Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria

In 1962, Guinness opened a brewery at Ikeja in Nigeria. The management was made up largely of British and Irish migrants, such as Alan Coxon, who went to Nigeria in 1966 to work as plant technical director.

We know this because his daughter, Fiona Gudge, is the owner of the large collection of Guinness papers we’ve sorting through and cataloguing for the past six months.

What follows, with Fiona’s input, is a brief snapshot of the emergence of a new kind of colonialism that emerged in the wake of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, and the strange dominance of Irish stout in West Africa.

Timeline

1958 | Britain agrees to grant Nigeria independence
1959 | Guinness Nigeria founded
1960 | Nigerian independence
1962 | Guinness opens brewery in Nigeria
1963 | Federal Republic of Nigeria declared
1965 | Guinness Nigeria listed on Nigerian stock exchange
1966 | Two military coups
1966 | Alan Coxon begins working at Ikeja
1967 | Beginning of the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War)
1970 | End of Nigerian Civil War
1970 | Second National Development Plan, 1970-74
1971 | Coxon family leaves Nigeria
1972 | Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree (Indigenisation Decree)
1974 | NEPD into effect
1984 | Notice given of ban on import into Nigeria of barley
1998 | Stout production ceases at Ikeja

A page from Guinness Time, 1963
“The largest brewery ever to be built by a brewer from these islands was ceremonially opened on 6th March by His Excellency the Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria, Dr. the Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, P.C., M.A., M.SC., LL.D., D.LITT.

“The new brewery is in Nigeria some 12 miles from Lagos on a 14-acre site at Ikeja. It is the third Guinness brewery… The design is that of a two-mash tun brewery and the plant is geared to produce 400 barrels of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout per working day or 150,000 barrels per year – about 75,000,000 bottles. The matured beer, which is an essential part of FES, will continue to be brewed at Dublin and shipped to Nigeria in 14-barrel stainless steel tanks.”

Guinness Time, spring 1963


Aerial view of the brewery.
Drawing of the brewery from a Taylor Woodrow advertisement, 1963.

“Technical personnel from Dublin and London will be employed in the establishing of the Ikeja brewery, but it is intended that Nigerians will be increasingly trained to occupy positions of responsibility in every sphere.”

The Times, 1 February 1962



“Guinness is the senior partner and will hold about 60 per cent of the capital of Guinness (Nigeria) Ltd; United Africa Company, which has had a hand in the distribution of Guinness in the past, will hold about 25 per cent and local Nigerian interests the remainder. The mixture is nicely blended.”

Economist, 16 March 1963


Uniformed men in a row.
Security guards at Ikeja on parade, 1963.

“Seeing the impact of independence and Nigerianisation, a number of foreign companies invested in new factories and enterprises in the early 1960s… Although the British share in Nigerian trade was in decline, the UK still held just over half the stock of foreign investment in 1967, and foreign capital still dominated large-scale manufacture. In 1963 it was estimated that the structure of equity in large-scale manufacture was: 10% private Nigerian, 68% private foreign, 3% federal government, and 19% regional governments.”

Richard Bourne, Nigeria: a new history of a turbulent century, 2015


The 500,000th. Alan Coxon with hands on hips, Paddy Harper on the far left.

“On Monday September 11, the 500,000th barrel of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was brewed at our brewery at Ikeja. This is no small achievement when one recollects that the first brew there took place on November 30 1962, less than five years ago. Conditions in Nigeria for the past two years have been very unsettled, and without the loyalty and cooperation of the Guinness Nigerian staff, this milestone in the company’s history could not have been recorded at such an early date.”

Guinness Time, autumn 1967


Fiona

My father was born in 1930 to parents from the East End of London. They moved to Harrow when he was about four or five. He was the first person from his family to go to university – he won a scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied chemistry. He was a keen sportsman and played cricket. He got a Full Blue. He played in the Varsity match and kept his blazer as long as he lived.

He did National Service in Ghana and then went to work straight at Guinness, probably prearranged before he went into the Army. He worked there from 1953 to 1983, for more than 29 years.

When he went out to Lagos in 1966 he had already been to Ghana with Guinness and was a technical director so clearly he already had a fair bit of experience.

We went out to Nigeria in March 1966, shortly after my sister was born, and stayed there until 1971 – just over five years.

My earliest recollections are of the heat when we got off the plane. I was four and a half.


Life in Nigeria.
‘Nigel Thomas’s house in Nigeria.’

“Not so long ago being employed by Guinness meant that you worked either in Ireland or Great Britain. With our present overseas developments it is now possible to work in Nigeria or Malaya or even in Canada, USA, Australia or New Zealand…

“We know there are those who would like to take a job at one of our breweries in Nigeria or Malaysia, but are reluctant to take the plunge because they really have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. There are others who have a mistaken idea of what it is like to live and work in West Africa or the Far East…

“Housing, of course, is important and it certainly does not present the problems it does in this country. The houses are modern and spacious, usually built in pleasant open suburbs. All the furnishings, right down to the sheets, are provided by the company and renewed more often than most people renew their own things. Rents are fixed at about ten per cent of salary or a little less. The availability of servants at a reasonable cost is attractive to the housewife who wants to have more leisure time than she can possible enjoy here.

“Wives will probably take longer to acclimatise themselves to a different but very attractive way of life. With children, there is no problem. They have a whale of a time.”

Guinness Time, summer 1966


Fiona

We had a huge house. We lived in a big compound with about half an acre of land around it, maybe more, with a houseboy, a cook and a nanny, who lived in shacks in the back garden. They thought they were nice quarters but even as a small child I thought they were shacks. We were very well looked after.

We had mosquito nets, but we also had air conditioning. We only dropped the mosquito nets if the air con broke and the windows had to be opened. Every night before we went to bed the houseboy would come in and spray God knows what, DDT probably, and kill everything that was in the bedroom.

My mum lived the life of an expat wife. She played a lot of bridge, a lot of tennis, didn’t do any housework. That was the lifestyle of all the families out there at the time, I think.

And then at weekends, and after school, in fact, we’d go and hang out at the country club, which was a local private members’ club. All the expat families used it, not just Guinness. That’s where my mum played tennis and bridge, and it had a swimming pool. The Guinness community was a very tight-knit family and we spent a lot of time socialising with the other families that were posted to Nigeria.

Paddy was the Managing Director out there at the time. They lived in a much posher house but we had the guest quarters, so if anyone came out to visit, they stayed with us, not with Paddy.


Portrait of a middle-aged man.
Alan Coxon.

“Alan Coxon, technical director of Guinness (Nigeria) Limited has been selected to play for the Nigerian cricket team in their international cricket matches against Ghana and Sierra Leone. He is only European to be so honoured… Since arriving in Nigera in early 1966, Alan has been playing cricket and was one of the players who played a leading role in Nigeria’s victory over Ghana last year.”

Guinness Time, spring 1968


“The £43,000 eye clinic in Kaduna, which was presented by Guinness to the former Northern Regional Government in 1962, will shortly be converted into a comprehensive eye hospital and will be known as the Guinness Eye Hospital. This clinic has been responsible for the care of eye patients not only in the northern states of the country but also throughout the Federation. A donation of £16,000 for new wards extension was made by the managing director of Guinness Nigeria, Douglas Harper, to Dr Ishaya Audu, vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University at a ceremony held in Kaduna recently.”

Guinness Time, autumn 1969


Management Staff Manual.

Text from the staff manual. Kitchen items supplied, including electric kettle, wooden spoon, grater, and so on.

“WIVES MID-TOUR PASSAGES – Mid-tour passages may alternatively be used during a 20-month period by a wife to visit her children provided that her visit from Nigeria to the country of education lasts at least one month. The mid-tour journey should not be undertaken by a wife to and from Nigeria within three months of the beginning or end of her husband’s tour, except after consultation with the Managing Director.”

“CONFINEMENTS IN WEST AFRICA – Whether the wives of overseas of overseas staff should have their babies at the Coast or in Europe has often proved a difficult matter to decide, but the Company has always held the view that in general it is best that these events should take place in Europe.”

“GUINNESS ALLOWANCE – [A non-management] employee on the permanent staff will be allowed one large or two small bottles of Guinness a fortnight. Under no circumstances are employees allowed to drink their Guinness on the premises.”


Football stadium.
Guinness for Power, a slogan used across West Africa, pictured here at a stadium in Nairobi, Kenya.
A woman pours beer into a man's glass.
SOURCE: Nsibidi Institute.

“Think of this rich dark ‘drink of drinks’ doing wonderful things for you. Think of the happiness it brings… Think of the satisfaction it gives you… And think of that big sensation you get when it brings you power – mighty power! Think about Guinness until you can resist one no longer. Then drink! Ooooooooo! Ahhhhhhhh! Mmmmmmmmmmmmm! What happiness! What satisfaction! What power! No wonder you say: ‘Good! Let’s have another!’”

Guinness advertising, Nigeria, 1969


A group photo of Guinness staff in London.
Overseas Guinness staff at Park Royal in London, including Alan Coxon, seated centre, and Maxwell Oteri from Nigeria (back row, left) who was in the UK being trained.

Fiona

Both of my parents, I’ve come to realise, were quite bigoted in different ways… They were of their age, I suppose. But we did have Nigerian friends. One of the guys who worked in the brewery in the later years we were there, a Nigerian, used to take us out into the jungle, into the bush, because he was really into nature, and my dad was really into birds and wildlife. He was very much Dad’s equal whereas most of the staff of the brewery were… staff.

There were white people – management – and then everyone else was Nigerian.

But towards the end of our time, the Nigerian government was starting to say, you need to have some local management, it can’t all be expat management.


“One of the factors which tend to reduce the benefits of industrialization to Nigeria is the employment of a large number of foreign nationals, who receive considerable sums in the form of salaries and allowances (and repatriate them to their home countries). In order to reduce this ‘earnings leakage’, Government will intensify its efforts to ensure, not only that high level Nigerian personnel are employed by private industry but also that they are given responsibilities commensurate with their training and experience.”

Second National Development Plan, 1970-74


Portrait of a young executive.
David Adeyemi Coker.

“David Adeyemi Coker has been appointed public relations officer to Guinness Nigeria. Yemi made many friends at Park Royal where he spent two weeks of a four month course in February of this year. He joined Guinness Nigeria in 1962 as sales manager after working with the united Africa Company, and became area sales manager in Lagos in 1968.”

Guinness Time, summer 1971


Fiona

My primary school there was fantastic. We were tested weekly on maths, spelling, dictation, mental arithmetic, from six onward. Really hardcore education.  Anyone who had money in the Ikeja area sent their kids there so we had Chinese children, Japanese, American, French, Belgian, Turkish at one stage… Because I grew up with that I never thought about anyone’s race. There were people I didn’t like but I just didn’t notice people’s skin colour. That was a shock when I came back to Britain and children were pointing out black children as there was something remarkable about them.



Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper’s ennoblement ceremony.

“Douglas ‘Paddy Harper’ who retired as managing director of Guinness Nigeria on June 3 [1971] was recently made Chieftain Otun Baba Alaje by His Highness Oba Oyekan II of Lagos…. Oba Oyekan paid tribute to Paddy Harper’s great contributions to the development of Nigeria and said that as a result of his many activities in that country he had become known as ‘Papa Guinness’.”

Guinness Time, autumn 1971


Fiona

Guinness also had a chalet at a beach near Lagos, at Tarkwa bay. We got to use it every so many weeks. It went round the different families, at Guinness’s expense. We had to get a boat over there, and there would be loads of people there to carry our belongings.

One of the other things I remember really well was them sending Father Christmas in a helicopter who would bring a present to every single child of a Guinness employee. We all got presents, expats and Nigerian families.

I also remember the clock… Someone, somewhere, sent Guinness an enormous clock with moving parts that was supposed to be attached to the building. I think the figures may have been the Guinness animals – the toucan, the seal, and so on. It never worked. It just sat in the yard for a couple of years. Possibly the humidity was too much.


David Hughes’s 2006 book A Bottle of Guinness please gives an excellent summary of the rise and fall of the Ikeja brewery. After 1985, the import of barley was banned, and so Nigerian Guinness began to be brewed entirely with local sorghum. Stout ceased to be produced at Ikeja after 1998, with production moving to Ogba, further away from Lagos again.

Fiona’s father, Alan Coxon, went on to become head brewer at Park Royal from 1972 until 1983-84. He left Guinness after a dispute with management over, as Fiona understands it, plans to gradually and slyly reduce the ABV of Guinness’s core products. He went on to work in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and in South America. “As soon as he stopped working for them,” she told us, “he stopped drinking Guinness and admitted he’d never really liked it. It upset his gut.”


Further reading

Bourne, Richard, Nigeria: a new history of a turbulent century, 2015.

Hughes, David, A Bottle of Guinness, Please, 2006, pp. 211-214.

Ndonkgo, Wilfred A., ‘Indigenisation Policy and the Development of Private Enterprise in Nigeria’, Wilfred A. Ndongko, Africa Spectrum, Vol. 15, No. 1 (1980), pp. 53-71.

Yenne, Bill, Guinness, 2007, pp.156-60.


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6 thoughts on “Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria”

  1. One of the great urban legends about the plant comes from a friend, the son of a Guinness Chemist, who spent years helping perfect the perfect St James Gate pint of draught, only for the market to reveal that they were only interested in beer that tasted as if it had travelled to get there, which took quite a while to produce!

  2. A better product than that supplied in Ireland, where Guinness has been progressively weakened. It would be interesting to find recipes for the various Guinness African versions amd whether draught or bottle sold better.
    A cousin of my wife’s worked in the export side of St James’ Gate brewery, producing ‘extract’. He used to swear by Nigerian Foreign Extra, which was unavailable in Ireland but sold in Afro-Caribbean shops in England. When I found it for sale in Finsbury Park thirty years since, I was an instant convert. Guinness Cameroon has a good rep as well. I’m still trying to find if you can get Cam-brewed Guinness Chocolate Stout in UK.
    A history of Guinness outside Ireland would be well worth the writing. Wasn’t Tim Martin’s dad a Guinness rep in New Zealand? Maybe he’s got some material to offer up.

    1. Somebody brought out a book called “Guinness Down Under” last year.

  3. Around 1992 I applied for the job of ‘Our man in Nigeria’, otherwise known as Sales Manager for East Africa. I suspect my not even getting an interview may have been a lucky escape.

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