The multi-coloured bottles of alcoholic beverages were neatly arranged on the small, rickety-looking table, behind which sat an elderly lady. Soon, a slim man wearing a brown, faded singlet that had seen better days sauntered over with a swagger.

 “Madam, give me my usual,” he demanded gruffly, puffing deeply on the cigarette in his right hand, his bloodshot eyes darting restlessly around as if searching for something. The woman quietly handed him a bottle with some dark-coloured brew inside. He gave her some money and with the transaction completed, he went away, occasionally drinking from the bottle and taking a few puffs on the cigarette. 

The woman, who simply identified herself as Iya Sinatu sells alcoholic drinks of different makes and mixtures at the Seme border, near Badagry, Lagos State. Among the assorted drinks on her table were brandy, whiskey, vodka as well as local brews in small to medium-sized bottles like the type bought by the cigarette-smoking customer earlier. “This one,” she said, pointing to a small dark-coloured bottle with the name Alomo Bitters on it, “e dey popular now. Na Ghana dem dey bring am from.” The woman, who speaks a motley mix of languages including Yoruba (Egun dialect), Twi, French and pidgin English told The Nation on a recent visit there, that the drink which she described as a mix of alcohol and bitters, has been a best seller for the past couple of years. “Na this drink most of all these drivers, conductors and agberos for park dey take. Dem say e good for their system and e dey make their eye shine well well. Many of my customers dey come from Lagos and even Ibadan sef,” she said, getting up to attend to another customer.

     A whole lot of bitters

For some years now, the popularity of bitters has been on the rise with its use cutting across different classes of people. The rich take it as well as the poor including drivers and agberos at motor-parks who claim it energises them, giving them the strength to do the hard work they do. In the past, a particular brand known as Swedish bitters was the popular choice of those who took the drink especially among the well-to-do. That has however, changed with the influx of all kinds of bitters into the market both locally made and imported especially from neighbouring countries like Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana. Many have not been registered with the appropriate health authorities like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and those who take them are ignorant of the chemical compositions of the drinks or the effect on the health. 
  Investigations by The Nation at the border shows that most of these drinks especially the bitters are smuggled into the country through the nation's often porous borders. Explaining the influx of such items into the country, a custom official who spoke anonymously said: “Nigeria is a big country with very wide borders. We don't have the necessary manpower or equipment to monitor all goods that come into the country. We are short-staffed.”

  An elixir of life, hype or health risk? 
Bitters have been around for a long time and is said to have a lot of health benefits. It is said to stimulate appetite especially in those convalescing or persons with reduced appetite. It also has detoxification and cleansing properties, claimed many of those who take the drink. “I take it because it helps in purifying the blood,” stated Jimoh Salami, an engineer who said he takes a particular brand 'like water.' Another lover of bitters Bose Olaiya claimed it made her feel light whenever she used it. 
  To Rose Eduvere, bitters was the solution to her weight problem.  “I was told it is a very good medicine which helps in different ways. A friend told me that she used it because she had a big tummy and it helped her reduce it to its normal size. So, I decided to take it and to my greatest surprise, it really helped me to reduce the size of my stomach.”

But not everyone has a sweet tale to tell about the bitters. Mary Isene, a businesswoman claimed she almost died from taking the brew. As she said: “I had problems with my stomach. I was constipating and a relation recommended one of the popular brands of bitters to me. I took it twice a day as prescribed and I hated it because of the bitter taste. Besides, it made me purge excessively. It made me feel weak and dizzy as if I didn't have any blood in my body anymore. Infact, I was going to the toilet so much, my husband became worried and had to take me to the hospital.” On this, Olaiya concurred stating: “The first time I took it I purged excessively.” She blamed this on the fake brands of the product she normally takes, which she said is now widespread. “There are too many fake bitters in the market now,” she complained.

Health experts however, warn about the indiscriminate use of most of these bitters and other beverages of unknown composition, noting that they could cause a lot of harm to the body and the overall health in the long-term.


From Kasapreko makers of alomo Bitters

Alomo Bitters is a herbal alcoholic product made

from carefully chosen tropical plant extracts and

very well known for its proven medicinal values.

It has its roots in the traditional herbal industry

that is meticulously researched by the Centre for

Scientific Research into Plant Medicine a World

Health Organization affiliate, based at Mampong

Akuapem in the Eastern region of Ghana.








The Authentic African Bitters