Last week, there was only one name on the collective lips of Nigerians on social media, and even to an extent, in real life: Hilda Baci. To be honest, I had no idea who she was prior to her bid at breaking the world record for ‘longest cooking time by an individual’, a record held by an Indian chef, Lata Tondon, since 2019. The Nigerian chef began her bid last week, on Thursday 11, all through Monday 15 May, 2023. The Guinness World Records official website published that Baci (pronounced ‘Bassey’) whipped up “55 recipes and more than 100 meals in a whopping 100-hour stint.” She prepared over 200 meals and served to over 4,000 people. Dishes included White rice and stew, party jollof, coconut rice, fried rice, yam pottage, and many more, including soups and ‘swallows’. That is by all accounts an impressive feat.
Baci was initially scheduled to stop at a 96-hour target, surpassing the current holder’s record, but like a true Nigerian, she gave extra and hit a 100-hour record. Her supporters were ecstatic. Then more ginger came when the Guinness website announced: “Officials on our records team look forward to reviewing the evidence and hope to be able to verify Hilda’s efforts as a new record very soon.” However, I was truly touched by the truly impressive – some might even say ‘miraculous’ – thing she pulled off. And what might that be?
You see, after an election that was ridiculously divisive, and which polarized an already divided nation, Nigerians – both the disgruntled and the victorious – desperately needed a distraction, an object to obsess on, a national pastime to revel in, or a figure to unite on and rally about. Along came Chef Baci, and boom, everyone found a new icon to tweet about, update WhatsApp statuses with, flood Facebook with mentions of, and congratulate on Instagram.
During the one-week record-breaking bid blitz, there were questions that some netizens posed, like ‘what is the Nigerian dream?’ Or even ‘what’s the Nigerian national dish?’ (to which I can easily answer ‘Indomie’) It all sparked a near-frenzied expression of nationalism which I haven’t seen before, even during international football matches. Nigerians (most of us, anyways) were finally united over the pretty chef’s doggedness and determination, and her eventual win. At a point, she became one of the most-searched Nigerians last week, with over three million Google searches.
There were Facebook and Instagram live feeds. There were mini concerts and broadcasts, and the nonstop online updates and news reports. People from all walks of life, and from all political divides, came together to support Chef Baci in a truly heart-warming show of fierce Nigerian love, as even A-list celebrities and politicians dropped by to support and cheer her on, some bringing gifts and other forms of encouragement. Lagos governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was among the first to swoop in on the cook-a-thon’s venue, where he said she made the city proud.
Not too long after that, Baci got a call from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, followed by President Muhammadu Buhari extending his regards on on Monday. Even president-elect Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, and the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, many other governors, and other personalities all chimed in to support and congratulate the Akwa Ibom native. An elated Baci, during a telecast, said she hopes her feat will help tell “Some of the positive stories that come from Africa through the meals that we make”. Even memes were created, quickly going viral, and pushing the newly-minted superstar on forward, cementing her status as a bona fide national superstar.
Baci’s media mentions painted a picture of a hard-working, driven professional. She said: “When I said I prepared for this attempt five years ago, I meant I couldn’t afford it then, or had any backing but God had already laid it in my heart to do this. I built my brand and worked on my person from that time. I also decided to lose weight to feel better about myself and I knew I was going to do a lot of standing. My back still hurts, my ankles are still swollen, I have several burns, been unable to eat or sleep till now, it really took a lot from me and I know it would take some time before I get back to normal myself.” On getting inspiration, she added that the first day was the hardest and she almost gave up six times that day.
As I write this, there is not yet an official confirmation or verification from Guinness World Records, but all signs point to a positive result. While we wait, Chef Baci continues to be celebrated, and from all corners of Nigeria, showing that beyond the toxicity on the internet and some of the real-life hatred, we all want the same things: We want to be seen, heard, and respected. Maybe this is the clue and cue which the incoming administration needs, maybe not. But what is clear is that there is a lesson or lessons somewhere within her win, waiting to be learnt by all those who need to. A recipe, if you will, to be deployed in governing this most complex nation of ours.