In Nigeria, football betting has a long history that can be traced to colonial times, when pool betting was popular, especially among older adults. Since then, more younger people have taken up betting on the results of football matches, including European league football.
The country has many betting outlets where people can place a bet manually. They can also open an account online with a betting company, using a debit card, and place bets on the website or app.
A report revealed that about 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are involved in active sport betting. They spend almost ₦2 billion on sports betting daily. This translates to about ₦730 billion annually. In an economy where the 2020 national budget is almost ₦11 trillion, this is huge.
Two factors are responsible for increasing football betting among youth in Nigeria. One is the increase in poverty and unemployment. Among Nigeria’s estimated population of around 200 million, around 87 million are said to be extremely poor. The youth unemployment rate in 2018 was put at 36.5%.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 29.7% of youths between the ages of 15 and 34 were unemployed at the third quarter of 2018. Betting may appear to be a way to make quick money, either as a betting operator or as a gambler.
The second factor driving and enabling football betting in Nigeria is the growing use of the internet and smart mobile phones. In 2017, 84% of Nigerians had mobile phones. The number of internet users in Nigeria is 122 million based on figures from the Nigerian Communication Commission. This is more than half of Nigeria’s estimated population. The increase in internet users in Nigeria can be attributed to affordability of internet access; with less than ₦100 (less than US$1), internet connectivity is assured. It is easy and convenient for people to place bets online using their phones.
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I was interested in the potential consequences of this situation for Nigerian society and particularly for young people. I wanted to know whether the ease of online betting for economically hard-pressed young Nigerians was creating any social problems such as conflict, crime and addictive behaviour.
For my study, I collected data from in-depth interviews with fans of European football clubs, betters, parents and guardians of fans and betters, security personnel, owners and operators of betting outlets as well as football viewing centres in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo State, south west Nigeria and Yola, Adamawa State, north east Nigeria. In addition, I observed betting activities and collected data from recent online news reports and other published works.
From the various interviews conducted and my observation, I found there was a link between football betting by young Nigerians and a perceived increase in violence and criminal activities. But in my view the answer is not to ban such betting but to address the unemployment and poverty which propel people into it.
Behaviour around betting
My interviews and observations in the field show that there is a concern about teenagers stealing to fund their football betting. I was in a security meeting in Adamawa State where parents complained to the police that they had noticed unprecedented theft of their money by their teenage children/wards to fund football betting. A parent interviewed in Adamawa State explained that:
I noticed that money was getting lost in our house on daily basis. At first I thought it was mere misplacement. Later I started to hear from my neighbours also complaining of loss of money within their homes. We later got to know that our sons were the ones stealing the money to play football betting because we always see them with receipts of bet and we know that they do not have business from where they can get money for betting.
Interactions with these teenage betters show that they spend between ₦1,000 (about $2) and ₦3,000 (about $7) on betting daily. But the jackpot rarely comes. At football viewing centres, customers are routinely warned about fighting. One operator of a viewing centre in Yola told me:
In recent times, we have witnessed outbreaks of violence among our viewers. Some of these fights are over unresolved longstanding issues. Sometimes, it is as a result of anger sustained from major loss in football betting.
Football betting may also sometimes promote ritualism, especially the use of “good luck charms”. I spoke to one gambler who said:
You cannot just go and put a huge amount of money into betting without any form of spiritual enhancement that will guarantee and insure you. If you do that without spiritual enhancement, you will just continually give your
money to bet companies with their managers and staff to feed fat on while you continue to stay broke. Even bet company operators use spiritual power to ensure that their clients do not win…
There have been calls from moralists, especially in religious circles, for the government to criminalise betting, especially football betting. I witnessed two such discussions during an Islamic preaching in Yola, Adamawa State. In fact, one state has been urged to take the first step. I believe this is unlikely to be effective. It would only push betting into the background and make it more difficult for the government to regulate and control it. Government should instead pay more attention to widespread poverty and unemployment.
Saheed Babajide Owonikoko does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.