Last year, David Egbenagu Ozoemena started to operate as an unlicensed producer of gin, brandy and a non-alcoholic drink in the city of Lagos. He not only lacks formal training and license from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), he also did not have a standard distillery for the production of spirit-based liquor. Yet, by quackery, he flooded the Lagos market with his stock brands, which unknown to consumers, were produced in the most unhygienic environment.
For months, he was smiling to the banks. But nemesis caught up with him when a buyer found himself at death’s door after consuming the Stock gin.
That brought police on his trail. Following the complaint by the unfortunate consumer who was hospitalized with a serious medical condition, his illegal factory, located at No. 2 Tuara Street, Progress Estate, Iba, Lagos was busted by operatives of the Inspector-General of Police, Intelligence Response Team (IRT).
At the home of the 34-year-old, detectives discovered his makeshift factory where drinks were produced under unhygienic environment. Ozoemena knew the game was over. His startling confession detailed how his inordinate ambition to become rich at all cost pushed him into an illicit venture that jeopardized public health.
From an apprentice to a quack distiller
There is nothing in his profile to indicate that David Ozoemena had any training whatsoever that come close to how to distil spirit or wine. He was an opportunist who tried to cash in on growing demand for a product with quackery. The indigene of Nnewi South in Anambra State dropped out of school when he was in Primary Six at Community Primary School, Azigbo, Nnewi, Anambra State, because, as he claimed, his family “could not afford to buy books for me.”
He was sent to Lagos by his parents to live with a certain Daniel Okafor, a trader (whose stock-in-trade was alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) who took him under his wing as an apprentice. “He taught me buying and selling of wine, hot drinks and beverages for six years. Later, I started trading in hot drinks, and along the line, I learnt how to distill spirits,” Ozoemena disclosed.
According to him, when his trade was booming, he made a monthly profit of “at least N150, 000.” He continued: “At a point, the business started going down due to the exchange rate. Fortunately, I had built a house in Lagos from the proceeds of my business when the going was good. To make ends meet, I started manufacturing those drinks myself. My brand’s name is Stock. I manufacture Stock gins and brandy.”
He subsequently converted part of his house to a factory and started production in September 2019. Unable to obtain NAFDAC accreditation because of financial constraint, he simply fabricated a fake NAFDAC number.
“I discovered that Nigerians couldn’t tell which [NAFDAC] number is real and which is fake,” he said. “My major concern was to register the company, which I did, and since then no NAFDAC official has ever confronted me.”
On why he engaged in a venture that he is neither trained in nor has a license to operate, David Ozoemena said: “When I saw that two of my colleagues, especially one Innocent [surname withheld], who went into manufacturing of drinks were doing well, I decided to try my hand at it and see if I would become rich like them. I told my wife and she advised me to go ahead if I am sure that I will make money.”
On how he distilled the drinks, he further disclosed: “I’d go to Ojota and purchase the ingredients [he mentioned them] and then mix them based on what I copied from companies that manufacture hot drinks, wine and beverages. When I wanted to manufacture gin, I would get a bottle of Chelsea and copy the percentage of the ingredients as written on its label and it would be fine and correct when I used the same percentage to manufacture my hot drinks.”
He added: “At times, I get advice from companies that sell the ingredients to me, including the right measurement and correct percentage. For instance, in gin, I give 40% alcohol, brandy 36% and Roseberg, no alcohol.”
A carton of Stock brandy, containing six bottles, is sold at N3, 000, while the gin in small bottles of 48 per carton is N2, 700 and the non-alcoholic Rosenberg costs N2, 400 at a pack of dozen bottles, he narrated.
He went ahead to completely unravel his illicit activities. To save cost, he recycled bottles picked from garbage: “Previously, I used to buy empty bottles from the market. But it was too expensive.”
He explained how he got his labels: “I printed my label somewhere inside Ojo barracks. The name of the man who prints the label is Ojo. His office is right inside the Army barracks. One sheet cost N40 and nobody disturbs him because people are afraid to go inside a military barracks to question him.”
His customers, he affirmed, are mainly in the Iyana Oba area, in Ojo local government. “I decided to concentrate on that area because most taskforces find it difficult to enter the bad road even if there is a complaint,” he said.
Ozoemena admitted that he has made a lot of money from the business before police bust his operation.
He, however, insisted: “There is no health hazard in what I manufacture because I used to test it myself before supplying to sellers. The ingredients I use are up to standard and very original. Nobody has died or gone to psychiatric hospital after taking my products.”
He tried to rationalize his activities as a legitimate business venture. “What I produce is not fake; a fake drink is the imitation of another person’s drink when you are not the original producer of the drink, like Chelsea. If I start to produce Chelsea now, you can say it is fake because I am not the original owner of Chelsea, but what I produce is Stock Gin, Stock Brandy and Stock Roseberg. They are not harmful. They are my products, though, not yet registered,” he argued.
As far as he is concerned his only crime was his failure to register with NAFDAC. “I am sorry that I sell those drinks without NAFDAC approval, but I swear that the products I have sold out there are not harmful. Government is supposed to assist me because I can become an employer of labour,” he said.