By Kunle Obafemi
The multiple deaths associated with the various outbreaks of the Lassa fever virus across the country have aggravated hunger in the country. With the high negative effects of the Lassa fever virus resulting into multiple deaths, many Nigerians are now afraid of drinking garri! Before the outbreak of the Lassa fever virus, drinking of garri was perceived as a stopgap as it was used to conquer hunger. But since the latest outbreaks of the virus across the country and the fear of contracting deadly has compelled many Nigerians to avoid drinking garri like a plague! Drinking garri was part and parcel of the food component of Nigerians nay many Africans in the West African sub-region. Drinking garri was like eating other stable foods like rice, yam, beans and eba. Drinking garri was more common and rampant during the dry season as many Nigerians liked to take this food during this period of the year as a result of the terrible heat that is experienced at this time of the year.
Nigerian children of school age used to drink garri more than adults. Immediately they returned from school they would drink garri while waiting for their mothers to either return from work or market to cook for them. Drinking of garri kept the school children going while awaiting their mothers to prepare lunch or dinner for them. This was a great relief for them and their mothers who wouldn’t be bothered if there was no other food at home whenever they were not at home.
There are many reasons why Nigerians liked to drink garri before the fear of the Lassa fever virus has compelled them to stop only recently. First, drinking garri doesn’t need any serious preparation as all that is needed is just water, garri with either little salt or sugar. There is no special training on how to prepare garri like people get special training on how to prepare fried rice, jollof rice, egusi soup, ogbono soup etc. Second, apart from the fact that it can be taken to quash hunger while a major food is being prepared for breakfast, lunch or dinner; it could also be taken to quench thirst. Drinking garri is like drinking ordinary water which helps to quench thirst. This was a major reason Nigerians usually drink more garri during the dry season more than they do during the rainy season.
The third reason why many Nigerians like to drink garri is because it is easily affordable by both the rich and the poor. Garri is sold in small packs of N20:00, N50:00, N100:00 etc. which is why everybody can afford to buy it. Garri can be taken without anything but it is much better when it is taken with fried groundnuts, beans, bean cakes popularly known in local parlance as “akara,” fried or dried fish etc. But the commonest item that most Nigerians drink garri with was fried groundnuts. The reason is not farfetched as groundnuts can easily be bought at relative cheap prices of N10:00, N20:00, N30:00, N50:00, N100:00 etc. With these prices available, an average Nigerian could afford any of the prices; this was why many Nigerians were taking it as a stable food more than other stable foods before the outbreak of the Lassa virus. At the work places, many Nigerians go to work with garri which they drink break periods because they may not be able to afford the exorbitant prices of food sold in their company’s canteens. This is why the outbreak of the Lassa fever virus has constituted a very big problem to many Nigerians.
Nigerians that have the knowledge of the Lassa fever virus have stopped drinking garri because the Lassa fever virus is commonly transmitted by the species of rats known as mastomys natalensis which are the natural reservoir of the virus. Rats which are the carriers of the virus usually eat garri that is not properly covered and as they are eating the garri they sometimes urinate or defecate on it which contaminates it. Since nobody can be hundred percent sure of the garri that has been contaminated by the lassa fever virus or not, avoid drinking garri has become the watch word. This has increased hunger in the land.
Another thing that has aggravated hunger in the country since the outbreaks of Lassa fever virus is the stoppage of the eating of rats. Some Nigerians enjoyed eating rats but since rats are the natural reservoir of the virus, they have also stopped eating them so that they don’t get infected by the virus. With the stoppage of drinking garri and cooking soup with rats because of the Lassa virus, hunger has become more terrific in the land! Many Nigerians now scowl their faces as a result of the biting hunger.
But is there nutritional value in drinking garri? This is one question many Nigerians have asked at various times and are still asking. Garri is purely carbohydrate which gives solely energy to the consumer. Everybody needs energy in order to function very well; without energy one can’t walk from one place to another. This is why energy giving foods or foods that give carbohydrate are vital to the body. But is it only carbohydrate that garri gives? Garri gives mainly carbohydrate but when it is combined with groundnuts while drinking it, one will get protein from the groundnuts because they contain protein. Again, drinking garri with beans will give protein because beans contain protein while drinking garri with bean cake-:akara” will also provide protein because beans from which the akara is made contain protein too. Nigerians who drink garri with either fried or dried fish will also derive protein from it because of the fact that fish contain protein.
The avoidance of drinking garri during this period of the outbreaks of Lassa fever virus is a wise decision. The reason is because nobody can tell who the next victim of Lassa fever would be if Nigerians that hitherto liked to drink garri don’t stop taking it. It is the only people that are alive that can eat any type of food, so to avoid drinking garri at this critical time is never a wrong decision. For this reason all Nigerians should spread the information about avoiding drinking during this period of the outbreaks of the Lassa fever virus. Hunger will not kill anybody for avoiding to drink garri; there are many other foods we can eat at anytime. Lassa fever is a deadly disease let us all keep away from things that can expose us to get infected by it. Drinking garri is one those things; let us avoid drinking garri at this critical time.