The Ban On Local Gin | Independent Newspapers Limited
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The Ban On Local Gin

Posted: Jun 14, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Following the recent incidents of food poisoning in Rivers and Ondo states, caused by consumption of local gin known as “Ogogoro”, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), last week banned its sale in all parts of the country. The Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC), Dr Paul Ehii who announced the decision stated, “the public should desist from consumption of unregistered locally made spirits and other unregistered bitters. The government will confiscate all illegally brewed alcoholic beverages across the country”. Recall that not less than eighty-six people reportedly lost their lives in both states from the consumption of adulterated local gin.

While we appreciate the harm Ogogoro has done to a lot of people, however we do not think that the government should throw away the baby with the bath water. Through the history of countries with successful brands of spirits, there were instances, when the local distillates that are now venerated all over the world were toxic, because, the government of the day hounded the distillers and made them do clandestine things that ensured cheap production and underground routes for distribution. However, when the government realised the futility of bans, indigenous companies which had refined their production methods, such that their products became yardsticks for safety in the production of distilled alcohol meant for consumption, were allowed to pay taxes and even protected from competition from imported varieties.

For example, when gin drinking in England rose significantly after the government allowed unlicensed gin production and at the same time imposed a heavy duty on all imported spirits, a market for poor-quality grain that was unfit for brewing beer was created and that helped save farmers from loss of revenue. In 1823, the UK passed the Excise Act, legalising the distillation (for a fee) of Scotch Whiskey and this put a practical end to the large-scale production of Scottish moonshine, which was the term used to describe alcohol produced through crude methods at night to prevent the authorities from seeing the smoke from the production and facilitate distribution.

Ogogoro is distilled from the juice of the Raffia Palm which on its own is not toxic. It is the process of distillation that is crude and thus introduces contaminants that make the drink toxic. The active ingredient in “Ogogoro” is ethanol. This is the same ethanol in all the imported brands of spirits which are standardised and the concentration of ethanol usually forty percent alcohol by volume or below and are safe to drink. “Ogogoro” sometimes has been found to have up to sixty percent alcohol by volume or more. We believe that NAFDAC’s intervention should be the same as was done with the production of sachet water otherwise known as “pure water”. Indeed, distillers of the local gin need the assistance of the federal government through organising workshops and exhibitions where proper distilling methods would be taught and the right equipment introduced.

With the ban, federal government would definitely be throwing some people into the unemployment market. Perhaps rather than outright ban, sophisticated distilleries should be encouraged to mop up local primary “Ogogoro” distillates for secondary distillation.

The Federal Government needs to consider local efforts at self-sufficiency as worthy and fashion out strategy for mentoring by direct intervention, infusion of information and finance that would create an enabling environment for improved and enhanced productivity.