■ Arrested makers of fake alcoholic beverages, fruit juice reveal their evil trade
■ Say, “It takes a perfect wine taster to differentiate between the real and the fake”
For all you know, you may just be consuming poison in the name and form of either alcoholic beverage of packaged fruit juice. Why? Because, for at least every 10 bottles of, say a popular brand of brandy or beer, there are three fake ones. And the same goes for popular fruit juice. This is a revelation made possible by those that actually produce these drinks. Recently, mother-luck went on a far journey and nemesis came visiting. Just as they were brewing their poison, security operatives swooped on them.
Inside police cell, they spoke to Saturday Sun. The suspected fake drink makers gave an insight into how they manufacture and clone most of the big brands in Nigeria. Buchi Okorie is one of them. He told the paper that he was arrested by the police in Lagos, while he was reproducing and packaging the popular rum, Elliot. The alcoholic beverage is originally produced and packaged in Europe. It is held that Elliot is the second most admired dark rum brand in Nigeria. In the comfort of his house, Buchi is alleged to have produced thousands of cartons of this and other expensive drinks. According to him, his products are mostly sold in Anambra, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
On the journey so far, Buchi said that he was groomed in Onitsha, Anambra State by fake drink experts. “I used to be a very hardworking person till I had a little problem. It was so bad that I could not know how to sort myself out of the problem. It was then that I met Kenechukwu and his friends who are into importation of drinks,” he began. He said the people had a large warehouse at the relief market in Onitsha. “They were the ones who introduced me to the business. They also taught me how to mix drinks,” he said. Initially, according to him, they majored in changing labels of expired drinks and replacing them with new ones. They were also forging and imprinting Nigeria Agency For Food and Drug Agency Control (NAFDAC) number on the items to authenticate and facilitate the sale of the products.
“We also started repacking juice and some of these drinks by making them lighter. If you get a bottle of Eva wine or Five Alive juice, you add water and sugar to make it lighter, but still sweet. We then repackage it in our own carton, which has already been printed to look like the original. We normally do that because no one knows the formular that is used, but if you are lucky to meet someone who works in any of these companies, they can help to get exact formular, especially the preservatives, so that it will not spoil.
“Most of the time, we will send some of our people to go and seek employment in these juice processing companies and after understudying the company, they will come out with the formular,” Buchi narrated.
At a point, the business was becoming difficult for him and his gang. Then, the late Dora Akunyili was the DG of NAFDAC and it was the period she was running riot on Onitsha business environment. So, as soon as Buchi discovered that Onitsha was becoming hot for him, he relocated to Lagos. “I discovered that it was risky because, severally, we had had cause to escape from the police hunt, especially during Dora Akunyili’s time. We started producing hot drinks and I was advised to return to Lagos and operate from there.
“We discovered that a hot drink known as CKIOFF is almost the same taste with Elliot spirit, except for the colour. To get the perfect colour, I will burn sugar and add water. I will then mix the sugar solution into the CKIOFF and get a perfect colour. It takes a perfect wine taster to differentiate between the real and the fake. CKIOFF is sold for N500 in the market while Elliot is N1200, both are the same size but just slight colour difference. If I mix two bottles of CKIOFF with sugar, I will get a three bottles of Elliot which is sold at N1000 or N800.
“It was easy to sell off my products because business men are looking for 100 per cent profit. Normally, Elliot is sold for N1200 per bottle at wholesale price, but I do sell to them at the price of N1000, sometimes N800. I supply the product to big shops in Lagos, Anambra and Port Harcourt. In Lagos, I supply to clubs where these drinks are needed most and I am particularly interested in this product because it is in hot demand,” Buchi further said.
According to him, the bottles and their covers can be bought from market. “As soon as I fill it up, I will then cock it, which is very simple to do. I will then package and send it to the buyers who normally demand it in a large quantity. It is not harmful because I only added burnt sugar solution into it. It is life that led me to this crime; I used to be a very good boy and married to a wife and have children.
“I promise to stay completely away from this even if it means to beg for food. This has disgraced me and my entire family; I’m even looking for a way to relocate out of the street because people see me as a criminal.
“I have since shut down my factory at No 28 Offin Street, Balogun, Lagos where these fake products are being manufactured. My office is known as K C MMABROS. INV.CO. LTD dealers in all kinds of drinks, wine and juice. I genuinely buy and sell these products but only reproduce some of these hot drinks, which can easily be reproduced. Please, forgive me and give me another chance to live a good life,” Buchi pleaded.
Next on the line is a successful businessman, Segun Oketunji, who claims that he has repented. “I have repented but I must confess that I have made so much money by repackaging some of these drinks. It is not a good business because there are lot of problems that could come up. There was a time that I became a regular visitor in the police station because my enemies who felt that I was gradually taking away their customers, leaked my secret. I honourably stopped when it appeared as if it was affecting my children and besides I had made so much money and also invested in other kinds of businesses. No buyer will claim that he does not know that the drinks are fake. These products are sold far below the original price.”
Segun said that he had the opportunity to attend a catering school. “I wanted to be a baker, so I enrolled in a catering school. It was there that I learnt how to make juice and wine. I was surprised that we were able to make juices that are close to the ones sold in the market. This was where I learnt about preservatives and how it is applied. After my graduation, I tried my hands in all kinds of drinks, but Nigerians believe so much in brands. This was how I tried my hands on Five Alive juice and I got something close to it. It was fun that no one in the house could identify the difference. They even commended that my own sample was better. At that point, I did what was obvious, print the paper and repackage the drink. They already had the NAFDAC number, so I had no need to get one. The truth is that my product was even better than the ones the company produced. It was good business and gradually, I had so many outlets. Because it was very cheap, my buyers kept coming back; they knew that there is something strange but pretended. Business is about making profit. Gradually, I graduated into making wines and had to use an existing brand to sell my product.”
When asked where he gets the bottles, Segun said that most them could be bought from scrap buyers who normally assemble bottles. “As soon as you buy them, you ensure that they are cleaned up before filling them up with wine. The best way to repackage a wine is to add water and sugar to reduce the concentration, especially Irish Cream. We are very careful especially those one that are light because any careless mistake will lead to a disaster. We also reproduce malt drinks which is one of the easiest.”
On how an original drink can be detected, Segun said that there is always a slight difference in the taste. “It is very difficult especially if the drink is very cold but the difference is always clear. There are shops that will never patronise us because they have customers that can sue them. They endeavour to buy from the correct dealers,” he added.
Yet, another fake drink dealer, who sees himself as a ‘professional distiller’, has boasted that he has the formular to almost all the popular hot drinks and beverages. His name is Sunday. Sunday uses his home in a remote and hidden part of Ikorodu as his manufacturing factory. According to him, 90 per cent of what he needs to produce all kinds of drinks is sourced from chemical market at Ojota. He narrated that this business started when he was living with his sister’s family at Gbagada. ‘I was introduced into this business by a friend, Segun, I normally hang out with. He told me that the drink we normally relax with at aboki joint was actually made by him. To my disbelief, I watched him start and finish the production process of a common local gin called Chelsea and when I tasted it, I was surprised it was the exact taste. He told me how to source the raw materials, the perfect combinations and the bottles and final packaging.
“When I started, it was in my sister’s family bathroom but I had to leave when her husband expressed serious concern about my business. This was after their first son went into the bathroom and drank from the Baccus Tonic wine, when I went out to collect missing ingredients to complete the production. The boy was excessively intoxicated and got hospitalised. I had to relocate to Ikorodu with the help of my girlfriend who is now my wife. There, I went into full production. There were times that the streets will be too hot for us to distribute our locally-made drinks due to internal information that the police is on alert.”
Sunday confided in Saturday Sun that he makes at least N40,000 profit on daily sales. He, however, regrets the business and blames it on unemployment. He confessed that he has been very clever and has always evaded the long arm of law until this time.