Under the Spell of 'Baba-Ijebu'



Baba-Ijebu has turned into a strong gambling habit among Nigerians, especially the youths. In this report, Ugo Aliogo examines the reasons youths have embraced this culture and what can be done to curb it
Chinonso Okafor is a young man in his mid twenties. At the age of 15, he dropped out of school due to his poor grades. His poor performance in school was caused by his strong gambling culture. It was discovered from Okafor’s school mates that he regularly visited the Premier Lotto boot in his neighbourhood, skipping classes and assignments to indulge in this practice. The activity grew into a powerful addiction which he could neither stop nor control. Okafor has succeeded in destroying his dreams. 
Okafor did not pluck his gambling habit from the sky. At the age of 10, his mother filed a divorce suit against his father. The divorce suit was initiated when his father sold the mother’s large piece of land to play Premier Lotto, popularly known as Baba-Ijebu. The action was predicated upon the hope of winning a large sum of money which could help him to replace the land and still have some money for himself. But his hopes were dashed, as he lost the game and his meagre salary could not purchase a new plot of land. 
The crave for quick money has lured many young people to involve themselves in Baba-Ijebu. With a very small amount of money, a staker (player) can play and win a large sum of money. While at other times, the staker may not win. Experts say the game is highly addictive which makes it difficult for stakers to stop, despite several losses.
On week days, the entrance to Clegg Lane in Ojulegba, Surulere, is always a beehive of activities. Agents are seen sitting inside their wooden makeshift boot, marking suspected numbers on a large white board placed inside their boots. These numbers are possible games for the day. While for others the business is different, their eyes are glued to the red box searching out likely games that customers might like to stake. 
To understand the dynamics of the game, THISDAY visited one of the Premier Lotto boots in Ibidun Street in Ojuelegba to speak with an agent. The boot is run by a handsome looking young man known as Owolabi Yusuf. Donning a short sleeved shirt, Yusuf took up this job as a means of raising money to support his aspiration of going to the university. He had an aura of confidence that portrayed him as a warm and approachable individual. Before he spoke, he let out a smile which signalled acceptance. 
He said for each day there is a game schedule where couple of games to be played from morning till evening are stored, but remarked that many stakers prefer the games played from Monday to Saturday, while the most popular game, which is national, is played on Saturdays. 
Yusuf said the game has permutations 2, 3, 3 direct and 2 sure, but permutations 2 sure are when two of the player’s number drops, adding that if a player plays permutation 2 sure with 5 naira, he will win 1,200 especially if the player’s two number drops, because the number is 2 out of 90. 
He said: “There was a customer who just played permutation 2 sure with a stake of 100 naira, when the result came out the player won 12,000 naira. When you play permutation 2 sure with 5 naira, you will win 1,200. Therefore the higher you stake, the higher your chances of winning. 
“What this implies is that if you choose two numbers, and the ball is rolled, it will display five numbers when two of your numbers come out, then you win depending on how much you stake. The higher you stake, the higher the wining amount.” 
Yusuf said the owner of the boot is a principal agent working for another individual and the money he realises daily would determine how much commission he is paid, adding that the game is controlled and determined; by the result of the ball rolling conduct at the central office at Barracks, Ojuelegba after the closure of each game schedule. 
He added: “There is the winning and machine number. The stakers (players) focus on the winning number. There is also agent and transport card. When the machine is on online mode, they use the agent card, while when it is on offline mode they will use the transport card. 
“Before the game closes you have to remove the transport card, and put the agent card so it will import all what was sold into the agent card, because if this is not done it will not appear at their office and they will not pay. Then I will be the one to bear the cost if I didn’t import it. The risks involved are mainly with the agents and transport card. 
“The machine has four sim cards: MTN, Etisalat, Glo and Airtel. I don’t like this game personally because gambling ruins people’s lives. I have other paid jobs which I do, but I’m doing this to finance transportation to the other paid jobs. I’m a plumber by trade. During the week, I come here by five 5p.m, at weekends I work full day.”
Abiodun Adebimpe is a principal agent who runs his own Premier Lotto boot at the popular Clegg lane. Despite making a fortune from the business, he is worried that the ratio of young people to adults playing lotto is about 80 to 20 per cent.
He said the reason for this unprecedented rise is that the country is going through difficult times caused by the recession; therefore people have resorted to this means of getting quick cash as a means of survival.
“With 50 naira, young people can win 12,000 naira in a lotto 2 sure game play. This win motivates them to keep playing, while sometimes they win, at other times they lose. While for most adults the tendency of playing it regularly is reduced due to the family responsibilities at their disposal,” he said.
He said the effects of playing lotto amongst young people are much, “especially when they are winning much money, there is higher tendency of forfeiting their education and devote time to play lotto; while if they are artisans they might also forfeit the trade to play lotto in order get more money, this leads to them abandoning their future for gambling.”  
On this issue, Adebimpe’s stance is that lotto is not something which young people should trade their future for, instead it should be seen as a leisure activity. His disappointment is that most young people devote their time to this activity which experts have described as a strong addiction.
He is optimistic that if fathers endeavour to meet their parental responsibility by providing for their children and advise them against indulging in the practice, the number will drop drastically.
“Most schools pupils and students play lotto to buy textbooks and writing materials for themselves. I have had cases where school children come to play lotto on a daily basis. Lotto reduces the chances of people committing crimes such as stealing. Lotto is a lucky game which people win by chance.”
Matthew Philip, a staker, has a different opinion on the issue. He believes unemployment is the root cause why young people are involved in playing lotto, while adding that lotto is a good means of survival for the agents who get daily commission.
Philip doesn’t derive pleasure playing lotto but the activity has become a bad habit which he cannot outgrow, despite losing often times. 
He said when playing lotto, the percentage of the loss is higher than the win, 20 to 80 per cent. “Some lucky people win a lot, I have seen a person who won 60 million, another won 2.1 million, he played 3 direct for 1,000 which is 2.1million naira,” he said. “It will not be easy to address this issue of playing lotto, because the population of people involved in this gambling practice is very high. In every street in Lagos, there are lotto stands. 
“What we should consider here is the number of employment that will be generated to stop people from playing lotto. It can be addressed, but it will not be easy. The quest for survival and quick money has made people to remain addicted to lotto. 
“For instance, you can borrow money from lotto as an agent with the hope that when you sell, you will then repay. This game is gradually taking over every part of the country. Most of these agents can make up to 20,000 naira daily on sales alone. This shows how people stake on a daily basis. The only solution is to stop the lotto company.”