Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Nigeria’s ‘local gin’ makers standing firm despite ban


A brewer drinks locally-made gin, known as ogogoro, as he filters it into a plastic drum in Lagos on Aug. 12.

Photo: AFP

In many parts of southern Nigeria, no traditional ceremony or ritual is complete without a tot or two of locally brewed alcohol, or “ogogoro.”

“It is the drink of the elders,” said Godwin Masi, a 72-year-old bricklayer in the southern state of Rivers. “The gods also accept it for libation in cultural ceremonies.”

Nigerian states have been trying to crack down on the production and consumption of ogogoro for months, after dozens of people died earlier this year. Some states imposed a ban on the liquor, but enforcement is problematic.

Mechanic Wasiu Adegbite believes any attempt to outlaw the drink is doomed to failure.

“It is the drink for the poor. With just 20 naira [less than US$0.01), you get the feel you can never get from other drinks,” the 32-year-old said.

“It energizes us and improves our productivity at work, and enhances our libido. It [a ban] is a sheer waste of time. Let the government focus on other serious national issues,” he said.

“Fighting to eliminate ogogoro is the least of its problems,” he added.

Ogogoro, or locally made gin, was banned during British colonial times, but legalized after independence in 1960.

Since then, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to outlaw the drink.

The latest comes after 23 people died in April from ogogoro believed to have been laced with methanol in the town of Ode-Irele in southwestern Ondo State.

About 40 others then died in June in Rivers.

“Many of them [the victims] became blind after consuming the highly concentrated liquor,” Ondo State Health Commissioner Dayo Adeyanju said.

“Other effects of the liquor consumption are damage to the liver, brain, nervous system and heart. It causes dementia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease,” he said.

However, Independence John, sweating profusely from the scorching heat of a wood fire cooking the liquid in a big iron container, is not concerned.

“It is safe to drink,” the 22-year-old said, taking a sip from a 200-liter drum of ogogoro. “It is not dangerous. After distilling, we sell it in its raw form to companies that repackage and sell them to the public.”

John abandoned schooling in the Ikorodu area of Lagos and took up a new career by joining a team distilling the drink, which typically has more than 20 percent alcohol by volume.

Police often turn a blind eye.

“Policemen come here to collect drinks we give them. They drink then go back,” he added.

Despite this tacit backing — and protection — by law enforcement, distillers are still guarded about their operations. In Ikorodu, the distillery, ripe with an overpowering, sweet smell of fermentation, is strewn with dozens of plastic drums, a generator, a pumping machine and hoses criss-crossing the land outside.

Benson Esiekpe said molasses — refined sugar cane — is the main ingredient and is chosen because of its easy availability. More sugar is then added and the mixture is left to ferment for at least a week.

Then it is poured into a large iron container that can hold up to 8,000 liters. Logs of firewood are burned to heat up the liquid.

“We allow the vapor to cool through a cooling process. The vapor comes out in trickles and it takes about 30 minutes to fill a drum of 200 liters,” John said.

“Thereafter, the ogogoro is ready for sale to companies, not individual buyers,” he said.

The WHO said that about one-quarter of worldwide consumption of alcohol in 2010 was from illegally produced alcohol or alcohol sold outside normal government controls.

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