Inside the business of local gin (ogogoro) distillation

– How the popular beverage is distilled with sugar, dry yeast

– ‘Why FG banned the spirit’ -NAFDAC boss

– ‘The type we make does not harm nor kill people’

– local distiller defends

Whether you call it ogogoro, kai kai, Sapele water, akpeteshie or egun inu igo (which interestingly translates to masquerade in a bottle), you would be referring to the same thing – a very popular locally distilled drink, the local gin.

Long before now, throughout Nigeria (and even beyond to other West African countries), ogogoro has been a hugely-consumed drink. In fact, it is many people’s favourite alcoholic beverage.

Besides this, it carries both cultural and economic significance in virtually all parts of the country; and is an essential part of many a religious and social ceremonies.

For instance, Ijaw priests pour it on the ground as offering to their gods; while in many traditions, fathers of brides use it as a libation with which to pronounce their blessing on a union.

These are at the brink of extinction as consequent upon scores of deaths recorded in Ondo and Rivers states, the Federal Government, on Monday, June 8, 2015, banned the consumption of the local spirit in all parts of the country.

As earlier highlighted, the decision is consequent upon deaths in Rivers and Ondo states due to food poisoning allegedly caused by the consumption of the beverage. In Rivers, the death rose to 38, while the number of deaths in Ode-Irene, Ondo state following the consumption of the gin was pegged at 18.

The Director General of the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr. Paul Orhii, addressing journalists on the development confirmed that the deaths were associated with the consumption of locally made gin.

According to him, in the face of the recent sad happenings, it had become imperative to warn the public to desist from the consumption of unregistered locally made spirits and other unregistered bitters.

Distillers of this favourite drink have in an effort to hopefully get the decision reversed, defended the production of the spirit, noting that the local gin they make neither harms nor kills; and that in fact, it has medicinal capabilities when mixed with certain roots.

ENCOMIUM Weekly visited the popular isale (or odo) ologogoro’ community in Haruna, Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos – an erstwhile ogogoro distilling community, hence its name.

Our correspondent spoke with Mr. I. Agbitoye who was part of a 30 plus-strong group of distillers in the community until, according to him, years ago when they discontinued for various reasons. Here’s what he said during the chat…

Tell us about this ogogoro business

I don’t distill anymore, we stopped many years ago. When we used to produce, there were many of us more than 30. That’s why they call this place odo ologogoro. I am the only one still here from the group of ogogoro makers that we used to have here.

What made the others leave the business and the community?

They all left for different reasons; some relocated, while some others have passed on. For me, I am maintaining this my house with my wife. Nothing happened, really.

Take us through how ogogoro is distilled.

We use water, sugar and dry yeast. We put the water in a drum (that’s a barrel), then add about half bag of sugar. After which we put the yeast. We ferment it then put something we call erinje’ (I don’t know what it is called in English).

What do you add that makes it intoxicate?

It’s the yeast that makes it so. When you mix with sugar and leave for 5-8 days, then we cook it. After that, the good part stays up, while the unwanted part which is at the bottom is poured away.

But why does it kill people like it has in some states?

No, it doesn’t. The one we used to make didn’t kill anybody. I don’t know what those distillers added to their own. Ours didn’t kill anybody.

How do they make the other types of ogogoro?

I’m not sure of what they use or how they distill theirs, but I know some use palm wine; while others use chemicals. I don’t know how to distill the chemical type, but for the palm wine type, they don’t add yeast.

Does it have any health benefits?

Yes. For instance, if someone has malaria, we would get dogonyaro roots, orun wo and igi aran; then put it in the ogogoro. When the person drinks it, the malaria will go in less than three days. Also, you know dry yeast, don’t you? They use for baking bread and things like that. The erinje we add we buy it from villages and cook it with the sugar and the yeast. Many people liked it, even myself, when I was still distilling it. It’s very good. It didn’t do anything bad to the body.


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