The tough economic situation in the land, has stirred reactions and lamentations from many Nigerians, but not from alcohol lovers. They still congregate daily at drinking joints, especially those in the open, despite the complaints of excruciating hardship in the country. ISIOMA MADIKE reports
At night, in many parts of Lagos, bars in the open adorn the skyline. Though, drinking joints are not entirely new in Lagos metropolis, they are, at present, being redefined and gaining more prominence. This points to a new way forward in business activities in the mega city and offers the residents a break to kill the day’s boredom. More street corners and roads usually become a beehive of activities every evening, especially on weekends, in the ambiance of the cool night. On the vast anterior spaces, the corporately-dressed men and women display the latest stateof- the-art cars besides the joints. And commuters traversing those streets have tough time passing through each point. At night fall, these areas metamorphose into something else. Open air drinking, suya spots, food vendors and commercial sex workers, all compete for space at the joints.
There are no marble floors, well decorated settees or cushioned chairs. But, those who patronise the joints are sure to listen to tunes from quadraphonic sound systems and watch their favourite teams play, particularly the ongoing world cup, while they consume their liquor. At these drinking joints, most beer lovers make smart choices when it comes to beer consumption, as they can’t afford to stay home without consuming what they love.
There are many beer brands for reasonable price depending on what their budgets permit them to consume. This may be the reason why many now opt for cheaper beer products. Though, there is severe hardship in the country, it is not enough, according to Saturday Telegraph findings, to reduce the intake of liquor by those who cannot do without them. In one of the drinking joints visited recently, one of our reporters discovered that alcoholic products are still very much in good demand in the state “My customers, especially the young ones, patronise beer drinks more here. Not everyone prefers to change taste just because of the price. I have people who still drink the expensive brands that they love. I also have those who now opt for cheaper products just because of the price. Give or take, beer consumption, I must say, is still high. It’s hard to say the hardship has affected my sales here,” volunteered a man who claimed to be the manager at The Kingsize Place, situated off Oregun Road, Lagos. He, however, declined to give his name.
At another drinking joint around Agege Pen Cinema, also in Lagos, the owner, who also pleaded to remain anonymous, said: “People still drink but not as much as they used to. Many of our customers now prefer to patronize paraga joints because they are relatively cheap and affordable compared to beer. As you can see, I have also started the sales of paraga drinks along with beer just to gain the attention of customers, who can no longer afford the prices of beer. “Only a few of them still prefer the expensive beer brands, especially when football matches, like the ongoing world cup, are live. I make more sales anytime football matches are played. The spirit of football brings more sales as customers normally order their favourite brands and even drink more on match days.
At LASCOFIS, along WEMPCO Road, a first time visitor may have difficult figuring out the enjoyment that goes on there. Coming from the Ogba end of the road, “parish”, as the joint is fondly called, is on one’s right. The not-too-smooth street stretches out in an apian bowl-shaped manner that barely suggests anything unusual in the neighbourhood. But a stroll into the halffenced land with buildings spread in vehicular formation will expose a modern relaxation arena that offers various kinds of entertainment to its guests.
The assemblage is typically not the usual party crowd of flimsy professional chasers. It is a blend of journalists, technocrats, top civil and public servants, businessmen and women, and the young upwardly mobile, the type described with the street lingo “aje butter.” Hence, incidents of lost cell phones and body adornments, are not often heard in the joint. Ponmo (cow skin), smoked cat fish, ofada rice, and of course, the ever cool beer are the main attraction of the joint.
The other delicacies are asu barbecue (a type of goat meat suya), Nkwobi and fish pepper soup that are prepared in a special way. “We also have quite a sizable number of bankers and other professionals apart from our big time journalist customers, who apart from drinking, engage in very serious business discussions.
They are mostly people who try to escape the terrible holdup. “Others are respectable members of Island club, who use our joint to intermingle with old friends too,” a lady employee, who refused her name in print because “I’m not authorized to speak for the joint,” told Saturday Telegraph. However, a good number of the “parishioners”, as LASCOFIS guests love to call themselves, see the “slaughter House” as the centre of attraction because of the absolute privacy the joint offers. Slaughter house is the members’ slang for short time lodging with the opposite sex in a replay of the Adam and Eve game in the days of yore. Elis is another drinking joint located on the Ikoyi axis, very close to Yoruba Tennis Club. It opens about 6.30pm every day and sometimes runs through the night till early the next morning.
This drinking joint caters for the big boys of Lagos Island. Working into the venue, the first thing that arrest one’s attention is the stand, the dim lights, and the spiraling metals. From whatever part of the ground you find yourself, the encircled and wooly music envelopes guests like a warm welcome hug. Live bands perform every Friday night. Girls flock the place like bees to nectar and the men often are “spoiled for choice,” as a regular patron describes it. “Abattoir”, the equivalent of the “parish’s” slaughter house, is the craze here. A regular caller at the joint, who refused to give his name, said the girls as well as big sugar mummies make their days worthwhile in Elis. “We slaughter them at the abattoir and they are the reason we are spending our hard-earned ‘dole’ every evening. Although, other enjoyment dey this joint oo,” he said comically in Pidgin English.
There is yet another, Rock Az, at Isheri Road by Akiode Bus Stop. This booming night-out place initially was a one outlet fast food joint. At that time, snacks, oven fresh chicken, fish and fries as well as jollof rice including ice-cream, were the main delicacies. According to a lady, who claimed to be the supervisor in charge of food, “the feedback from our yuppie customers informed our change of style. They love it the other way round,” she said.
The lady, however, maintained that they neither have “abattoir” nor “slaughter house” but simply ‘take away.’ “The girls come around but no room for ‘jingolo’ here. So, the big boys take them somewhere else. My brother, it is difficult to run this type of joint in Lagos without them,” she revealed.
Yet, Oluwole tarmac, opposite the Ogba Retail Market, paints a different picture; large spaced and fully concrete in the centre of the popular Oluwole Estate, and situated at the heart of Ogba, in the outskirts of Lagos. It is a special kind of joint. For the first timer, it is likely going to be a tasteless impression about this quarter and its occupants.
It is also possible for a few to conclude that this neighbourhood is just about hustlers and fun seekers. Barack-like, with obvious grimy environs that could scare the faint-hearted; the smoke from ganja-smoking guys frightens while its surrounding exhibits a calm serenity. Even at that, moving around the area offers the sight of comfort, especially at night.
The tarmac is unique and quite popular among its guests. It exhibits an extremely tired appearance but swims in the mannerism of a well-managed neighbourhood. It has a commercial flair, and can well be described as one of the last relics of age. Yell in the middle of the night, out of fear or excitement, and you will be sure to get a response. It is all part of the fun.
This is the harmonious attitude of the natives as the tarmac gestures around the willing. Enjoyment in this estate is 24 hours a day and seven days a week. For the ladies, the ongoing world cup presents a convenient shovel that digs them up from the monotony of brothel life. One could read the shock and surprise on their faces as the callers show familiarity with some of their antics. This trend of acquaintance with the crimson sisters, no doubt, leaves a big impression on the minds of the visiting wolves. Chris Idemudia is a frequent crawler at the tarmac. He confirmed that tarmac is the place to be any day. Just go there with your friends and have the fun of your life, he said. It is a place that accommodates all kinds of people, who come not for the fun alone, but also to discuss business.
“If you are the fast type, those big boys can connect you. You don’t have to know anybody. Just walk into the tarmac and you won’t have any problem,”Idemudia said. The main attraction, according to him, is the air of freedom. He said that everything is done in the open with cool breeze that sooths nerves. “So, all manner of people find the place convenient to relax; the main thing really is the cat fish pepper soup. They will show you a live one to select from (point and kill) and in less than 10 minutes the soup is ready.
The aroma alone is something that many would find difficult to resist.” There are also girls aplenty and those who fancy them and want to have fun with them usually call them aside to negotiate the price for either “short time”, which is a quick stand at a nearby block, or behind a parked car. “When the night is well spent, they lure you into taking them for whole sale”, another guest, who identified himself simply as Ojo, said. Mama Akin, Old School, Hunters and White
House are some of the popular bars that operate at the tarmac. The beer manufacturing companies seem to be at war at Oluwole tarmac as they compete for patronage. But the most popular, according to these sellers, are the Guinness and Star brands. To the occupants of the estate, this seeming invasion of their domain is welcome and satisfying. The human and vehicular traffic in their vicinity does not betray the mammoth crowd that gathers here on a daily basis. Other attractions include big screen television sets where matches and pornographic films are served. The pornographic films are deliberately played to arouse lustful feelings and interest in the girls that flock around. There are also the big “mamas”. They come in flashy cars and try some old tricks to entice the young men.
They are wealthy and most likely unmarried. As one traverses these joints, what seems to be prevalent is nothing but love songs, which fill the air. Lovers either locked together romantically in between parked vehicles or seated with each other only waiting for passionate moments. But not all guest come around seeking pleasure in this relaxation spot. Some attribute their presence in the area to heavy traffic, which adds to the already tensed situation in the office environment.
“I am just here to relax pending the time traffic will be less so that it will be easy when I’m going home,” a guest, who craves for anonymity, told Saturday Telegraph. However, there are some who visit tarmac and other open beer joints as a way of keeping away from trouble at home. For this set of guests, the drinking joints serve to bridge between the office and the home. The level of activities that go on at the joints tells the story of the booming night out drinking gatherings in Lagos metropolis. It has, indeed, gained wide patronage in recent times.
The owners of the bars told this reporter that there could be occasional squabbles among the guys but that such has never degenerated to something unusual. They also revealed that the police do not come to harass anybody except to have fun as well, insisting their domains are usually very peaceful in spite of the human surge on a daily basis.
Drinking joints in other cities Ibadan
But Lagos is not the only state this happens. Abraham Boye, who patronises the Cultural Centre, Mokola Hill relaxation rendezvous popularly called “Ori Oke” in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, told our correspondent that “before the ongoing world cup tournament, this drinking joint had been sparsely populated in the evenings due to economic hardship in the country. “Many drinking joints now witness better patronage because they operate free viewing centres because of the world cup.
But, the situation might reverse after the tournament, particularly with the new tariff on alcoholic drinks introduced by the Federal Government. In fact, delayed salaries, job losses, and the general economic crunch in the country have adversely affected the finances and relaxation of many people,” said Boye.A beer vendor, who also sells pepper soup, Kelechi, said: “In the last two years, things have not been the same.
Our customers were very many and were always constant in patronising us, especially in the evenings. People still come but not as frequent and the population has drastically reduced because of lack of money everywhere. Many of those, who come, buy beer and pepper soup on ‘credits’ at times, but we do accommodate them so as to retain their patronage.”
At the popular Tunja Bar, along Okpanam Road in Asaba, Sony Okosisi said: “Life goes on. We are unperturbed by the obnoxious taxation imposed on alcoholic drinks by the Federal Government. What we are against is paucity of funds and inability to buy and drink to our satisfaction.” When the Saturday Telegraph team met Uchenna Okwara at the popular Y2K Restaurant in Asaba, he said: “If you drink, you will die, if don’t drink you will die. So, while not drink? Whether the price goes up or down, we will still drink. As you can see, many bottles have given up their lives in the course of enjoyment today. We are credit worthy here. So, it is not a matter of ‘no money, no drink.’ Another customer, who identified himself simply as Sheriff, also said: “My brother, drinking has become a necessity of life in Nigeria. We drink to while away time, forget our sorrows and keep life going. The economic situation – no job, no electricity, no potable water, no affordable healthcare facility, and what have you, has compelled many of us to take solace in drinking.”
It was a different stroke at Giddy’s Place, adjacent the popular Ekumeku Roundabout, under the Flyover, which was nicknamed, Inter-Bau Roundabout, also in Asaba, when Daniel Agali said the increase in the prices of drinks and cigarettes had forced him to reduce the rate at which he drinks. “Since the prices of beer went up, I have dropped from four-five bottles per day to two. I pray I am able to sustain it.”
The manager of 5Live Restaurant in Okigwe Road, Owerri, Nonso Chukwuani, told our correspondent that his business has seen better days but added that it is still thriving in spite of difficult times in the country. “We are getting by. At least we are able to pay salaries and meet other obligations. But I must add that before this Buhari and Okorocha administrations, what the eatery and entertainment businesses had in Owerri was a boom. These days a lot has changed with their change antics. Nevertheless, no matter how bad their governments get, it will not be easy to stop the culture of merriment in Owerri, which is why drinking joints thrive in this land,” he said.
A consultant psychiatrist and clinical psychologist at the Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), Dr. Rotimi Cooker, said the drinking pattern of Nigerians has not changed even though many now drinks less expensive alcoholic beverages. He said: “They now have the alcoholic bitters that cost less but still give them the same feeling they desire. However, the motive behind this is that people are trying to drink away their depression, a kind of drinking away their sorrow. Unfortunately, they can’t drink away this sorrow, it could only be achieved on the temporal basis; it gives them temporal relief.
“But again, the danger is that it is addictive, and sooner than expected, they become addicted to drinks. And of course the problems are still there when they wake up from their imaginary dreams. However, the world cup environment has made people to go to drinking joints the more and many are hooked up while there.” Another clinical psychologist, Akin Gabriel, described hardship as a situation while drinking, he said, is behaviour. “And this type of behaviour is actually a response to the situation of hardship. Ideally most people take to alcohol to escape reality. It is a psychotic substance that affects the mood and those who indulge in it expect that it will affect their mood one way or the other. “When this happens, it makes the person ‘happier’, whatever the situation is. Now, most Nigerians still drink heavily because they expect to be happy and forget their pains. They believe that things are difficult, hard, and they should be happy in spite of that. And in other to make themselves happy they take something that can elevate their mood.
Unfortunately, drinking is addictive; the more you drink, the more the body craves for more,” Gabriel said. However, Heineken first quarter trading results in 2006, somehow supported the recent findings that Nigerians now drinks more alcoholic beverages. The released results showed that the volume of beer consumed by Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, grew by 4.6 per cent in the first quarter of that year, with most of the increase coming from Nigeria and Ethiopia. “Organic consolidated beer volume growth of 4.6 per cent, the report stated, was driven by growth in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Elsewhere in the region, volume was challenging and remained weak, with both affordability and lower tourism continuing to impact performance. Excluding Nigeria, volume would have been down organically for the region.” However, the world’s third largest brewer added that the challenging state of the Nigerian economy, as regards foreign exchange, is impacting its business adversely.
“Underlying trading conditions remained tough and the weaker consumer environment, due to the low global oil price, continued to drive negative brand mix. “It is becoming increasingly challenging to obtain hard currency in the market, and the uncertainty regarding a possible devaluation of the naira continued to impact the business adversely.” Though Nigeria claimed not to be in a recession, foreign exchange scarcity had seen some business pulled out of the nation, while some others downsized. But the negative outlook and economic indices are obviously not affecting Heineken consumption till this day.
Additional reports from Temitayo Akere, Dominic Adewole (Asaba), Sola Adeyemo (Ibadan), and Steve Uzoechi (Owerri)
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