Grab Alomọ, Ọ̀pá ẹ̀yin, pẹlẹbẹ, and the rest to get some spiritual ginger!
The moment you board a commercial bus in Osodi or a Micra in Ibadan, expect that the driver would either be hostile, naughty or have a gentle smell of spirit, Ògógóró, saying hi to you when he requests the fare. Sometimes, you must know that the chances of your survival are 50/50 as the speed and ways of manoeuvring would keep you saying astaghfirullah, and for the less devout, a thousand Hail Mary cocktails might be silently recited. You would not want to meet your end at the hands of an Ògógóró addict. Yet, if that were to happen, you would at least hope to have offered prayers for forgiveness after the fornication appointment you just came from. An Alagbere riding in the bus of an Òlógógóró!
Upon closer observation, one can readily identify the reasons behind this behaviour. The reckless driving, incessant cursing at fellow road users, unwarranted attitudes, uncomfortable friendliness, and life-threatening stunts with the wheels all point to one clear conclusion—the driver is undeniably under the influence of a substance. The frequent visits to Mallam Kay in pursuit of the sought-after coolant further attest to the theatrics witnessed, a manifestation of his shaayo level.
Ògógóró, a widely recognised Nigerian hard drink known by various names like ṣepe, paraga, and kaikai, holds a prominent place among the populace. Renowned for its affordability and accessibility, it has become a popular drink, accessible even to the unemployed and dependents. A shot, usually about 300ml, costs less than fifty Naira. Last December, I went to Arena Market in Lagos to taste the latest ones. Some are the same as those on the roadside, in the bowl used by the bricklayers to carry mixed cement with sand. Before you panic, let me check my kidneys! In Yoruba cities, the term pélébé, refers to these potent drinks, depicting the silvery nylon sachets used for their storage. It is affordable to the lower classes in lieu of foreign Remy Martin and Cognac, as seen in the bars of the elites.
So, Chibuzo, the driver, could stash packs in his pocket before navigating the dimly lit Lagos roads at dusk. While some turn to the drink for warmth on cold days, others use them for ceremonial purposes, such as weddings and libations for deities in traditional settings, but for the chemistry children, na almighty vibe. The accessibility has, however, increased the level of addiction and misuse, resulting in various social challenges. After all, it would be daring to seek nutritional values from a drink that cost less than ₦100.
Lovers of the locally brewed gin would agree as to how dutiful a servant the drink is. They most especially are well versed with the gyration songs at the various joints in praise of it.
“Ògógóró wetin I do you
You carry me throwaway for gutter
I carry my money I buy you too
“You carry me throwaway for gutter”. This chorus tells what relationship exists between the buyer and the substance consumed. Just like the driver, ògógóró, like any other psychotic-induced substance, when consumed in large quantities, has dangerous effects on the consumer and, by extension, the community at large. Despite the clear dangers, once thrown into the gutter, the allure seems to persist, urging individuals to approach it again.
In recent times, the Nigerian community has suffered the brunt of excessive intake of ògógóró over time. Deaths resulting from the influence of these drinks have been of great concern. In 2015, the Rivers State Government recorded the death of about 70 people in about five local governments due to the intake of locally brewed alcohol. Findings revealed that the drink contained methanol in large quantities, thus posing significant health hazards. During these trying times, the government was forced to place bans on the production and sales of these brands of alcohol.
This exemplifies the direct impact, where one becomes the victim of one’s misfortune. However, the more conspicuous repercussions of ògógóró are seen in the indirect dangers it imposes on others. Research indicates that individuals addicted to ògógóró and those prone to alcohol consumption are more likely to engage in harmful behaviours, violating, abusing, and putting others at risk. Alcohol and drug abuse have been consistently linked to various types of crimes, particularly among those seeking Dutch courage. So, while the victim of a thief begs for mercy, the assailant might not even understand as e don dey anoda level.
A commercial bus driver, under the influence of ògógóró on the 9th of December 2022, tragically took the life of a Lagos-based breadwinner, Hanofi, and left his wife unconscious for three days. The incident occurred while the couple was returning home late at night. These unfortunate events, amongst others, have reshaped the perception of these alcohol brands. Aside from the loss of lives, the economic sabotage that accompanies such tragedies is sufficient to misrepresent the drinks despite the social and religious attachment often given to them. For instance, in most disputes that ensue from minor disagreements in Nigerian motor parks, the street boys and abete are usually under the influence of alcohol. It is common to have two members of the road unions fight over money, and this escalates to the burning of shops, looting, and subsequent closure of such parks by the government. Beyond this, brand owners are also at risk of being banned by the government.
While it would be unfair to attribute unfortunate events to the consumption of these brands of drinks, our African society has long grappled with neocolonialism in various forms. African cultures have always revered ògógóró. In every setting, it remains a tangible item on the marriage list, with blessings and prayers conducted for couples with a splash from the bottles by the elders. Also, local ceremonies are incomplete without a taste of these drinks.
Beyond cultural significance, the sales and investment in the manufacturing of ògógóró hold great economic value for small and medium businesses. This is made possible when the government directs attention to the production of these drinks, ensuring proactive measures against adulteration and counterfeits. With the observed high patronage in Nigeria, the locally brewed alcohol industry would cater to a reasonable number of unemployed adults in the society. The establishment of a locally brewed drinks industry would provide job opportunities for people ranging from plant operators to middlemen and logistics operators.
In March 2020, the then Minister of Power, Works and Housing, in his customary style, threw a poser to his audience on diversification when he asked: “Why is our ògógóró illicit”? This, he drew from the fact that the hand sanitiser provided at the event was from China despite having the same components as our local drinks, and he wondered if Nigeria was ready for diversification. This was but a reality of the possibilities attainable in the ògógóró industry if well managed. The government’s role should be to harness this potential while implementing regulations to ensure standard production and restrict access to non-adults. Like Western practices, measures to prevent underage access to these drinks should be prioritised as they are more prone to substance abuse. In all truth, ògógóró is not the enemy; it is the mouth that consumes it that is the trouble! Therefore, awareness campaigns should be encouraged to inform people about the proper consumption of these drinks.
In fact, many of the antagonists of ògógóró have done so in mere hypocrisy. They have only found enough money to massage their excesses, taking bottles of alcoholic wines and maybe some Vodka. Do not be deceived by Asake, who said ògógóró no be Vodka. Mr. Money would have known that the difference could be the taste and the price, but ògógóró, the affordable companion of the people, has the same result as Vodka or any other expensive spirit. The society must be realistic with the substance. It is not necessarily the devil, but to reduce excessive consumption, we must stop being judgmental. Sensitisation must come in careful and logical ways, in small doses of ògógóró in the brain!