•How Nigerians resort to betting as escape route from poverty
By Sunday Ani ([email protected])
For many Nigerians, gambling has become a way of life. A sizeable number of the population, cutting across all ages and genders, are involved, trying their luck on various betting platforms.
The story is the same in various parts of the country as different billboards announcing one betting company or the other dot the landscape, with each trying to out-compete the other with mouth-watering offers to lucky punters. Indeed, Baba Ijebu is the generic name for betting in Nigeria.
However, like the popular bible saying, ‘many are called but few are chosen.’ Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians invest their hard earned money into these betting companies every day, believing that luck would smile on them but checks revealed that not everyone is a winner.
When Daily Sun went to town to look at the development and the rate of patronage, the findings were as interesting as they were amazing. Investigation revealed that before the advent of what could be referred to as ‘new age’ gambling, which is mainly sports betting, Nigerians mainly played pool or patronized the premier lotto.
Tracing the history of the development, a regular customer of lotto at one of the kiosks in Ojuelegba, who gave his name as Johnson, said when it made its debut, it was embraced by many Nigerians because it was seen as a more progressive, dependable and honourable way of gambling than the hitherto old-fashioned pool game. “People played pool game in secret. Nobody who was into pool would be proud to let his people know that he is into it but when this one came, it was so organised and noble that people embraced it openly. One was proud to be associated with it because many persons who played it were winning unlike pool, which could empty a man’s whole life’s savings without any lucky win. That was how what we have today started. It was Baba Ijebu that gave Nigerians confidence that gambling could make one to be an instant millionaire and that was why when the sports betting companies came, Nigerians, being sports loving people did not waste time in patronizing them,” he said.
Explaining how various betting companies work, an operator of one of them in Mile 2 area of Lagos, Gbolahan Bankole told our reporter that the very first thing a potential player should bear in mind is that betting is a game of luck. He likened it to the popular raffle draw, which some of the telecommunication companies in Nigeria organise. He said: “It is just like the telecoms raffle draw, where they will talk about lucky dip. In it, they will have like one million numbers to be rolled before the lucky pick.
“In some cases, the numbers range between one and 90 and the machine will roll out the five lucky numbers. If you played any two matching numbers out of the five winning numbers, then you have won and the amount you get is determined by the amount you used in playing it.”
He went ahead to explain that it is played in two ways – the two-sure and the palming. Explaining further, he said: “In two-sure, you only have one chance but in palming, you have more than one chance. Palming has more than two numbers. It could be seven or more. For instance, if you play two-sure with N100, it will give you N24,000 but for self defence, you may want to play palming. If you play palming of seven numbers with N10 each, which is N210 because it has 21 lines, and you win, you will get N2,400, but if you play two-sure with the same amount and you win, you will get N5000. Two-sure pays more money but it is also riskier at the same time. So, any two matching numbers gives you a win. You can be lucky to play all the numbers in palming and all of them will become the winning numbers.”
He also stated that the least amount of money that one can play the lotto with is N5. “But, you can even play N1m if you are sure and close the company. If you play two-sure for N1m, the owner will be shivering because N5000 will give you N1.2m; then multiply it with N1m and know how much you will get,” he said.
As the conversation between the operator and the reporter was going on, an angry customer who felt that the questions were unbecoming and that the operator had left them unattended to for some minutes, thundered: “Don’t tell him again, let him enter if he wants to play. E don do.”
But, after calming him down with the assurance that the reporter was a novice, who needed to be equipped with the right information before investing his money, the operator continued: “It is everyday game. Gold, jackpot and super are all part of the lotto. You can buy the machine from the white men and give it any name of your choice to represent your company.”
He listed about 10 companies operating under premier lotto to include Bingo, Diamond, Gold, International, Jackpot, Club master, Super, Mark 2, 06, Enugu and Royal. Interestingly, Ghana is also making money in millions from Nigerians through betting.
Investigation revealed that such companies under premier lotto as National, MSP, Lucky G, Midweek, Fortune and Bonanza belong to the Ghanaian government.
From observation, Nigerians, irrespective of age, gender, religion or occupation troop in to make their stake. While our reporter pretended as a customer at one of the lotto spots at Orile area of Lagos, customers, mainly young boys and girls, trooped in their numbers to play.
One of the customers called out 61, 70, 42 and 90 to the operator, who keyed the numbers into the machine, after which the customer paid N200; a clear indication that he played each number for N50.
Another one picked 73, 35, 42, 32 and 49 and paid N450 thereafter. Asked by the reporter for clarification on the choice he made, he said: “Baba Ijebu says that to be a millionaire, you must take risks. So, if you play and win, it is your luck but if you lose, it is also your luck. I have just played two-sure with N300 and palming with N150 for three numbers at N50 each.”
Yet, another customer dashed in and picked six palming numbers at the cost of N650. He also played two-sure for N100 bringing the total amount of money which he parted with to N750. The reporter also overheard him boasting that he had played two-sure in the last two days, although he didn’t win. He said: “I played two-sure on Monday for N100. I played again on Tuesday for N100 but today (Wednesday) I want to play N200 again for two-sure. It is not easy to play two-sure because there is no money and it is not easy to win it.”
On the rumours that there were cases where some people had won huge amount of money but they were not paid, the operator said: “The whole Lagos can win that number and all of them will get their money. The amount of money you play with determines how much you win. This is not like pool, where they play trick on people. Here, your reward is guaranteed. The result comes out every day. You can play two-sure and palming at the same time, if you have the money.”
One striking thing about the customers of the lotto is that many of them take out their time to study the winning trends in the past before staking their money.
A visit to one of the lotto shops at Mile 2 showed that while some people stand around the kiosk, there are others who are comfortably seated inside, studying the past winning results pasted on the wall. The level of seriousness and concentration deployed in looking at the list drew our reporter’s attention and on enquiry, the operator said: “They come here to sit down to study the past results. If it looks similar, there is possibility of winning. It is just like studying past exams questions in anticipation that questions could be repeated. Sometimes it favours them and some other times, it disappoints them. So, it is a game of luck.”
However, there are other sports betting companies. The betting companies offer all kinds of incentives to agents as well as customers. Unlike others, they are interested in football prediction. For instance, if Manchester-United is playing Chelsea, you stake your money for either of the teams and if the team you staked your money for wins, then your prediction has come true and you automatically become a winner.
Offices of the sports companies are beehive of activities as people mill around in their numbers to stake. When our reporter visited one of them at Ojuelegba, it was as busy as a market place. At the reception hall, there were about nine flat screen television sets hung on the wall, with so many people watching. A step further is another room where about three television sets were showing football, lawn tennis and basketball matches from different countries. More than 50 people were also seated with their eyes glued to the sets. They seemed not to be in a hurry to leave the place. Some were relaxed as if they were in their homes while others just dashed in, got their numbers and left.
In the same reception, there is another line where front desk officers attend to customers. There are also about four laptop computers being manned by workers who also attend to customers that want to book in advance.
A frustrated customer, who ostensibly wanted to predict basketball competition in China, was disappointed when he was told that China was not on the card for the week. Angered by the development, our reporter overheard the customer saying, “this one wey they say e no dey, why did they put it on the notice board? I better go to another place to play.”
When our reporter approached the manager for enquiries, he said: “We have the name of the teams and the options to choose. 1 means home team to win; 2 means home team awaiting. The minimum amount you can play with is N100. You can meet our boys using the laptop to book your tickets for one week or more.”
What baffles many is how Nigerians across all strata of the society have become so fixated in the web of betting, which many still prefer to call gambling. Opinions from the cross section of players and outsiders vary from greed to laziness and craze for get-rich-quick among others.
Joseph is an ardent player of the lotto, who sees nothing wrong in it. He said: “Lotto is not pool. Here, you can play with as little as N5 and you will still win something. People are condemning it because they think it is pool; but that is where they get it wrong. Some people have been taken out of poverty for life through this. I have been playing it for some time now and I strongly believe that I will still win big one day. It is not as if I have not been winning but for you to win big, you also have to play with good money and not the little amount that I have been playing with. I have won severally but they are not big enough to make me a millionaire. Like I said, many have become millionaires through lotto and many more will still achieve their dream of becoming millionaires soon. So, it is a legitimate business just like any other business.”
For Mr. Chidiebere, who makes shoes at Mile 2, it is laziness and greed that drive so many people to patronise lotto and other betting platforms. He said: “For me, I think it is laziness and greed. Some people think that they can become rich by just playing lotto and winning millions of Naira. The point is that even when such people win such amount of money, they won’t be able to control it; it will just be wasted because they will still go back to play, thinking that a bigger money will be won. And before they know it, the money is finished.
“Many of the people that play lotto are jobless youth and artisans who empty their daily savings on gambling. Some people spend real money on daily basis. In fact, for some people, it is a habit and they must patronise them every day. In fact, I pity Nigerians.”
However, a generator technician, Okechukwu Ibeh, believes that government has failed Nigerians, leading to so much hunger and poverty in the land, which has driven so many people into betting as a way of survival. He said: “Many people believe that with N5 or N10 they could win N5,000 or more and that could feed them for even one week. There is no job in the country and these betting companies are providing not only jobs for Nigerians but also food on the table. That is why they are getting a large followership on daily basis. The number keeps growing because people are idle. Government should wake up to its responsibilities and save our youth from this mess. I say so because many youths have been rendered useless by this development and gambling now runs in their system. It is that bad.”
Psychology of players
Speaking on the psychology of the people involved in betting, a Consultant Psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo thinks that apart from pathological gamblers – those addicted or obsessed with gambling, there are many others who are cruising on self-proclaimed prophesy. They just want to get out of their ugly economic situation and they believe that the easiest and fastest way to achieve that is through gambling.
He argued that many people embrace betting simply because they are looking for hope. “There is always that hope that something good might happen. Looking at people who have won lottery in the past, others go into it believing that it could just be their turn; a kind of self-proclaimed prophesy, imagination or self-dream,” he said.
Acknowledging the fact that there is a natural tendency for people to feel like that, he did not forget to stress that there are pathological gamblers. “There are people who have become obsessed or addicted to it. People in this category use all they have to gamble. They never get anything out of it but they can’t stop gambling. If they are not doing it, they are not happy. They can use their children’s school fees or even their house rent to gamble. It is an illness and just like someone who is addicted to drugs, they need help,” he submitted.
However, he attributed the upsurge in the number of people who are into betting to the fact that things are generally hard and people are just looking for a way to get out of their bad economic situation as fast as possible. “Gambling seems to be that easy way out for them. But, like I said, it is a self-proclaimed prophesy because many get stuck in the process and worsen their economic situation instead,” he stated.
He believes that pathological gamblers, just like drug addicts, need rehabilitation. “They need a professional help or attention because they can’t help themselves,” he said.
He also admitted that those who just wanted to try to see if they could get out of their bad situation because others had succeeded through it, could easily stop by the time they have tried a couple of times without success.
What the Bible says
Looking at betting from the religious angle, Pastor Richard Minet of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Praise Tabernacle Area Headquarters, Festac, Lagos, said betting is nothing but gambling. He said that the Bible frowns at it because what it means is simply to rob Mr. A in order to pay Mr. B and at the end of the day homes are rendered useless. “Rather than commit to hard work and nation building, people begin to wish for luck. They begin to wish to become rich by lottery. If everybody gets money from lottery, who will produce anything; who will manufacture anything; who will go into farming? Why should I be a shoe maker if I can believe and trust God to give me one special number and when I play it, I will become a millionaire? Woe betides the person who wants to become rich by luck; it is not God’s pattern,” he submitted.
On why Nigerians patronise betting companies, he attributed the scourge to poverty and ignorance. He also attributed the development to the fact that the average mind of a Nigerian is not a working mind. He lamented that an average Nigerian does not go to school to be able to add value to the economy but just to pass and be able to get job thereafter.
“He said: “Our minds are so myopic. Our leaders are not thinking. We are not creating wealth, we are not productive. How can we eradicate hunger in a nation where there are more churches than farms? Is God going to throw food from heaven? Nigerians must be productive-minded; we must be ready to work.” He lamented that the simple adage which states that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, has been translated by Nigerians to mean that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. But that wrong impression is what he would not hesitate to correct, when he said: “To an average Nigerian man, he thinks the adage said idle hand; no, it didn’t say idle hand. It said idle mind. Too many hands are working in Nigeria but the minds are not working. When people’s hands are working but their minds are not working; it is only a question of time before they perish because poverty will swallow them.”
What the Quran says
In the same vein, the Deputy Iman of Ibukun Oluwa Ratibi Mosque in Lagos, Ustaz Jamiu Aro also said that Islam equally condemns gambling in whatever form. “Call it whatever name, it is not acceptable as far as Islam is concerned because it is a social menace,” he said.
He stated that among the acts such as alcoholism, which Allah in Holy Quran clearly categorized as devilish, gambling is included and they are regarded as illegal social acts that are strongly forbidden.
According Ustaz Aro, “Allah named such acts as unhygienic, meaning that they are things not fit enough for human beings to step into. Allah warns us to shy away from such acts because they are all parts of devilish acts.”
On the punishment for disobedient to the warning, he said: “Allah said we should shy away from them so that we would gain hereafter. He warns that the heart of anybody who fails to flee away from such acts, will be darkened and that simply means that one is going to enter the hell, because only the pure in heart will gain the hereafter.”
He said that who other Moslem faithful are busy praying the mosque, gamblers will not be there because they are busy with their devilish act. “Allah out rightly condemns gambling. There is nowhere in the Quran that such act is allowed and I am sure that the Bible also condemns it,” he submitted.