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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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.

We’d also like to thank our Patre­on sup­port­ers, includ­ing Doreen Bar­ber and Andrew Spong, whose encour­age­ment jus­ti­fies us tak­ing the time to put togeth­er sub­stan­tial posts like this.

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.

Comments are closed.