By Francis Ewherido
I took my eldest son for a haircut, on the insistence of his housemaster, near his school last Sunday. As we approached the barber’s shop, I saw youths clustered around the two shops on either side of the barber’s shop. Initially, I thought they were watching a soccer match, but then I remembered the European football seasons were over. As I moved closer, I said to myself, “I hope it is not what I think.” Yes, it was; both shops are betting shops, the young men came to wager.
This scene is not isolated; it is the norm in major cities of Nigeria. From highbrow Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki to the slums of Ajegunle in Lagos; betting shops are overflowing with young men who want to get rich quick. In Delta State, the same scenes greeted me the last time I went home; betting shops are overflowing. It is so bad, my brother told me, that artisans ( barbers, mechanics, tricycle riders, etc) take a break from work once they make as little as N1,000 to bet and come back to work thereafter.
It has become a widespread obsession and addiction. Both phenomena scare me. I was a victim of gambling at age 14. My father gave me N5, yes N5, to go and buy my provisions to take to school. I left for Igbudu Market, Warri, Delta State. There I saw some women playing try-your-luck with an improvised roulette.
I decided to “try my luck” to see if I could increase my provision money. I lost the first two rounds before winning. My brother, who was not keen ab initio, said we should leave, but I begged him to allow me play a little more. I played until my money came down to N2. But for my brother, who was now hysterical, I would have left without a kobo. It was all fraud because the women frequently leaned on the table to ensure that the number I chose did not stop at the wooden arrow (Such women should actually be in jail for child abuse, aiding and abetting a minor to gamble).
With only N2 left, I went to Leventis Store. I could not buy the usual Peak milk I had grown accustomed to. It cost 17k per tin. I settled for Carnation milk which was 9k per tin, a few tins of Geisha and Sardine with other items. I could not tell my parents about the incident. I suffered grievously in school that term. That was in 1980. I have never gone near any betting or gambling spot since then. I did come away with some lessons, though: greed is dangerous and the probability of getting rich via gambling is low.
What is fuelling the interest of youths in betting? I did not ask any of them, but my educated guesses are:Desire to escape poverty for a better life, greed, popcorn(quick) wealth mindset and the increasing number of people who came by sudden wealth via politics, government appointments, oil bunkering, 419 or yahoo-yahoo ( fraud), kidnapping for ransom, among others. These young men want to become rich without an enduring methodology. They want to become rich without requisite skills. They want to become rich without imbibing and applying the rules for wealth creation.
I decided to check out the stories of lottery winners in Europe and the United States. According to Camelot Group, certified financial planners: “44 per cent of those who have ever won large lottery prizes were broke within five years, with a third declaring bankruptcy—meaning they were worse off than before they became rich.” The stories include those who lost it all in big cars, big houses, divorces and alimonies, partying and hedonistic lifestyles, drugs, alcoholism and other addictions, exotic and expensive holidays, uncontrolled cash gifts to friends and families, donations to charities and gambling, the madness just went on and on. Some went into depression while a few committed suicide. Very few sensible ones lived happily thereafter.
If some youngsters choose this path with low probability of getting rich, at least they need to learn the basics of financial management to be able to manage a windfall… if it comes. If you cannot properly manage your current earnings of N40,000 a month, chances are if a windfall of N400m comes, it would evaporate over time. Youths have many examples around us to learn from. What happened to many Nigerians who made quick money; also many politicians and soldiers, during the military era, after they left government? Some who made hundreds of millions and billions of naira while in government could not pay children’s school fees just six months after stepping out of government.
They never created the wealth they enjoyed, and so lacked the requisite skills to sustain and protect it. Some have gone back to square one, others are asset rich and cash poor; very few are both cash and asset rich. These are the few who know a thing or two about wealth creation, sustenance and protection. That is partly why many people want to die in government. They cannot sustain and protect the wealth they have grown accustomed to, no matter how much comes their way. They are prepared to be oga today and boy-boy tomorrow. Just any position is okay, provided there is infrastructure for the stomach.
Our youths must learn that financial salvation lies not in betting, but developing what is within; that is the real wealth. An author once said that if we redistribute the wealth of the world equitably, in no time, 80 per cent of it will end up with 20 per cent of the people again. I am sure if you strip Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, of all his wealth today, he will become super wealthy again in a no time because his real wealth is within not without. I advise the youths to get their priorities right and concentrate their energies on building capacity by developing their innate abilities. That puts them in a good stead to take advantage of the opportunities that will inevitably come their way.