Bogged down by the effects of recession on critical sectors of the country’s economy, Nigerians turn to booze for succour, writes GBENGA ADENIJI
The music was deafening. A crowd of alcohol drinkers in cheery discussions populated the beer parlour joint. It was carnival-like with smoked fish, grilled meat and other spiced edibles competing for space across tables.
From the urbane to the unsophisticated, the excitement enveloping the rendezvous cast an unmistaken jollity on their faces.
For a second, you might be tempted to ask: what recession?
Amid the frenzy, 28-year-old Akeem Oladimeji sat on a deserted table, alone, fondling his smartphone.
The beer lover and photographer had taken four bottles for the night. He was on the verge of emptying the content of the fifth one when our correspondent nestled to him.
Staring dispassionately into his half-filled glass, he stated that despite the economic recession, nothing had changed in the booze world.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is in recession for the first time in 25 years, largely due to a fall in global oil price and mismanagement of the economy by past governments.
The Business Dictionary defines recession as a considerable decline in Gross Domestic Product for two or more consecutive quarters.
The situation continues to take its toll on critical sectors of the country’s economy, resulting in job losses in the banking, aviation and manufacturing sectors among others.
It is also significantly visible in real income, wholesale retail trade, employment and industrial production.
Many states and private companies also owe workers backlog of salaries while others are getting half salaries.
However, Nigerians are not consuming less alcohol. Oladimeji is one of many Nigerians who have found comfort in a bottle of beer. He said that in fact, he recently fell in love with a new beer brand.
He said, ‘‘I take five bottles daily and drink three times a week. Nothing has changed in the booze world. As it was in the beginning of booze, so it is now in time of recession and so it shall continue to be. Booze does not understand the language of recession.’’
Alcohol love in recession
A phone engineer, Ganiyu Olajide, told our correspondent that he drinks to erase his worries.
“I may be thinking about something or bothered but once I start drinking, I take it off my mind. I may return to the worry the next day but for that moment, I forget all worries,’’ he said gulping a glass of beer.
Noting that the recession was biting hard and affecting his business, Olajide said drinking takes all his worries away.
Olajide said, ‘‘I take four bottles weekly. It used to be three bottles. Once I finishing drinking in a day, I go to sleep and forget all my worries for the night. The next day, things will sort themselves out.”
He stated that before the recession, a lot of artisans usually patronised him to repair their mobile phones.
“The situation is so bad now that my customers prefer to use the money they make to cater first for their needs. Some may even be proposing repair on credit and will I survive with such? A man who has not eaten cannot be thinking of repairing a damaged or problematic phone, ’’ he added.
Economic figures from Nigeria paint a dire picture. The Central Bank of Nigeria in a recent report noted that the country’s external reserves fell by 2.86 per cent to $25.45bn on August 29, 2016 while the National Bureau of Statistics stated that the nation’s inflation rose to 17.1 per cent from 16.5 per cent. The bureau also stated that the unemployment rate had increased to 13.3 per cent from 12.1 per cent.
Similarly, the NBS noted that investment inflow into the country experienced a vast drop of $4.51bn from $8.08bn in the first nine months of 2015 to $3.57bn in the same period of 2016.
This situation has forced many parents whose children were attending private schools to withdraw them to less fee-paying schools. Some cannot even afford to pay school fees at all and hence, leave their children at home.
The predicament was well captured by the National President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Dr. Sally Adukwu-Bolujoko, who noted that economic recession had forced many parents to withdraw their kids from private schools.
Kunle Olusola who was seated beside Olajide, kept lamenting that the recession had made it difficult for him to pay his children’s school fees.
Notwithstanding this development, Olusola’s drinking pattern has not been affected in anyway. He said drinking at the beer parlour helped him bond with other drinkers while they discuss their problems.
Olusola has a unique way of drinking: he adds malt drinks to his beer. He said this combination enabled him drink for a longer period.
He said, ‘‘Recession has affected everything but we have to drink beer. Booze kills brooding. One cannot be drinking and be brooding at the same time. No matter the issue on my mind, once I finish drinking, I retire to bed.’’
Speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH, one of the regular drinkers at a bar in Ogun State, Dotun, said he noticed an upsurge in drinking since recession began. According to him, more people now go to beer parlours to drown their economic sorrows in alcohol.
Dotun added, “Whenever I want to drink, I can take five bottles of my favourite beer. My drinking has not stopped, if anything, I take a bottle extra. If any regular drinker in Nigeria says he is affected by recession, then it means before recession, that person has not been drinking well. People drink even more now. You need to see bars, clubs and joints on weekends.”
Opposite Dotun was a seller of second-hand clothes, Akachukwu Eze.
Eze noted as he sipped the dreg of the beer bottle he held, ‘‘I cannot kill myself. I have to move on because if one does not move on with life, life will surely move one. I try to bury my pains and thinking by drinking. I take two bottles twice weekly; Saturdays and Sundays. The level of lack and poverty has increased with recession. Notwithstanding, people have to drink.
“People do not buy new clothes not to talk of buying second-hand clothes now as recession bites harder. They prefer to use the money they have to buy what to eat than buy clothes. I am thinking of a new business idea to complement the business I do at the moment.
“Rather than indulging in things that one could regret later, I prefer to forget whatever is bothering me at that moment by drinking. Though I know that drinking gives part-time joy away from sorrows, the momentary joy would go a long way in stabilising one, especially at this time.”
Besides, a former worker with a Lagos-based construction company, identified as Emeka, who is a regular customer in one of the bars located at Social Club Road, Abule Egba, said many Nigerians would have become depressed but for booze.
He told our correspondent that his troubles escalated when he lost his job in October this year, adding that things had since become tough for him.
According to him, he decided to indulge in drinking because over time, it has proven a reliable activity anytime he is unhappy.
Emeka, who said he drinks three cold bottles of his favourite beer brand every day, stated that such often cleared his mind of worries.
He told SUNDAY PUNCH while waiting for the server who took his orders, “As the first child of my aged mother, it has become my responsibility to cater for her and my two siblings after the death of our father in 2014. I was working with a construction firm before I got laid off with some other workers as the company downsized. The management said it was due to recession. Since then, I have been searching for a new job.
“I met some of my friends and told them to inform me of any vacancy in their work places. It was in November that I realised that I should find another thing to do because that month marked the third month after I was sacked. Where are the jobs when companies keep sacking their workers to survive? I know that the fall of a man is not the end of his life. I have faith that things will get better someday. I am planning to start a small business once I get some money because the recession is really affecting the poor. Drinking helps me cope with the harsh economic condition in the country. Nigeria is a tough place to live in.”
The bald man who is in late thirties, stated that he could have become frustrated but for booze which created an avenue for him to meet others with varied problems.
Despite having drunk enough beer for the day, the drinkers gladly accepted the one bottle each which our correspondent ordered for them.
Beer parlour owners reap big
Indeed, beer parlour owners couldn’t be happier. For over 35 minutes, Stephen, who runs a beer joint in Lagos, attended to his retinue of customers as our correspondent waited for him.
Decked in light blue Polo shirt and grey shorts, Stephen beamed with smiles as he moved across tables to take orders in tow with his three servers.
“Please pardon my delay. As you can see, customers are many. It is Sunday and peak time for our business,’’ he said pleading for permission to attend to another group of customers who interrupted the interview.
It took him another 11 minutes to take their orders. Stephen told SUNDAY PUNCH that business had increased despite the recession.
Stephen said, ‘‘People still drink every day recession or no recession. I now have more customers on specific days like the weekends. My customers are even experimenting new beer brands that cost same price as their favourite.”
Similarly, the owner of Ogun State-based relaxation centre, Fun Gate, Mr. Femi Gate, said that people complain about the situation in the country but are drinking more.
“Some drink five to six bottles daily. Some customers also come around four times weekly. Each customer takes an average of 24 bottles in a week. Recession has not affected beer parlour business. Even though the price of each of the brands (beer, stout, malt) has gone up by 20 per cent, people still drink,’’ Gate said, clearing the empty bottles on a table occupied by three men and a lady.
He also said patronage increases during days of English Premiership matches which are usually Saturdays and Sundays.
Great added, “I do not charge a fee for viewing of the matches but anybody who comes in to watch must buy a drink. It is part of my strategies to drive sales.”
He disclosed that he used to sell about 13 crates of beer weekly before recession started, adding that it had increased to about 25 crates.
“On some weekends, I sell more than 25 crates depending on a number of factors like if customers want to get together. I envisage more sales during the festive period despite the recession, ’’ he added.
Mrs. Azeezat Oseni, also called Iya Basirat, is another beer seller who currently reaps from the nation’s recession. She told our correspondent that she added to her brands of alcohol when her customers started demanding more.
‘‘Some people when coming from work prefer to stop by and drink. They always tell me that they want to use alcohol to erase their worries. Some take like three bottles and pay at once at the rate of N250 each while others pay for one or two and promise to complete the rest. One thing I do not allow is for my customers to drink entirely on credit.
“It is interesting that even as bad as the economy is, Nigerians still find money to drink. It is good for my kind of business any way because I make good sales every day and mostly on weekends,’’ said the beefy woman, whose shop is at Surulere, Lagos State.
Also, a beer distributor and owner of Lagos-based Emakudeb Investments Limited, Mr. Ebong Ema, said people are drinking more in recession.
“There is a particular brand of beer I sell which enjoys huge patronage now. People still drink. As a beer distributor, I should know if people drink more or less,” he stated.
Another beer distributor and owner of Cash World, Mrs. Folashade Olonade, who distributes products of the two major brewery firms in Nigeria, noted that the price increase on the beer brands had not discouraged people from drinking.
She said, ‘‘I think Nigerians are drinking more now for some reasons. The economic situation in the country is responsible for it. There are some people who believe that drinking will take their minds away from whatever is bothering them. They only need to drink a bottle of beer and they forget all their worries. Also, some Nigerians enjoy drinking and whether there is recession or not, they drink. Even if a bottle of beer costs N1,000, they won’t hesitate to buy it.
“Another reason is that there are some Nigerians who enjoy hanging out with friends. They enjoy catching fun. This category of people prefer to be with friends to drink. One fact is that Nigerians are drinking more in recession. The demand of retailers and what I supply to them attest to this.’’
Breweries smiling to the bank
The leading brewery company in Nigeria, Nigerian Breweries Plc, posted a profit after tax of N38.06bn last year, as against N42.52bn in 2014.
The company, in its audited financial statements for the year, ended December 31, 2015 submitted to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, noted that its revenue rose to N293.91bn from N266bn at the end of 2014.
The company, also in its half-year financial statements submitted to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, recorded 1.85 per cent gain with Guinness Nigeria Plc reporting 1.07 per cent gain.
Similarly, Guinness Nigeria Plc announced a revenue increase of six per cent for its first quarter financial year which ended September 30, 2016.
The Media Relations Manager, NB Plc, Mr. Chukwuemeka Aniukwu, and the Corporate Relations Director of Guinness Nig. Plc, Mr. Sesan Sobowale, did not respond to enquiries by our correspondent to comment on the development.
While Aniukwu via a text message pleaded for some time to respond, Sobowale, in an auto email response, noted that he was on holiday and would treat the request next year.
Nigerians are however not restricted to only beer consumption. A global market research firm, Euromonitor International, in a report titled, ‘Champagne: Nigerian chic and European doldrums’, stated that Nigeria was the 23rd largest champagne importer in the world.
The report indicated that in 2014, the country imported 768,131 bottles while the top three countries on the list; UK, US and Germany imported 34 million bottles, 19 million bottles and Germany 13 million bottles respectively. It noted that Nigeria remained the top importer of champagne in Africa.
Drinking and sorrows as companions
A professor of psychology at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Toba Elegbeleye, said there was a correlation between drinking and sorrow.
He said, “When people are frustrated either by meeting a brick wall in business, lack of money or job losses, they tend to seek pleasure to bury the problem in. Drinking is one of the options in that situation. For instance, a man who is jilted by his girlfriend may want to bury that sad experience in booze.
“People take the drinking option because it creates a pleasurable avenue for gist and gossip which make the troubled person get temporary relief.”
He added that any noticeable increase in drinking by Nigerians during recession could be linked to the need to find pleasure away from the current economic woes.
Also, a lecturer at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of The Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Grace Adejuwon, linked sadness to alcohol intake.
The lecturer further said many people drink more during recession to release the stress of not having money, unhappiness and inability to meet societal expectations because of the worsening financial distress.
“Many people believe that drinking will make them happy and take their minds away from the hardship in the country notwithstanding the momentary joy drinking may give,” she noted.
Commenting on the effects of alcohol on the body, a health management consultant, Dr. Adebiyi Gbadebo, said moderate intake of alcohol could excite the heart and brain.
Gbadebo added that the drinker would easily mask his worries with alcohol during consumption leading to the making of wrong judgments due to the inability to think properly.
He noted, ‘‘He or she will make wrong decisions depending on what they are doing at the time of drinking. For example, if a man is driving, he may move at a dangerous speed and the consequences may be disastrous. After the remission, the scenario he or she is trying to mask will return.”
Gbadebo, who is also the Publicity Secretary of the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, added that long-term intake of alcohol could cause brain damage, intense mental health, liver and heart problems.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari gave the assurance that the recession will come to an end in 2017. This was good news for Nigerians but until this happens, the green bottle will remain a companion of many.