Johnson Babalola
February 27, 2024

Ila Ti Won (Okra is Now Expensive)

Upon returning to my home in Nigeria, I noticed a peculiar trend unfolding in my compound. The security guard had transformed every available patch of land into a makeshift farm, primarily cultivating okra. Puzzled by this sight, I queried, “VK, why plant several okras within flowers?” His response was succinct: “Ila ti won ni sir” (okra is now expensive, sir). Advising him to allocate space wisely, I suggested planting okra in designated areas, sparing the flower beds. Relieved, he complied, avoiding the laborious task of uprooting the burgeoning okra plants nestled amidst the flowers.

During my visit to Abuja soon after, an old university friend treated me to lunch at a renowned local amala restaurant, a place I frequented often in the past. Ordering my usual – “Amala meta, ponmo kan ati ogunfe kan” (three wraps of amala, one cut of cow skin, and a cut of goat meat) – I anticipated the familiar flavors. The middle-aged woman taking our order inquired about the soup choice, to which I cheerfully replied, “Ila” (okra). However, her demeanor hinted at an underlying unease, lost in her thoughts. It reminded me of the complexities we all carry, often concealed beneath a veneer of normalcy.

The shock came swiftly as the servings arrived, notably smaller than previous visits, signaling the harsh reality of escalating prices. The reduced size of the amala wraps spoke volumes, prompting me to request an additional portion. As the okra, cow skin, and goat meat followed suit in diminished quantities, I couldn’t help but express my surprise at the tiny okras. “Ila yin ti kere ju” (this okra portion is too small), I remarked. Her response was blunt yet revealing: “Ila ti won” (okra is now expensive), her expression unchanged. Resolving to supplement my meal with extra okra, I pondered the irony of such scarcity in a land of plenty.

Despite the abundance of fertile land, the soaring cost of okra remained a perplexing reality, underscoring deeper economic challenges. This encounter served as a poignant reminder of the unseen struggles faced by individuals and communities, urging reflection on the broader implications of economic disparity amidst apparent plenty.

Upon my return home to Canada, I was greeted with the comforting aroma of dinner: amala and okra, prepared by my wife. With anticipation, I inspected the okra soup, a tantalizing concoction featuring snail, dried fish, shrimp, and cow skin – a delight for any okra enthusiast. With the eagerness of a child in a candy store, I began serving myself, ensuring the amala was generously coated in the flavorful okra.

Lost in my indulgence, I reached for a fifth scoop of okra, only to be halted by a voice behind me. “Arakunrin, o ti to. Ila ti won” (man, it’s enough. Okra is now expensive), my wife gently interjected. Surprised by her observation, I smiled and relinquished my quest for more, settling into the enjoyment of the meal.

As I savored each bite, gratitude swelled within me for the provision and the care with which it was prepared. Yet, I couldn’t help but ponder the emphasis on okra over other ingredients like snail and fish. The answer soon dawned on me: okra’s enduring appeal lies in its simplicity and accessibility. Regardless of wealth or status, okra has historically been a staple within reach of all, easy to cultivate, cook, and enjoy.

In light of global economic challenges, the inflated cost of basic necessities confronts us all. Yet, amidst this reality, lies an opportunity for resilience and self-sufficiency. Like VK, who utilized available resources to cultivate okra, each of us can contribute to alleviating economic burdens by harnessing our immediate environment.

Perhaps, through collective efforts, the next time I dine out in Ibadan, Abakiliki, Sapele, or Daura, the portion of okra served will reflect not only abundance but also the shared commitment to overcoming economic adversity.

Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.