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Ban on alcohol stirs controversy in Niger, sellers fear clampdown

Chika Otuchikere writes that although Niger State Government has denied the ban on alcoholic drinks, some local governments are insisting that the drinks remain banned in their areas

Niger State is a signatory to the Islamic Sharia law which allows the Islamic or Sharia law to operate side by side with the English or conventional law in which Nigeria operates.

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However, when the administration of the late Abdullahi Kure enacted the Liquor Law, which was to regulate the sales and consumption of liquor in the state it was not to propagate the Sharia law which also forbids alcoholic drinks. Following the law, residents and citizens who run afoul of the liquor law in the state are taken to the Magistrate’s court and prosecuted.

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Over the years, enactment of this liquor law has brewed controversies indicating that it boosted the Sharia law while undermining non-Muslims, especially those who are disposed to drinking alcoholic drinks. This has raised questions about the liquor law. Many residents are querying the continued relevance and existence of the law and whether it is still necessary for the face of the preponderance of sellers and consumers of liquor in the state.

Months after a statement by the Liquor and Licensing Board of Niger State to ban the sales and consumption of alcoholic drinks, the controversy has continued to gain momentum which Governor Mohammed Bago’s government debunked saying the state has not banned alcohol. However, some of the more closely affected local government areas such as Suleja, reportedly insisted that alcohol would not be allowed to thrive in their localities stressing that it contradicts the Islamic injunction.NYSC PORTAL

The state’s Liquor and Licensing Board stirred up the hornet’s nest when it announced plans to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol in Suleja from January 1, 2024. The secretary of the board, Ibrahim Bunu, who made the announcement in Minna, also revealed that some beer sellers within Minna, the state capital, would also be served with relocation letters to move outside the city.

He said: “We are calling on all vendors to abide by the relevant extant laws establishing the board. The law establishing the board has the mandate to control the activities of all liquor vendors in the state and therefore, nine local government areas were on the first schedule of the prohibited areas, and Suleja happens to be among them, and as such, the board will ensure strict compliance with the law.”

The ban on alcohol by the board jolted many sellers of alcoholic beverage drinks. Not a few condemned the action insisting that such a law based on Islam should not be binding on everyone since not everyone in Niger State.JAMB Result

In a swift reaction, the Niger State Government denied the report of a ban on alcohol saying that it did not issue such a directive. In a statement by the government, Bago washed his hands off the banning of alcohol in any part of Niger State. In a statement on Wednesday 26 December, Bago said the reports spreading on social media alleging that he had through the Liquor and Licensing Board, banned the sale of alcohol in nine LGAs of the state, were not true.

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The governor said he had yet to constitute the state liquor board and ordered the arrest of one Ibrahim Muhammed credited with the ban. His word, “The attention of the Niger State Government has been drawn to a report making the rounds of some blogs claiming that the Niger State Government, through the state’s Liquor and Licensing Board, has prohibited the sale of alcohol in nine local government areas of the state, including Suleja.

“We wish to state categorically that His Excellency, Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago, who has been busy initiating and overseeing many people-centred projects across the state, never issued such a directive. The liquor and licensing board is yet to be constituted by the governor; as such, no directive of this kind can come from a board yet to be formed. In light of the above, the governor has directed security agents to arrest the self-appointed secretary of the board and to understand the motives of the imposter and the reasons behind the pronouncement.informationguidenigeria

“We invite the good public and our friends in the media to ignore any such pronouncements and to, henceforth, seek clarification from known government officials who are authorised to speak for the state and government,” the government stated.

Despite the state’s government statements, there are indications in Suleja and Minna that the ban will be imposed.

A regular face at one of the many beer joints in Minna, Modestus Anayochukwu who spoke on the new law said, it was injustice for a state government to place such a far-reaching ban on alcohol.

He said, “I don’t know why Niger State will want to place a ban on drinking alcohol now. It is not just acceptable. I am not a Moslem so how does it affect me? If they don’t want to drink they should allow those of us who are not Moslems to continue to drink.JAMB Portal

“I have lived in this city for more than twenty years and I have been drinking beer in this city since I was a teenager. Why will anybody come now and say beer should be banned in the state? They want to spoil this state. It has been a very peaceful state where everybody goes about his or her duty without any fear of anything going wrong. The government of Bago cannot just wake up now and impose this law. Yes, Niger State is a Northern state and a Moslem state too but also, there are a large number of Christians and I know other people who do not believe in Islam or Christianity.

“Come to think of it, even some Muslims drink alcohol. The country is very hard now and life is not enjoyable again. We use beer to forget our sorrows. Nobody has a right to ban the drink which is helping us come out of stress. The government should look into this decision and do the needful after all, it is for the people and not against the people,” Anayochukwu said.

An Edo State mother of three, who owns a joint in a popular part of Minna town, Justina Aloaye, said she had been in the business since she came to Minna over ten years ago.

“How will Bago approve the banning of beer in Niger. He is a people’s governor and shows concern for the condition of Niger citizens. I don’t think he will approve this ban. We are afraid because those officials will soon come and destroy our beer joints just like they did in Kano. I don’t have any other means of bringing up my three children. This is what we depend on. My husband has no job and so, all of us depend on this joint. If you take it away from me, it means you have sent me and my entire family into the harsh streets. Bago should please not allow it,” Aloaye pleaded.

The chairman of the Hotel Proprietors Association of Suleja, Atan Hyginus, who spoke with The PUNCH on the telephone said they were told last year that this year would be very hard for them and they would be stopping us from trading in alcohol. According to him, they would be following what the Sharia law says about alcohol.

“We have been trading for so many years. Eventually, last year, they told us that this year would be harder than the previous years. They told us that this year, they will stop us from trading alcoholic drinks but it is not everybody they are going to stop. They are going to select some people that are going to sell and those people being selected are people at the boundaries such as in Madalla, some in Quanba, and some in Gwazoro. These are people selling on the outskirts of Suleja. But people in the Suleja metropolis will not be allowed, so that is just the thing.

“The Suleja Local Government Chairman said he’s following with what the Sharia law says. That is what he said to me. You know, he said he’s going to do what the law says. Already, I have the law, they gave me one copy of the law and before now we have been practising it but not to the extent of saying he’s stopping everybody. We are not saying stopping everybody is not the best. But at least, out of 50 you stop, 25 will sell than stopping everybody, it will collapse the town. The way we are seeing it,” he said.

Hyginus also reacting to Governor Bago’s statement said, “That’s what we heard from the governor but now look how the local government chairman is carrying it on his head. You know, in our locality here, he is our own Governor.

“No, we are on the matter. Our lawyers are on the matter. I don’t know whether we are taking him to court, it’s not me, its our lawyer, If he’s taking him to court we have signed some papers to dispatch in Minna. Paper to Public Complain Commission, to the Governor’s office to the Deputy Governor’s office, Commissioner of Police, Commerce and Trade, Chief Judge, they are many,” he said.

When The PUNCH contacted the Suleja Local Government Chairman Isiyaku Naibi to react to the Hotel Association chairman’s claim, he directed this correspondent to one, Muhtar Wowo, whom he said, would speak for him.

“That issue is no longer an issue,” Wowo said.

“The governor has clarified. He already made it clear that there is a law. He did not take it to the House of Assembly to amend it. So, that is why the chairman is telling them to operate within the ambit of the law. It’s not like he was bringing something new.

“No, he only advised them to operate within the ambit of the law, that is just it. What I want to advise you, you look for the Law and look at what it says The law did not say ban outrightly. The law was enacted during the Kure’s administration. It only advised them to operate within the ambit of the law. Oķ,” Wowo said.

Wowo advised the alcohol sellers in Suleja not to express any fears of suppression if they could only operate within the ambit of the law.

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Emediong Silver

Emediong Ekpe is a graduate of English. A professional Sports journalist/analyst, and a spoken word artist. He is passionate about decimating information and putting smiles on people's faces via news writing. Whatapp: 08088735884

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