The Wretched Game
As a habit and an escape from poverty, a large numbers of Nigerian youths have sought solace in gambling and mother luck
The taxi driver almost caused an upset as the passenger alighted from the cab just at his destination. Wale, the driver was lost in thoughts and of course, so hard on himself because of an omission the day before. He had failed to stake at least N200 on a ‘2-sure’ lotto game he played a day before. And thus, the hope of treating his entire family to a feast during the 2012 New Year celebration from the N48000 largesse he would have won was dashed.
A few weeks later in Lagos, were he to be there, the unlucky cab operator would definitely envy a posse of gamblers in Lagos who were in a frenzy mood, throwing fire crackers after cashing millions of naira from Baba’Jebu, the way he did of his friends in the ancient city of Ibadan after that grave miss. That December in Ibadan, over N200 million was paid in winning with some defaulting agents allegedly on the run, for either having failed to remit players’ entries, thinking the winning numbers wouldn’t come out or considering the enormity of their indebtedness.
In February of this year alone, players around Mushin are said to have won billions of Naira in the National Lotto, a lottery firm based in Ghana as well as Premier Lotto, with Adebutu Kessington, popularly known as Baba’jebu as its Nigerian founder. Hailed from Iperu, a rural town in Ijebu dialect speaking part of Ogun State, Adebutu’s appellation, Baba’Jebu is now emblematic of everything gambling in the country.
However, the calibre of people playing the games transcends all social strata. Apart from the market women and those in pariah who also stake as little as N50 on the game from time to time, there are also those who play by proxy, trying to save their faces and conceal their source of fortune. Interestingly too, personalities like Oba of Mushin, the Oloto and the DPO of Daleko police station were said to have won several millions of naira in the much talked about Mushin boom. It is this name-dropping, appeal and fantasy of winning that make millions of Nigerians spend significant percentage of their earnings on lotto with majority nevertheless, going home with their tails between their legs after every draw. But the enticement is so powerful that even secondary school pupils have also joined the fray of players with money meant for their schooling.
The Game Plan
The practice that had its origin in Malta in 1923 has metamorphosed over the years and the Nigerian variant has a lot of aspects to it. To win in any of the lotto games ubiquitous in the country, a player has to predict correctly a set of numbers that will pop up from the gambling machines of the operator during the draws held after each game, -as quickly as two hours in some games. The winning numbers comprising the first few digits on the machine, grouped into five, each made up of one or two numbers. The remaining five groups are known as machine numbers -waste products. The player has the choice of a “2-sure” play in which four numbers paired in twos are predicted, e.g. 83, 45. In this case, if he plays with N1, 000, he earns a whooping N240, 000 if he wins (i.e. select 2 numbers drawn) N1000 X 240. A player can opt for a “three” direct game, a rare occurrence whereby a measly sum of N500 turns to N1.05million in winning (i.e. select 3 numbers drawn) N500 X 2100.
It increases geometrically depending on the amount of money betted with. A caveat to this is that, considering its potential of running the lotto company aground, a player has to break his stakes into smaller sums played from various agents otherwise, a single agent will decline such huge payment on one voucher upon winning and he is so empowered by some internal regulations. A game can be perming too – that is, disintegration of numbers into one digit from 1-99 with a two digit, for example, 16, used as the anchor. This anchor must come out in order to win. The chances of winning are high here but the amount that could be won is pocket-sized.
And for an experience, National Standard also played two “two-sure” games of N50 each and a perming of N60.It all returned non-winning though—more appropriately, the magazine lost.
Choosing a number to stake is a bit of rocket science too. Antecedents are the rule. Lotto chat, a weekly publication of all the past winning entries with dates, serves same way as do past questions for exams. Taking into cognizance the nine digits of numbers on each of the columns of the machine and how they tend to behave over a specific time, a player will permutate when 23 will turn to 32 and 78 to 87 at the same time, to win a 2-sure game as it did in December of 2011 around Alagbado, a suburb of Lagos. Players won over N20 million with numbers 32, 87. These same numbers were set as 23, 78 some months back as the winning. Also, lunatics are a good source of gambling numbers as they are thought to have a link to the extra-terrestrial realm. If the number volunteered by a madcap wins, he may be given a stipend to help himself. But if it doesn’t-as is often the case-he may get the beating of his life as if it’s not a mishap enough for him to be mentally deranged.
Just about any numerical inscriptions can pass for a Baba’Jebu betting number- foreign phone numbers on Tokunboh automobiles, house addresses, among many. In fact, a conductor retrieved a N100 note balance he gave a passenger few minutes earlier and replaced with another because he suddenly remembered the note had a set of numbers scribbled on it, suitable for his gambling trade.
Intrigues and Tricks
All sorts of means are devised by the lotto companies with their numerous agents to outwit the players. On the parts of the operators, they sometimes rely on their principal agents who serve as informants, advising them on the particular numbers majority of betters have played by collaboration among themselves. The operators, especially those outside the country, during their draws will be wary not to announce such numbers so as not to be drained out with the resultant multiple winnings.
On the part of the agents, they resort to Banker to Banker, a process in which a person’s entry is yanked out from the terminal, thus not reflecting in the office data base. As a result the person will not be able to claim any money in the event of winning. In addition, this ploy involves writing misleading winning numbers on the notice board, making players–mostly illiterates–conclude that their numbers did not come out, and will be encouraged to shred their vouchers thereby foreclosing any outburst of anger. This no doubt is possible because of agents’ defiance of section 13 of the commission’s code of conduct which says that names off all the winners should be documented i.e. published in at least one newspaper of wide circulation.
These methods are employed when the agent has not remitted the money to the office with the hope that the numbers will not set. This has always been greeted with violence anytime the stakers find out they have been short-changed, resulting in knocking down of the agent’s kiosk and beating him black and blue if he is ever found.
The head office also has a measure of its own under-handed dealings. When forecast has come to a point that the numbers cannot but set on the screen during the next draw, it sometimes comes under anxieties. Sources claim the same machine, that has been used for the draws over time, remaining to drop the numbers that forecast gurus have predicted and would have distributed among players for a fee, will not be used this time around, even though the draws will be held in the full glare of everybody, in compliance with section 11 of the Code of Conduct of National Lottery Commission. The trick is that the sticker bearing the name of the game awaited would have been fix on a different machine and in the end players will be led to conclude that their numbers are not out again.
Conspiracy and Fetish Means
The lotto game has another stratagem to it. There are forecasters who have a way of predicting numbers and selling them to a wide array of players. A notable example is a young man simply identified as Ibukun in Mushin. He was the brain behind the much talked about Mushin winning spree. His name is now an advert buzzword on notice boards describing him as Water Boy, Wonder Boy etc. He sold out to players, the forecast numbers he was sure of, and he is said to have gone into hiding because he is now wanted for “questioning” by Adebutu Kessington. Desperate lotto players have also employed the services of juju priests to boost their winning chances, even so, as they are always warned that no efficacious voodoo can outwit that of Baba’Jebu’s and according to a source, their efforts are usually to no avail.
For those who win, they hardly stay a few months before going broke again. Apart from a habit that is hard to break which makes them plow back-hence the catch phrase: Da pada, Owo Baba’Jebu (meaning: return to the source, it’s Baba’Jebu’s money), reckless spending and lack of good investment are their lots. Even when they invest, you don’t call Jack before it starts to ebb. No thanks to the allegedly cursed baskets with which the claims are paid. The same quandary can befall a sub-agent; despite his regular commission of 25%. Many a sub-agent is given to excessive gambling and extravagant lifestyle. Hakeem who lives around Mushin that was able to set up a daily-needs shop for his wife from Baba’Jebu swag has also succeeded in draining the store, supporting his gambling lifestyle. Motorcycle, commercial buses, electronics and many other articles have been acquired from gambling proceeds but ironically, they are usually sold to play lotto in an unending cycle.
Thus, money has been made and it has also been lost. Only time will tell if the players in this current fad will ever realize how much of their money is given to Baba’jebu, to receive little or nothing in turn. And of course, it’s uncertain if we will ever have a generation of moneybags with Lotto as the source of their wealth.