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Nigeria’s locked-down drinks industry raises bootleg alcohol risks

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 30 March – 3 April

By Ruth Olurounbi
Posted on Tuesday, 31 March 2020 09:57

A man pushes a cart containing packets of locally made beer along a road in Agege district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Disruption to supplies of alcohol in Nigeria due to coronavirus risks spurring the consumption of dangerous illicit brews.

On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a 14-day lockdown of the country’s commercial hub of Lagos, and Abuja, the nation’s capital. These are the two cities with the majority of confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria. He also locked down Ogun, an agrarian state which shares a boundary with Lagos, and restricted travel between states.

Although food and beverage companies are exempt from the lockdown, Nigerians expect distribution and consumption to be severely affected by orders from states to restrict movement and shut clubs and bars. Nigeria’s three main breweries are AB-InBev, which own International Breweries, Heineken, which controls Nigerian Breweries and Champion Breweries, and Diageo, which owns Guinness Nigeria. Shares in all of them have tumbled over the last month.

  • “This obviously affects big corporate producers in Nigeria,” said Dayo Taiwo, who runs a services company in south-west Nigeria.
  • “We heard the president say food and beverage companies are exempted from the lockdown in the nation, but the fact is if travel is restricted, how do sales agents get products to sell? There is so little clarity on this,” he said from Ibadan, Oyo’s state capital.
  • Taiwo says his company has been seriously affected. Six major events where large amounts of alcohol would be served have been postponed this month alone, and he has no idea how long the problem will last.

Curfews

Sales of beer and other alcoholic beverages spiked in Abuja as the virus arrived and consumers stocked up in anticipation of a stay at home order from the federal government. Now, as many states including Oyo are enforcing nightly curfews, retailers say they see sales of alcohol declining significantly even if production continues.

That poses the danger that Nigerians will turn to dangerous bootleg alternatives.

  • According to a white paper from Euromonitor, 36% of all alcohol in Nigeria consumed in 2017 was illicitly produced.
  • That’s more than double the 15% level in South Africa, but well short of 45% in Ghana, 69% in Zambia and 73% in Mozambique – the highest proportion in any surveyed African country.
  • Artisanal brewing in Nigeria makes up 48% of illegal alcohol.
  • Africa-wide, clear beer or lager was found by Euromonitor to be the least likely beverage to be illicit.

The Bottom Line

Nigeria needs clear messaging on the dangers of drinking illicit alcohol as normal supply channels dry up.

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