post and have a rethink, instead of parading and chanting together as one as if Nigeria is not slowly falling apart!

    1. ibukunwrites

      October 2, 2020 at 12:59 pm

      Thank you so much for this comment, love. At the end of the day, we can only keep on hoping and praying, I guess.

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