DAVID OMAGHOMI: Without Gaming, Nigeria Won’t Be Peaceful As It Is

The incoming President of the National Union of Gaming and Lottery Workers, David Omaghomi, recently told the GAMING TEAM that over 22 million Nigerians are staking daily on sports betting; over 10 million Nigerians are playing online lotteries. Out of these humongous amounts of money generated, only a tiny drop is remitted to the Federal Government through the National Lottery Trust Fund

How did you become president of the Nigerian gaming workers’ union?

I am Comrade David Omaghomi. I am the national treasurer of the National Union of Lottery Agents and Employees, which is the trade union for the gaming and lottery industry in Nigeria. Our mandate is to ensure that workers in the industry are able to benefit from the collective bargaining agreements that the union have to offer, as well as get better working conditions, job satisfaction and protection from both security threats as prevalent in the industry, as well as getting benefits for their future: from loans in the form of microcredit schemes, health insurance cover, micro pension and capacity building from gaming workers’ institute, which is meant to provide skills for every stratum of the gaming industry, so that workers are able to offer more services to the society and help with the paradigm shift that gaming provides a sense of hope for people, as well as contributing to good causes as alternative sources of funding for development. 

When did you join the gaming industry? 

I started my involvement in the gaming industry in an executive position. I was an executive director with Give and Take Lottery as far back as 2014. We pioneered the first national jackpot in Nigeria. For some reason, the company’s licence is functional but not operating at the moment. I also run a gaming enterprise, Easyplay Africa. We are an online gaming franchisee. We sell retail tickets for various operators and we also are in game development. I have been in the gaming ecosystem. I once also ran a franchise for Hot Fun and took slot machines to various outlets in Nigeria. I’ve been hands-on, from executive roles to principal-agent roles to super-agent roles, and I really understand the gaming ecosystem. For social advocacy, I was the pioneer branch chairman of PENGASSAN while I was in the oil industry. 

You are also well on your way to becoming the national president of Lottery and Gaming Workers in Nigeria.

I had set out to make an impact, and gracefully enough, God has been able to guide my journey on this path as a new administration starts in Nigeria at the presidential level. I’m happy at the level of our union that a new administration has just started. And under my administration as national president, I intend to lead the gaming and lottery industry to a different height. It is my honest prayer that I will be able to lead the rest of my executives and branch, and councils nationwide to institute a difference in the gaming and lottery industry as a whole. And the gaming and lottery industry, which so many people don’t understand, consists of any game of chance. So, be it slots, be it casinos, scratch and win games, promotions of ‘buy one, get two free’, any game of chance, anybody who does that. 

So, you even see commercial commodities saying that ‘this promo is approved by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission,’ even for financial institutions. It is an impactful part of the economy. Under my administration, our focus is to ensure that practitioners and workers, regardless of their class in this industry, become professionals and acceptable to society, not as agents of gambling, not as promoters of an ill trade, but as promoters of a ray of hope. 

Does gaming bring about social cohesion amid the hardship in Nigeria?

Gaming is quite interesting. I game responsibly, and then I see how the fact that I play a N50 ticket has given me N200,000. I can tell you the impact is not about what you win but the sustenance of what you expect. I use an example most times: a daily paid worker at a labour or construction site gets N2,500 for carrying cement on his head all day. That can barely take him around, but on his way back, he takes N50, plays ‘Baba Ijebu’ there, or plays N100 at Bet9ja, and then he buys Indomie and bread and goes home and sleeps. The fact that he is expecting a miracle when he wakes up in the morning means he’s got a brighter hope. If he loses, he’s contributed to society through good causes. If he wins, his spirit is lifted. 

So, it is just that ‘e go soon done no dey kill person’ mentality that gaming brings to keep social peace. I can tell you if there was no gaming, Nigeria would not be this peaceful with all the pressures that we have. Gaming is a way of society venting, right? That’s why it’s regulated by governments because all over the world, without regulation, gaming gets abused, just like alcohol, sex trade, trafficking and the rest. 

Any currents towards workers’ welfare?

Of particular interest is the Gaming Workers’ Institute, which we’re working hard to ensure we have accreditation, so it can be more of a one-stop accreditation centre for workers of every category to professionalize gaming. If you love gaming, you could send your kids to the gaming Institute.

What are the milestones of the union? 

Some of the milestones we have achieved since this struggle, beyond winning the challenges against us, have been a remarkable sort of reconciliation. I was privileged to visit one of the fathers of gaming in Nigeria, Sir Kessington Adebutu. He is the chairman of Premier Lotto. I had a session with him and another father of mine, Chief Alex Duduyemi, the Aro of Ile Ife, who is a board member of Secure Electronic Technology (SET) Plc, another legacy gaming organisation in Nigeria. This gave me an insight into the thinking of our fathers. It gave me an insight into some of the challenges the union was facing with operators at the outset. These are some of the things that I have decided to look out for. Some of the milestones include a reconciliatory meeting, where I’ve been able to get the input of the pioneers, the industry, and bigwigs in the gaming industry. I understand their concerns. 

Previous administrations had some officials holding offices in the union but not being in good terms with the operator, either by owing or having a commercial dispute. We don’t want the union to be a haven for people who are running away from commercial disputes in the organisation. That has been a major milestone. 

Also, participating in the National Gaming Dialogue organised by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission in Eko Hotel last year was a very major milestone because, as a speaker at that event, the industry was surprised that the union leadership actually had people with a track record, with businesses they fund, with entrepreneurship spirit, and with a vision, because hitherto, most of the operators, when they heard of a union in the industry, likened it to a thuggish movement. So it sparked concern. sometime in 2019 when the union wanted to go all out to collect dues. I was part of that administration. We went out to collect the dues from agents and we found some of the agents had been masterminded by some other parties who had a vested interest not to see this happen, challenging the union officials. We ended up at the Zonal Police Command in Onikan. We had lots of issues from there. I understood the palpable fear that, ‘Oh, this union is going to be another thuggish group that will be breaking peoples heads.’

Another milestone was when I addressed the LOF, the Lottery Operators Forum, at a meeting in Abuja, and they asked all the questions, and expressed all the concerns and I was able to allay those fears. One milestone that comes readily to mind was when we brokered a meeting or when a peace meeting was brokered by the Ministry of Labour and Productivity between the union and Premier Lottery. Premier Lottery undertook not to victimise anybody, any worker who is associated with a union, and pledged as a socially responsible corporate organisation to open its doors to unions, to trade unions to reverse the perspective that a lot of people had, that Premier Lottery took the union to court. They tried to protect the interest of the industry as the pioneer in the industry.

What are some challenges facing the members?

Okay, so ahead of our delegates’ conference, we had already taken an opinion poll from various workers, and we’d noted the challenges that the workers face in the industry, from casualisation, some do not have employment letters, lack of contract, lack of collective bargaining agreements, an assurance of a severance package. And then we also have, particularly those who were working as independent consultants or contractors to operators, issues of threats by security agents where they are used as ATM to the police going around arresting gaming operators or gaming workers who are doing their legitimate duties, to multiple taxations, harassment from local government officials, harassment from state revenue boards across the country. Most states do not have a gaming board, so the state revenue or local government revenue people go around harassing them. So these are some of the major challenges.  

Then there is the societal impression or societal bias in which people see them as never-do-well. I go home, I want to take a girl’s hand in marriage, and they ask what I do, and I say that I am a lotto agent, and they slam the door. So, we want to reverse that.

How do you ensure that your members are transparent in their dealings?

For transparency, I have come from the private sector, I am a serial entrepreneur, and I have investments in various industries, including the gaming industry now. I understand what efficiency is. I understand what transparency is, and so I am imploring my teams to ensure that we are transparent. We have an open source in communication, and people can track us, track our objectives, follow us on socials, and follow us on our website. And then we are also going to, as much as possible, stay within the ambit of our unions concerning relating with employers. Transparency in the words of the public to union leaders usually means, “I hope you won’t be pocketed, I hope you won’t walk away from protecting workers’ rights.” 

I can tell you we’ve come a long way on this journey. We have had many overtures to abandon this course. We have been asked by some parties to state our bill for promoting a union for the gaming and lottery industry. We have stakeholders who do not want a union and have offered us ridiculous amounts of money to just tear the certificates and move on. And to forget about it. But we’ve stuck to our guns that it is more of a social service than a financial service. I pledge to be transparent in all we’re going to do, and I’ll be here by God’s grace to take another interview after we win awards in the transparency of trade unions. 

Currently, there is a jurisdiction war between the state and federal. Where does the union come in?

We have a portal in development that will be released after the congress, that’s the delegates’ conference, that ensures every member is registered. There have been failed attempts by the national regulators to enumerate agents, to enumerate workers in the industry. They have even been failed attempts by state regulators, Lagos State Lottery and Gaming Authority recently launched the agent registration portal and it’s not doing well. We, as the trade union for the industry, are in a better position because we are at the grassroots. There is that comradeship, that people are seeing real-time benefits because they perceive registration with regulators as a tax trap because that’s what the regulators claim at the onset, only to use those data for tax collection purposes. People evade it for various reasons. We know ourselves you can’t come to do a census for me. I know where Baba Bolaji stays. So, our registration system sees an agent having two sureties of other agents that are verifiable and one surety from the operator. 

This way, we’re able to create an ecosystem for every agent, it is like your BVN, you are careful with how you use it, and every agent manages their agent IDs. Every worker for every operator has their worker IDs tied to the checkoff dues. So, whoever is not willing, has wittingly or unwittingly played themselves out. Whoever is willing, genuinely, we will now see a stop to people registering as lottery agents, to be able to get N100,000 from the operator, sell it out as tickets, and bolt with the N100,000. So, whilst working at that level of transparency. We are creating a robust ecosystem for every stakeholder: operators, regulators and the union alike to benefit from that. So, that is all we aspire to take transparency to another level. It’s in progress already. Yes. 

How does the union influence policies and legislation? 

There has been a raging battle between the federal regulators and the state regulators due to the peculiar nature of the lottery acts, you know, putting exclusive and concurrent jurisdictions to state and federal government, and we’ve had operators concerned about having to pay N100 million to the National Lottery Regulatory Commission for a federal licence and getting to a state like Lagos and paying N200 million again, or get into another state and paying N50 million, and having harassment from various organisations. The raging battle is already in court. I would not want to comment on the judicial process. We are waiting for the outcome. But as a union, we are loyal to the Federal Government, and we are loyal to every state government, wherever our workers are. 

We want our workers to remit their taxes to the corresponding organisation where they work, meaning at the state level, and then for those who have businesses nationwide, to remit their taxes to the federal government. We are neutral. We’re apolitical as a trade union. We’re not involved with any political movement. This is labour for workers, those who know, actually know, and those who don’t know, mistake us for a political movement. Although the Labour Party’s a brainchild of NLC, but the political undertones that surrounded the last election make us try to steer very clear. As a trade union, being apolitical is one of our responsibilities in the founding act of the trade union movement. We are apolitical to that extent. 


You even see commercial commodities saying that ‘this promo is approved by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission,’ even for financial institutions. It is an impactful part of the economy. Under my administration, our focus is to ensure that practitioners, and workers, regardless of their class in this industry, become professionals, become acceptable to society, not as agents of gambling, not as promoters of an ill trade, but as promoters of a ray of hope

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