Slips, Figures And Luck

Betting Parlours As A Reflection Of The Nigerian Dream

by Gottfried Moh

Slips, Figures And Luck

In a country whose economy is on free-fall and where a huge chunk of the active population can barely afford to feed properly, it is common to find many people looking forward to the day when they would hear an announcement in the lines of “congratulations, you’ve just won the lottery”, followed by a loud “yes, I’ve made it” and a thud on the ground which signifies that their mother has fainted in excessive excitement. The grass-to-grace stories and “one moment” motivational speeches usually sound good to the ears, but do these chances come that often? Do people just get lucky with lotteries, or is it more of a rat race to reduce the odds of spending a lifetime below the poverty line?

A lottery in itself is a means of raising money by selling numbered tickets and giving prizes to the holders of numbers drawn at random. It also goes by several aliases: raffle, (prize) draw, sweepstake, sweep, bingo, lotto and tombola.

In Nigeria, these things are a huge deal; we’ve heard one too many prayer requests about people hoping to win a visa lottery, there are even church programme flyers with outlandish tags like “my lotto must pure this year”. So therein lies the conundrum. In many religious circles, they paint lotteries out to be a bad thing (“gambling is a sin, people”), but pastors are also eager to entertain long narratives about how “I fasted for one month and two numbers changed everything” during the testimony time segment of church services.

We’ve also been plagued largely by a “get rich quickly” syndrome, and away from the pilfering of female underwear to (magically) acquire a new automobile, the average Nigerian youth spends a fortune on betting. The proliferation of sports betting platforms, which all seem to be thriving in a densely populated market, makes for curious discovery.

“BetNaija must enter o, my ticket nor go cut this weekend.”

 According to (undocumented) research, one in six (Lagos-based) bus drivers plays “Baba Ijebu” a multi-million Naira lotto business owned by Kessington Adebutu , a Nigerian businessperson with interests in oil and gas, shipping, construction, real estate, agriculture and entertainment. The struggle is real, it is grueling and it is unforgiving, as Nigerians strive everyday to make one more upward move along the social ladder.

What do you do when you eventually win a lottery? Some would adopt the view (and not without good reason) that the first item to be purchased before even going to claim your reward is a face mask, that way your enemies, detractors, friends and family cannot recognize you at the very least…but what drives the craze to “stumble” on quick cash? Do the photos uploaded by our favourite celebrities on Instagram easily influence us? Are we intimidated by our cousin’s best friend sister’s fiancé who moved around town with a Range Rover during the previous Christmas holiday? Are we simply tired of seeing the Automated Teller Machine read “insufficient funds” when we summon the courage to check our account balance?

The truth is, Nigerians love the concept of luck, they love a dramatic success story, and as long as these abound, there will always be hordes of young people trooping in and out of betting parlours, a state of affairs enabled by the lengthening unemployment line. It could be a reflection on the shift in values, as hard work and the slow process are de-emphasised, but who can blame them? They just want to get by.