BY ANAYO ONUKWUGHA
……locally distilled gin, better known as ogogoro has reclaimed its position as the choice drink of the masses in Port Harcourt, one year after its sale and consumption was banned in the state by NAFDAC following the untimely death of about 70 persons in the state, traced to its consumption.
Despite the order of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for the banning of the sale and consumption of locally distilled gin, popularly, called ogogoro, the rate of consumption of the alcoholic beverage in Rivers State is rather climbing up.
NAFDAC last year, banned the circulation and consumption of ogogoro, also known as kai-kai in Rivers State, following the death of no fewer than 70 persons in five local government areas of the state as a result of the consumption of the gin, suspected to have contained substances suspected to be ethanol.
The first set of death, which involved five persons was recorded in Mini-Woji community in Obio/Akpor local government area of the state; it later spread to Bonny Island in Bonny local government area, where no fewer than 17 persons died in less than 72 hours after consuming the poisonous local gin. Also affected by the deaths were Gokana, Port Harcourt City and Ahoada-east local government areas of the state.
However, less than one year after the incident, residents of Rivers State seem to have forgotten how people then avoided the locally distilled gin like a plague, throwing distillers and dealers of the alcoholic beverage into instant penury.
At the moment, the business of sale and consumption of ogogoro is booming in motor parks, jetties, street corners, uncompleted buildings and in riverine communities of the state.
A visit to the Bonny-Bille Jetty, which is under reconstruction by the Rivers State government, Mile 3 Motor Park, Abali Motor Park, Eleme Junction, Rumuola Junction, Waterline Junction, and some other waterfronts in Port Harcourt, the state capital, revealed that lots of people in the state are fully back to buying, selling and consumption of the banned local gin.
To Chief Nelson Blakk, who is the leader of dealers of the local gin in Nembe Waterfront, Bile Waterfront, Bonny and Creek Road, all in Old Port Harcourt Township, nothing is wrong with ogogoro, adding that his people have been consuming it since 1971.
But Soibi Max-Alalibo, a Port Harcourt resident believes that the negative effects of Ogogoro is enormous, depending on how one consumes it.
Max-Alalibo said, “The negative effects of local gin is enormous but sometimes, it depends on how you use it. There is a saying that excess of everything is bad. A lot of people use local gin for various purposes, herbal medicine and all that.
“It could be very effective when you use it for the purpose of bringing out the medicinal values of herbs. As usual, some of these things people abuse them; when it is abused, oftentimes, the effect could be really damaging to the health.”
He stated that major consumers of the local alcoholic beverage are people from the riverine communities, because it is major producers of Ogogoro are found in the riverine communities.
According to Max-Alalibo, “Usually, it is mostly produced from the riverine areas and people tend to be used to things around them.” So, it us not out of place for them to use it more. Moreover, in the riverine areas, there is so much cold and people take it to drive away cold. The single fact that it is mostly produced in the riverine areas makes it common to them.”
A septuagenarian community leader, Chief Joe Ezuma, stated that the humidity of the riverine environment ensures that the people consume the locally distilled gin.
On the health benefits of the consumption of Ogogoro, he said, “Local gin, mixed with roots are many. Don’t forget that conventional drugs are from the leaves and roots. Therefore, all the roots are put into all these local gin are medicinal. Some cure malaria, some cure diabetes, some cure hepatitis, some cure cough, others cure waste pain.
“They have their names; you get certain names like waste pain, monkey-tail, washing and setting. Washing and setting is seen as a purifier by those who take it. So these are the health benefits.”
Ezuma stated that the consumption of Ogogoro also have some economic values for those who embrace its consumption.
He said, “It has economic value for those who take it. One is that under our system where it is difficult for a common man to obtain medical services when he is sick, he queues for a whole day, most of them the without even getting attention from the doctors.
“For instance, a poor man that has malaria, instead of going to the hospital, he goes to take two shorts of local gin mixed with roots and the malaria will clear. It is not as if he is in love with the mixture, but because the system has made it impossible for him to obtain medical services.