Granny’s porridge that left Obasanjo licking fingers

Business

By Harold Ayodo

She is the great-grandmother who used a calabash of millet porridge to lure former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo into her makeshift structure in Kisumu in 1995.

Helida Ogol was humbled when Obasanjo used his fingers to lick remnants of uji (porridge) she had brewed from the calabash and requested a refill.

"Obasanjo walked into my kiosk accompanied by Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o and asked for the drink," says Ogol.

Helida Ogol during the interview. Photo: James Keyi/File /Standard

The former Head of State of Africa’s most populous nation sat on her creaky wooden benches, and praised and drowned the millet porridge with relish shortly before midday.

The great-grand mother who brews porridge to date at her premises says the visit by the former Nigerian President turned around her business.

The fact that Obasanjo, a former president, was a fiery opposition leader angling for a comeback then, and Nyanza was the hotbed of the same less than three years into multi-party politics, spoke volumes.

"My humble uji made headlines across the lakeside town after The Standard carried a front page picture of Obasanjo and Prof Nyong’o drinking," she says.

Stately guest

Ogol says her stately guest gave residents of Kisumu something to talk about for weeks. "Obasanjo talked politics with Nyong’o, which attracted more clients who jostled for sitting space near the duo on the creaky wooden benches," she recalls.

The visit by Obasanjo, who was wearing akala (shoes wrought from discarded tyres), is still fresh on people’s minds in Kisumu.

Obasanjo, then 58, was on his way to Bondo to open the mausoleum of the late doyen of opposition politics Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

The two had been friends for years. The visit amazed all and sundry, including his host, Nyong’o, then Ford-Kenya MP for Kisumu Rural.

"Some people do not eat in public, you know," said a smiling Obasanjo as he drowned his fill and talked opposition politics with Nyong’o.

Courtesy calls

Obasanjo later joined locals in playing a game of ajua amid shouts of "Abiola and umofya! Umofya!" – a chorus adapted from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

When other hosts unroll red carpets for dignitaries and opinion leaders, the grandmother’s over 40 years of experience in brewing traditional porridge did the trick. She cannot speak English and can only mumble a few common Kiwahili words but this has never been a language barrier with her high profile customers.

"I tell them machiegni (come near) or karibu (welcome) then bring porridge and a bowl of nyoyo (mixture of maize and bean)," she explains. Her hands are hard and wrinkled betraying her old age but her mind seems far away from senility as she recalls dignitaries who enjoyed her drink before Obasanjo.

She says Jaramogi Odinga was a traditionalist who loved her porridge and paid courtesy calls with his delegations at her kiosk whenever he was at the lakeside town.

"Odinga came here many times with a fly whisk and akala shoes — as Vice-President and Opposition leader — and sat for hours politicking with guests," Ogol recalls.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Nyong’o are on her long list of appreciative customers from the days of yore.

Others who sipped her renowned drink with relish included former ministers the late Robert Ouko and Ndolo Ayah.

What has remained a mystery is how she attracts high profile visitors from cosy hotels in the town into her makeshift kiosk.