On May 11, 2023, many Nigerians woke up to the social media buzz around Chef Hilda Baci’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record (GWR) for the longest cooking time—a record that was then held by Indian chef Lata Tondon, who cooked for 87 hours and 45 minutes in 2019. Hilda Baci, real name Hilda Effiong Bassey, tagged her attempt the Hilda Baci Cook-A-Thon, and her venue was soon swarmed by teaming supporters and cheerleaders who were not only there for the free food but also to lend their presence to the inimitable support that Nigerian youths have always been known to give to causes, movements, and activities that unite them and remind everyone of what it means to be Nigerian.
By the end of that first day, the fanfare had spilled beyond mere internet raves and well into news articles on TV, radio, and newspapers. There was international attention as well, with the official GWR account on Twitter acknowledging Hilda Baci’s attempt and a viral Twitter banter in which some other African countries jokingly claimed the Nigerian chef as their own.
But trust Nigerian youths to never miss an opportunity to put their personal problems aside and get with the program, as long as that program means some sort of victory or recognition for their identity at the end of the day. This unique team spirit and unbridled unity in a country that can sometimes seem too divided along several lines is something worthy of scientific study, but that is a story for another day.
With the country still reeling from the tension and animosity that followed a keenly contested presidential election at the time, there was a desperate need for a unifying factor, and Hilda Baci’s world record attempt was just the perfect one. People thronged the venue in their numbers, their political affiliations, social classes, religions, tribes, etc., all forgotten. Hilda Baci, a Nigerian youth, was attempting a huge feat, and that feat simply became everyone’s.
They cheered as she cooked. They sang and danced. They chanted her name. Some even formed prayer circles. Celebrities trooped in to add to the euphoria. Even the Governor of Lagos State, where the event was held, was not left out, and the outgoing Vice President chimed in with a phone call to encourage the chef. The atmosphere was as electric during the day as it was at night. By the third day, the now-President (President-elect at the time), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, shared a post that fully captured the energy in the air by saying in the youth’s rave-of-the-moment lingua: "IDAN doesn’t break, she breaks records."
This had truly become a national project.
When the timer clocked 87 hours and 45 minutes, did Hilda Baci stop? No, she didn’t. The ante only grew higher and livelier, and she did well to ride it and clock 100 hours before shutting down her cookers. For all the bad press Nigeria gets, Hilda Baci has done the country proud. The youth were galvanized by something positive to focus their energy on. International media were not left out. It was a win for everyone, at least until other variations began to surface.
The first issue was the fact that the record was not immediately awarded to Hilda Baci. The explanation was that GWR needed time to verify the video evidence provided by the chef and her team before deciding if she indeed broke the record. Most Nigerian youths had their hearts in their throats. Everyone was "Team Hilda Baci." The wait was on! But perhaps not everyone was "Team Hilda Baci" after all, because while most were still holding their breaths in wait of the official record confirmation, another chef, Damilola Adeparusi, also known as Chef Dammy, already began her own cook-a-thon on June 9, 2023, in Ekiti State, with a target of 120 cooking hours.
"How dare she? Why pick on Hilda Baci’s particular record and not another one? Must Nigerians always antagonize themselves for clout? Hilda Baci hasn’t even been officially announced as the record holder yet." These were some of the comments made by aggrieved supporters of Hilda Baci who saw Chef Dammy’s quest as a betrayal and a travesty. A popular skit-maker, Layi Wasabi, even went as far as cursing out the Ekiti chef before having to apologize for his outburst.
But the reaction was also as loud on the support end. Hilda Baci did not ask permission from anyone; why should Dammy? It’s a free world; anyone can dream. Go girl! The record is not Hilda Baci’s birthright, please! Dammy’s venue hosted its fair share of supporters as she cooked on, receiving high-profile visitations from not just the Vice Chancellor of her university but also the Governor of Ekiti State and his First Lady. Hilda Baci herself moved to quell the tension by posting a goodwill video to support her adversary.
Then, four days into Chef Dammy’s quest, on June 13, the GWR account on Twitter posted a video in which an adjudicator declared: "I can now announce that with a time of 93 hours and 11 minutes, Hilda Baci is the new holder for the Guinness World Records title of the longest cooking marathon." He further explained that the awarding body could not grant Hilda Baci’s 100-hour claim due to discrepancies in the amount of rest time she had while on the quest. It was not what many of Hilda Baci’s supporters expected, but 93 hours and 11 minutes were good enough, and they could finally breathe. What more? Not long after, GWR declared Hilda Baci’s announcement tweet as their best-performing tweet ever, with nearly 25 million views in just 2 days. That was Nigerians showing GWR what Nigerians are about. Another win for Hilda, another win for everyone!
But that was not all. Many started to postulate: If Hilda Baci could have her time deducted despite her meticulous planning, what would be the fate of Chef Dammy, who many believed already fell afoul of a lot of GWR’s guidelines, including switching off her cooker to pick beans?
Well, Chef Dammy successfully hit her 120-hour target to wide praise and applause, but alas, she did not register her intention with the awarding body before embarking on the quest, a factor that was a sacrosanct prerequisite. Did she just waste her time and everyone else’s? "No," she said. First came a post where she claimed she embarked on the journey not particularly for the record but instead for her love for cooking. Then came an interview in which she promised to prepare better and go again for a target of 150 cooking hours. Well, so much has happened regarding world records since then, but there’s yet to be a retrial as promised.
So, what has happened since Chef Dammy’s quest? A madness, to put it lightly. To start with, another chef, Adeola Adeleye, aka Chef Deo, successfully attempted and hit the target of 150 cooking hours in her own cook-a-thon held in Ondo State. It remains to be seen if she fulfilled all the conditions outlined by GWR or if, like Chef Dammy, it was "only" for the love of cooking.
But it’s not only been cook-a-thons. There have also been indoor-a-thons, sleep-a-thons, gym-a-thons, read-a-thons, stand-a-thons, pray-a-thons, and sing-a-thons; the list is endless. Early in July, a masseuse identified as Joyce Ijeoma collapsed many hours into her 72-hour massage-a-thon in Lagos State. In the same vein, the government of Ekiti State had to put out a prohibition notice for a planned kiss-a-thon in the state. Contrastingly, a comedian, Nwota Chukwuemeka Walter, aka MC Walter, recently received the gift of an SUV from the Ebonyi State Governor after he completed a 130-hour entertain-a-thon in Abakaliki, the state capital.
Sometime in July, GWR revealed that they’d received over 1,500 record attempt applications from Nigeria in just two months. Many have blamed this new craze on "Nigerians only just discovering the Guinness World Records." A Nigerian comedian, Tembu Ebere, aka Towncryer, even made a video saying that now that Nigerians have discovered the Guinness Book of World Records, they would likely "tear the book" with how much the Nigerian collective attention has shifted to it. This makes for a good laugh, but in reality, Nigerians have been gracing the pages of the record book for decades. In fact, there are well over 40 world records held by Nigerians, a number of records which only a handful of countries can boast of bettering.
Some of these records include: ‘The most skips in one minute on one leg’, held by Gbenga Ezekiel; ‘The largest photo book’, held by Bayo Omoboriowo; ‘The most football headers in a prone position in one minute’, held by Chinonso Eche; ‘Longest Dance Party’, held by Kafayat Oluwatoyin Shafau aka Kaffy (and co); ‘The first track to reach one billion streams on Spotify’, achieved by Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun aka Wizkid (jointly with Drake and Kyla); ‘The most appearances in Diamond League meetings by an athlete’, achieved by Blessing Okagbare; ‘The first-ever No.1 position on the Official MENA Chart,’ achieved by Divine Ikubor aka Rema; ‘Most studio album recordings released as a solo artist’, held by Fela Kuti; ‘Fastest hurdles 100 metres by a female,’ held by Tobi Amusan. The list goes on!
What then is this new craze about?
Nigeria has a population of over 200 million people, with over 60% of those under the age of 25. That’s well over 100 million people firmly rooted in the youth demographic—more people than the entire population of many of the world’s countries. With Nigeria’s unemployment rate projected to hit 41%, according to a KPMG report, it's logical to expect that there’s a lot of youthful energy and restlessness in the country, and all that energy and restlessness have to be channeled somewhere. It’s not farfetched to finger energy and restlessness as the secrets of Nigeria’s movie, music, fashion, sports, and tech exploits, among other things. These are areas that developed with little or no government involvement and have made numerous world stars over the years. That’s outside of the many other world stars of Nigerian heritage doing exceptionally well in other countries—the Anthony Joshuas, David Alaba, Zain Asher, Skepta, Damson Idris, Wale, Israel Adesanya, Tomi Adeyemi, Bukayo Saka, John Boyega, and many more.
Nigeria is a giant. Many say that a giant is a sleeping one. The youth just don’t see it that way. Hilda Baci’s record attempt was not the first to garner such huge attention. After all, Kaffy’s attempt in 2006 was televised on Silverbird Television. The difference is the time in which Nigerian youths got to experience Hilda Baci’s: a time when the degree of economic frustration leveled with the self-awareness of infinite possibilities. There is also the rise of social media and the elevation of social influencers to celebrity status. Who doesn’t want to have a taste of fame? These youths see a reflection of themselves in all who have gone before them and achieved something, be it for glory or for clout. They only want their shots, too.
But these are only my thoughts, not the results of some academic research that can boast of erudite scientific backing. Regardless, this new craze is likely not going anywhere anytime soon. With the youth population of Nigeria and all the countless ways many of those youth have proven time after time that they’re absolute world beaters, it should come as no surprise that others are out here staking their claims. Many to come will collapse while attempting, a lot of others will go through the process unprepared, and many more will fall foul of local laws in their quest for international glory, but someone should tell the doubters that the Guinness Book of World Records is for all nations and Nigerians will lay their claims within the limits of their capabilities. Ironically, Tembu Ebere, who warned about "tearing the book," himself jumped on the wagon and staged a 100-hour cry-a-thon, crying for several days and experiencing temporal blindness before GWR tweeted that "they wouldn’t ever monitor a record for the longest marathon crying."
With all said and done, what has become apparent is that whether they make new records or not, Nigerian youths shall continue to ravage this book because it is one that they are not afraid to tear!