Baba Ijebu Just Might Save Our Culture

Lottery in Nigeria as a force for good.

Photo by Kelechi Anabaraonye

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) at bottom

For Colonial Structures

I am a fan of photographer Kelechi Anabaraonye (@oc.wonder), so much so that I reached out to him to discuss the work he does capturing the Colonial Structures of Lagos (and to a lesser extent Nigeria). He posed a challenge during our call, how do we preserve the history of Nigeria in the face of the onslaught to erase history? How do we ensure we do not raise another generation ignorant of their rich heritage? For the last two months I have pondered various options as I tried to answer this question.

The Lesson from Benjamin Franklin

One of the first lessons Benjamin Franklin learnt (according to his Autobiography) is the ability to mobilize significant funds for good by appealing to a large amount of people rather than asking the few (or the government) to bear the burden. This was a lesson I learnt on a personal level at the knee of my mother, a church fundraiser nonpareil. Watching her be part of various fundraising committees for the church taught the lesson that when many unite amazing things can happen. In addition to this is the need to understand incentives and how humans respond to incentive structures such as immortalizing their family names by attaching it to permanent structures i.e. buildings.

The principle is simple: What few can do by putting down lump sums, the many can achieve by each dropping a fraction of that amount (in the hopes of winning the pot and a percentage of each ticket going to a fund which oversees projects which are socially desirable but lacking in funding). A quick bit of arithmetic will tell you trying to raise N10 million from 10 people requires each to pay N1 million, a sum anyone would balk at. Yet, divide this sum (N10 million) by 100,000 people and each only has to drop N100, a distinctly more realistic and feasible sum for all involved, especially for objectives in the public good.

So?

Anyone who has toured the Great Houses, Arboretums and Nature Reserves in the United Kingdom may have notice a little sign if they paid careful attention or have a keen eye for detail.

The signs usually have one of two names; either the Heritage Lottery Fund (as below), or the Big Lottery Fund (further down).

What does the Heritage Lottery Fund do?

Since it was set up in 1994, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded over £7.1billion to more than 40,000 projects, large and small, helping people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect their heritage. Now tell me this is not something Nigeria needs.

HLF supports all kinds of projects, as long as they make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities. These vary from restoring natural landscapes to rescuing neglected buildings, from recording diverse community histories to providing life-changing skills training.

There are many uses Nigeria would have for a large pot of funds for which the sole purpose is to work on projects for the public good across the nation, and most importantly where the allocation of the funds would be determined by independent organizations which provide grants. Saving buildings such as the Water House, the Cuban Lodge and many more historic buildings across Lagos and Nigeria was the goal when I started this piece, only to realize the potential impact this could have.

The fund could also be used to support the conservation work done in National Parks and Games Reserves across Nigeria. It may surprise readers to know how many we really have (more than 15), considering the only two in the popular conscious are Obudu Cattle Ranch and Yankari Games Reserve (where a leopard was found recently).

How does/would it operate?

All prizes in the UK are paid as a lump sum and are tax-free. Of all money spent on National Lottery games in the UK, 50% goes to the prize fund (for the winners), 28% to “good causes” as set out by Parliament, 12% to the UK Government as Lottery Duty, 5% to retailers as commission, and a total of 5% to operator Camelot, with 4.5% to cover operating costs and 0.5% as profit.

Likewise, in the United States, 34 cents out of every $1 spent on lottery tickets is invested into education, with 58 cents being awarded to winners in the form of prizes and 6 cents paid to participating retailers for sales commissions. In 11 states — Delaware, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Oregon, South Dakota, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Washington — the lottery raised more per person than corporate income taxes.

Awarding National Lottery funding

Decisions on how and where funding is invested in the UK are made by 12 specialist organisations. These are chosen by Parliament for their knowledge and expertise to help ensure the money goes exactly where it’s needed.

What could the Nigerian Government do?

One of the first things you will note about the British National Lottery is the fact it is operated by a Private Business who are paid for their work. It makes sense for Nigeria to adopt this framework, especially with a particular business in the same industry already possessing the reach necessary to help the lottery easily reach critical mass. That business is the popular game Baba Ijebu owned by Sir Kessington Adebutu. Baba Ijebu is a lotto game which should according to the Nigerian National Lottery Act be regulated and licensed by the Lottery Commission.

The game has agents spread out across Nigeria and has already reached critical mass among most Nigerians. The revenues of the business have been seriously affected due to the increased preference for sports-related betting. But if the government were to partner with Baba Ijebu it would be a win-win scenario for both parties as the company which owns Baba Ijebu would make a decent revenue while simultaneously receiving government support and publicity, thus creating a large pool of funds to do works for the public good.

No idea under the sun is new

Reading legislation reveals that the some people in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo have followed my line of thought to its natural conclusion, setting up a legislative framework for a proper National and State Lotteries to be carried put, along with a National Lottery Trust Fund.

S. 40 (a) National Lottery Act 2005 states the National Lottery Trust Fund shall be used:

to fund projects approved by the President, on the recommendation of the Board of Trustees, to be in the interest of the Nigerian community and such projects shall include but not limited to projects for the advancement, upliftment and promotion of sports development, education, social services, public welfare and relief, and management of natural disasters in Nigeria;

Yet, little has come of it.

A careful read through the National Lottery Act reveals how wide the remit of the National Lottery Commission is. ALL betting activity is to be regulated by the National Lottery Commission, including the sweepstakes Telecos and Banks hold.

“Once a customer pays money to enter a promotion that ends up in a random draw; then such a situation is considered a lottery and is regulated by National Lottery Regulatory Commission.”

Yet apart from granting licenses, there does not seem to be much benefit that accrues to the state or public from these contests.

Instead of allowing citizens gamble on ponzi schemes like MMM, by creating a pool which has the effects of; enriching citizens, promoting sports, and maintaining our culture and history, we achieve more worthwhile goals.

Currently, there are a few problems with regards to the legislation:

  1. S.24 of the Act sets out the sharing arrangement for Lotteries in Nigeria as 50% to the prize fund, 20% of the proceeds of the lottery to the Trust Fund for the first 5 years of the licence, and 30% to the operator. This is not an effective sharing scheme (as with many things in Nigeria) when you consider the UK (5% to the operator), and the US (6% to the participating stores as commission). Although the Trust Fund contribution raises to 25% in the subsequent 5 years and thereafter 27.5%, from the jump it is currently a losing proposition.
  2. Likewise, the Act also specifies that money is to be remitted to the Trust Fund by the Operator at the end of the lottery cycle when a winner has been announced.
  3. As seen above both the amount set aside and the way in which the remittance to government are structured are faulty and create far too many loopholes/point of fraud in the system. If you continue to read the pieces I put out you will find that one of my core beliefs is it is rarely people that are bad, rather the system in place does not create enough (dis)incentive for people to adhere to desired behaviour. If that is the case, the system here depends on the integrity of the lottery operator to remit funds at the point a winner has been announced, rather than automatically as each ticket is sold using the prescribed formula.
  4. The current disincentives i.e. punishments and fines for lottery malpractice aka “hanky-panky” are far too low. The potential benefit of tampering with the lottery as opposed to the standing punishment currently tilts in dishonesty’s favour, a clear lack of acknowledgment of incentive structures in behaviour. The current punishment is N20,000 or one year in jail or both. And if the offence is committed by a body corporate (a company) the fine is N 100,000.

Has the National Lottery Trust Fund done anything?

To date, the only activity I have found were two donation of sports equipment to 45 and 38 primary schools in Ekiti, and Cross Rivers State respectively. They did not intervene in the recent flooding crisis in Benue State, nor were they a part of helping prepare Nigeria’s athletes for the Olympic Games. Compare this to the UK where notable athletes have risen up through programs funded by the National Lottery proceeds. Even further, who knows how many potential footballers and other sports people come up by having access to the various facilities such as a football pitch (as below) or tennis court which are available for anyone with the desire to use them.

A typical sports park funded by the UK National Lottery (the football field is further back)

Trial in Lagos

As with most things in Nigeria, the perfect place to trial an innovative new idea is Lagos State, the most economically vibrant and progressive state in Nigeria. Lagos has a cross-section of Nigerian society as well as many buildings which have significant historical and cultural value attached.

Oh but the National Lottery is intended for the whole of Nigeria? Not necessarily.

Each state is empowered by S.33 of the National Lottery Act 2005 to seek permission from the President to operate a Lottery. Further, according to the Act, the President can agree to vary the contribution to the Trust Fund, letting for instance Lagos State have a Lottery Trust Fund specifically focused on the state as long as tickets are bought by residents of the state.

TL;DR

By using Baba Ijebu (the lottery), we might be able to raise funds for worthwhile goals such as restoring buildings of significant historical importance, building and funding public libraries and the conservation work done in Nature Reserves across Nigeria.

Fun Fact of the Week: The largest National Park in Nigeria is Gashaka Gumti National Park on the Easternmost edges of Taraba and Adamawa. It contains West African Elephants, Lions, Leopards and more. In particular it is the last refuge of the increasingly rare Nigeria-Cameroonian chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes vellerosus aka ellioti) which might go extinct within the next two decades if action is not taken.

P.S. I am not suggesting taxation without representation, but we speak so often about the debt in Nigeria being unsustainable and a lack of funds for various initiatives without offering concrete solutions, just talking around the problem. This is my proposed solution, please feel free to comment.

Lagbaja