Continues from yesterday
By Jude Njoku, Jimitota Onoyume, Samuel Oyadongha, Dayo Johnson, Davis Iheanachor & Imem Idio
VANGUARD Features, VF, started the first part of the Ogogoro deaths saga yesterday. The story continues today with the chilling accounts of how some persons died after taking the drink and the growing protests against its ban.
“Later that same Friday, the late Odohi and Udeh began to complain of stomach ache and eye problem. The next day, both of them died. The same Saturday May 30, Ogbubula died. Monday the next week, Philomena died. Before they died, they all went blind. The community was thrown into confusion because we saw the whole thing as mysterious,” the paramount ruler said.
Kaikai now nocturnal business
“I am worried that in spite of news of death from consumption of Kaikai vendors still sell at night,” lamentated the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Heath, Rivers State , Mr Somiari Isaac-Harry, as he spoke to the VF on effort by his Ministry, NAFDAC, the Ministry of information and security agencies to put a halt to further death from consumption of the locally brewed gin.
He said the death toll still remained at 71, one week after this figure was released. According to him, some of the 11 who survived had visual impairment while a few others were very sick. Mr Isaac-Harry said the Federal Government had directed that the survivors should be treated free of charge at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
He further explained that the deaths were traced to methanol, a chemical substance that is very harmful to the body. According to him, when methanol dissolves after consumption it destroys several organs in the body. He said the producers had to turn to methanol because there was scarcity of ethanol which they had been using.
“The only thing we noticed is that some of the dealers still sell at night. I wore shorts to Nembe waterside area to see if they still sell. I saw a boy who looked like he drinks the stuff and I asked him if I could get it. He told me that the dealers only sell at night. I observed that they covered all drums used for the business.
“The Kaikai issue for now is under control; since last week Monday till now we have not recorded any incident. The death toll still remains 71. We had 80 cases . Nine survived. Some of the survivors have visual impairment, some are very ill. The Federal Government directed that all those who survived should be treated free of charge at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
Distinction between original and fake Ogogoro
“The original Kaikai or Ogogoro is said to be distilled from palm wine. Some distillers also use ethanol. But we heard suppliers say there was shortage of ethanol so they went for methanol. Methanol is dangerous to our health. it forms different compounds that destroy our organs after consumption,” Mr Isaac-Harry said.
He also said his Ministry was already working with the Ministry of Information, the Police, NAFDAC and security agencies to thoroughly sensitise the people and enforce the ban on the sale and consumption till further notice. Isaac-Harry advised against importation of ethanol and methanol from India at the moment because of about 100 deaths traced to consumption of alcoholic liquor in Mumbai recently.
Stop importation of ethanol, methanol from India
“We import a lot of chemicals from India. They should not import any ethanol or methanol from India. I can’t say what killed the people in India but going by media reports that some people died from poisonous alcohol, I advise against importation of ethanol and methanol from India for now.
Methanol is for industrial use only. It degrades into Formaldehyde and other components that destroy organs in the body, “ he said. He said his Ministry had intensified sensitisation and enlightenment programmes and is liaising with herbal medicine practitioners to also help spread the news.
“The Ministry can’t enforce . So what we do is regular sensitisation. We have been sensitising the people . We have agreed that they should also sensitise at the grassroots level. We have spoken to the traditional rulers council and association of traditional medicine practitioners as part of the sensitisation program, “ he said.
Protests trail ban in Bayelsa State
Expectations that the reported high death toll of persons who took contaminated local gin otherwise known as ‘Kaikai’ in neighbouring Rivers State would trigger panic in Bayelsa State which is about one hour drive from the troubled state, have turned out to be unfounded.
Rather, the ban slammed on the product, regarded as an integral part of the Ijaw way of life, by the Federal Government and alleged police harassment of the locals who deal in Kaikai, a thriving industry in the state and by extension in Ijaw nation, has provoked anger in the land.
Though the sellers of the product have had to contend with alleged police harassment, the producers and distributors of the local gin in their hundreds last week, took to the streets of Yenagoa and barricaded the Ijaw House axis of the Sani Abacha expressway in frustration over the ban slammed on the product by the Federal Government.
Free Kaikai for all
Free Kaikai was served residents who joined the protest by the local producers and distributors, ostensibly to send a strong message to the Federal Government and NAFDAC that the product does not kill and that the source of the contaminated gin in troubled Rivers State should be investigated and the masterminds tracked down and made to face the wrath of the law.
Motorists and commuters were stranded on the usually busy road for hours. The quick intervention of the State Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw National Affairs, Dr. Felix Tuodolo, however, prevented policemen who thronged the scene from swooping on the protesters as he ordered them to vacate the road to allow free passage for the stranded motorists.
The protesters carried placards, some of which read: “Kaikai does not kill, Bayelsa Police stop harassing us”, “We use Ogogoro to train our children in school, local gin doesn’t kill, Gamalin 20 kills”, “Kaikai is used for medicinal purposes,” “Ogogoro is the only legitimate industry in the Niger Delta, banning Ogogoro is like passing death sentence on us.”
The Ogogoro or Kaikai dealers in the state, under the aegis of “Izon Otu keniwemo Oru yo ogbo” through their Publicity Secretary, Jackson Boubara, said they were compelled to stage the peaceful protest on the Sani Abacha expressway to voice out their frustration over the Federal Government ban on the local gin, the only legitimate thriving industry and means of livelihood of the Ijaw and people of the Niger Delta region.
He specifically decried the high handedness of the police and the arbitrary extortion of Ogogoro dealers in the state. Boubara, a 2008 university graduate noted with sadness that the Federal Government’s blanket ban on the production and consumption of the local gin amounts to condemning families involved in the business to death and may push others into criminality.
“The police are capitalising on the ban on Ogogoro to harass and extort money from our members. Every Nigerian knows the product has been in existence even before the Europeans came to our shores. It is on record that it competed favourably with the white man’s gin in terms of quality and acceptability. Hence placing a blanket ban on the product because of the Rivers incident is a disservice to the people of the Niger Delta.
Our members cannot bring the products to town again because of the excesses of the police. We are suffering, we cannot meet our bills. Our children in higher institutions that came home for money cannot return to school because of the ban on production and sale of the product,”he fumed.
Boubara appealed to the state government to come to their aid by prevailing on the Federal Government to rescind its decision on the ban of the product. Another protester, Madam Bolouebi Samuel, a mother of six told VF: “I have been in this business for 28 years and that is what I have used in training my children.
My last son is a 200-level medical student and as I speak with you, he is stranded because I cannot raise money for him to return to school due to the ban on the production and consumption of Kaikai by the government. Policemen are feasting on us by way of harassment and extortion at checkpoints whenever we are transporting the product to Yenagoa.
The proper thing for NAFADC to do is to subject our product to laboratory test to ascertain its safety for public consumption instead of the ban which is designed to take away our source of livelihood.” In his remarks, Dr. Tuodolo pleaded with the protesters to vacate the expressway promising to take their grievances to the state governor for necessary action. Identifying with the plight of the local gin dealers, he said it was wrong to place a blanket ban on the product.
Govt should identify source of contaminated ogogoro
He recalled the resistance of the people of the Niger Delta against attempt by the British colonial government to ban the production of Ogogoro due to the stiff competition faced by foreign gin. According to him, several families in the Ijaw nation had relied on the production and sale of the local gin to train their children both at home in the diaspora.
Describing the local gin business as means of livelihood for the people he called on the Federal Government and its agencies to identify the source of the contaminated gin with a view to stopping its distribution instead of visiting the greed of a few on majority of the innocent and law- abiding producers of the product who over the years have not been found wanting.
His words: “I know the economic impact of the ban on our people. It is something our parents have been using to train our children over the years. I remember even the White people tried to stop Ogogoro because of the competition with their own imported drink, but they did not succeed because our Ogogoro is good. But to place a blanket ban on Ogogoro– related activities I don’t think is fair to our people.
From the stories we have heard, there was a source of contamination from somewhere and they should stop that source from producing. I recalled that in 2011, six persons died from eating poisonous beans in Adamawa and beans was not banned completely. The source was identified and stopped. Also in Plateau in 2008, it happened.
There was even a story in 2004 about a contaminated brand of noodles; so a blanket ban on Ogogoro is not fair to Ijaw people. As a government we will look into your plight. I will take up your complaint to our governor and the authorities so that the good industry of our people is not affected.
Sellers, consumers defy ban
VF investigations revealed that for sellers and consumers of the local gin in the state, it is still business as usual in spite of the ban. Several kiosks and drinking joints where the local gin is sold continue to bubble, apparently oblivious of the ban. The consumption rate of Ogogoro is high in Bayelsa and remains a favourite liquor patronised by people of all ages. Besides, the gin is also distilled in the state, which makes the product readily available and cheap.
A popular Ogogoro dealer in Azikoro town, a suburb of Yenagoa, Madam Abua, claimed ignorance on the ban of the product even as she dutifully went about her daily routine of preparing the different herbs and concoctions for her customers who had started thronging her outlet as early as 6am.
She spoke in pidgin English: “I don’t know whether they ban Ogogoro or not, and I no want know, na my business I dey do wey I dey take feed my family. So, if they ban Ogogoro, na wetin them want make we take survive?” .
On the death of people in Rivers and Ondo states from the consumption of Ogogoro, Madam Abua retorted: “Ogogoro no dey kill person, since the time where our forefathers dey drink, how many people die. The one where they say kill people, I believe say na some people poison the drink.”
Pa Eniesekume, a 70-year-old man and a regular customer of Madam Abua, who said he has been drinking the local gin since his youthful age, said he could not imagine staying a day without taking Ogogoro, adding that in this part of the world, the local gin is a part of their “daily diet”.
The old man who maintained that the illicit drink is the favourite of people of his age bracket, noted that they prefer it to other alcoholic drinks, including beer.
“Which time they ban Ogogoro? Why them go ban am? Na this thing (Ogogoro) dey keep us alive, for me if I no drink am for one day, I fit die o! As a fisherman, we dey take am pursue cold for river. Abeg make government no ban ogogoro because na poor man drink,” he said.
Ban ineffective in Ondo state
Reports from Akure, the Ondo State capital show that the ban placed on the production,sales and consumption of local gin popularly known as ‘ogogoro’ in the state is not effective.