By Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh
The art of betting has – since I was a kid – been regarded as the occupation of the vagabond. Then, whenever players sat and bet; folks seriously condemned any youngster found around their pool shops. I remember a certain man I knew who actually owned the pool shop and who much later translated his financial resources into the hospitality business and has been blazing the trail in that industry since.
A number of individuals in our country have benefited from this rather silent and noble system which unfortunately has been so vilified and ‘painted’ black and blue as though it was the Devil’s idea of talent hunt! Interestingly, while our beliefs and prejudices continued to condemn Sports Betting, we have made less and less effort at industrializing our economy or providing the needed vocational training that should engage our youths.
These folks forget that sports’ betting was not really the issue. They forget that when companies did their promotional, the scratching of card and/or crown cork in search of winning numbers or inscriptions were a part of the betting system. They applaud Beauty Pageantry, Big Brother Naija, Reality Shows and talent hunts without realizing that all these things operated under the betting principles/system which is: When 5000 youths bought forms at 3000 naira for beauty pageant each but one wins.
In the past, our mentalities of attaching sacredness unto everything prevented us from encouraging our kids as they showed talents for making folks laugh, playing football, singing and acting, fighting or talking endlessly. We saw those as extracurricular activities which must not be taken seriously. Today, we bite our fingers as we watch comedians, footballers and musicians become brand ambassadors for company products over and above unknown PR persons.
Now, between sports betting – which at least offers the youths solace in the face of vicious attempts by our politicians to keep them unempowered – and the society that has promoted perversion and lawlessness as areas where the youths had to invest their energies; which should be blamed for under-developing the youths the most? See, it is time we broke away from this ‘bandwagon’ mindset of branding everything as ugly because it was unpopular or not status quo.
HENRIK IBSEN, in An Enemy of the People, wrote “The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?” If we continued to conspire against anything that’s intended to help society; we are destroying our chances to survive outside the already destroyed economic system in Nigeria.
They said that monies that came from betting don’t last and that it was against one’s faith to gamble. Well said. But what have we been able to give to the world from our so-called belief? How many technological innovations have come out of our beliefs? Folks believe a thing when it’s working for them. Our belief systems are at best; suitable for the Stone Era and not of contemporary importance! Every youth will like to be engaged in any legitimate vocation but when the desirable is not there; the available becomes the desirable.
Those that played football today or them that sang as musicians do not really concern themselves with the economic realities today nor do they have to steal public funds to survive. Sometimes, in their old age or when they ran out of cash; they simply organized concerts or shows or even novelty matches in order to raise funds. But can the doctors, engineers and civil servants as well as those who are presently deriding sports betting; easily raise funds when in need?
Is corruption not a culture today because our needs are insatiable and because the government always found it difficult to raise the minimum wages to reflect current realities? Every now and then, the politicians required the NLC and the TUC to disrupt economic activities just to realize that it was time to effect a raise in salaries! And then instead of us to encourage our youths to channel their energies on what’s productive – like sports betting – we rather they thug for the politicians!
In the final analysis, what’s productive is productive with or without our Third World Mindsets and what’s destructive is destructive! If the First and Second World economies suffered less of terrorism; does it surprise us that in Nigeria – a common Third World country – terrorism, kidnapping and organized crime was what engaged the youths and all we do is condemn indulgence that could profit the youths productively.
There is nothing wrong at all with Sports Betting. The snag seems to be that those who operated the system must be sincere enough and not let their greed rule them; if the system will endure. Let me say this: Nigerian youths; bet if you wanted, it’s your life! If the government gave a fuck about you; they would’ve made power outage a thing of the past in order to promote an industrial revolution that’ll benefit YOU. If they cared about your future; they would’ve provided you with jobs or encouraged your hustles to survive by granting you access to loans and grants.
If they believed you are the future of this country, they would’ve made health services accessible. From 1999 to 2019, they have continuously promised but failed to deliver ELECTRICITY! They have continually promised but failed to create jobs. They have promised but failed to deliver good roads, railways and affordable sea and air ports. They have remained determined to pillage our patrimony as they furthered the economies of Dubai, the UK, the USA, the Caribbean and Asia.
If the political class actually believed in you, they would’ve seen that sports was a veritable hammer that is capable of breaking through the boundaries created by our religious and ethnic dispositions and, used it. Dr. Segun Odegbami made a very strong case for sports as a tool for economic development when he presented a paper in the PLATFORM organized by Pastor Poju’s Covenant Church every year.
For the first time, I could see that the division that our leaders lamented were impossible to mend (because it served them to remain in power) was very possible through sports. Sports, in short, was one art that was as powerful as religion and racial prejudices. In addition, about every aspect of sports could make millions of dollars for that country that understood how to exploit it.
If the giant economies in contemporary politics such as the USA had made sports a necessary part of their educational curriculum and had legalized betting and, we can count what they’ve gained so far; what was a Third World country like Nigeria hoping to gain by creating a system that made the youth dependent on the politicians for survival because it served them to access power and to continue to ruin everything that should be our assets?
What our economy needed was a system that made it possible for one to earn legitimate monies from sectors outside their vocations. This way, the labor unions may have less and less occasions to quarrel with government for wage increase; if it was possible to earn some amount that helped them to cater for their needs and those of their loved ones. The decline of assent by the president for the Peace Corps bill is testament that government was in pains financially and instead of opening up the economy; they chose to be adamant.
But when you had a regime that questioned you because they found some 5 million naira in your bank account in the name of fighting corruption; does it tell we were still a democracy or indeed feudalism? Then, there is the question of the corrupt in our midst who will not hesitate to channel stolen monies into gambling. If we took a position against corruption in the manner it is currently going; our economy will simply remain a closed system.
Comrade Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh is an advocate for attitudinal change.