Lagos – About 70 people have died in Nigeria’s oil-rich south after consuming home-brewed gin that was found to contain large quantities of methanol, senior health officials said on Wednesday.
Somiari Harry, permanent secretary of the health ministry in Rivers state, said deaths from drinking the gin – known locally as “ogogoro” – were recorded in five local government areas.
“The death toll so far recorded from the consumption of ogogoro is about 70,” Harry told AFP.
Ogogoro is a west African alcoholic drink usually brewed locally and popular in Nigeria, where it is made from the juice of raffia palm trees and sold cheaply.
Alcohol content can range from 30 to 60%.
The deaths, which first came to light earlier this month, have led to Rivers imposing a total, state-wide ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of the drink.
Health ministry officials have been deployed to enforce the ruling.
The director of the centre for disease control in Rivers state, Nnanna Onyekwere, confirmed the death toll and said there had been 80 reported cases in the five areas.
The state capital, Port Harcourt, is one of the areas affected.
“We collected samples of ogogoro consumed and sent them for laboratory examination,” said Onyekwere.
“Nafdac [National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control] found that that the liquor contained large doses of methanol which is injurious to health.”
No new cases have been reported in the past week, he added.
The deaths came after more than 20 people died from drinking local gin in the southwest town of Ode-Irele in April.
Some state governments outlaw the sale and consumption of ogogoro because consumers are easily intoxicated due to its high alcohol content.
Ogogoro is an essential part of religious and social events, including marriages and child-naming ceremonies.