Why schemes like MMM thrive
By Anthony Opara
Without any equivocation, the betting and gaming culture is in the ascendancy in large swathes of Nigeria today and it stands to reason that we should interrogate it.
I am also writing this piece partly in response to the recent call by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Nigerians to stop patronizing the Mavrodi Mondial Movement, MMM, platform saying it’s a Ponzi scheme bound to crash with the effect that many would lose money and blame the government for not regulating a scheme that has no office address in Nigeria and cannot be regulated.
The scheme which will soon celebrate its one year anniversary in Nigeria has over one million members with all saying that the government should stay out of the business of MMM and allow them enjoy the benefits of providing help and getting help from among fellow participants.
Members of the platform are so passionate in their defence of the scheme argued that many Nigerians would have by now committed suicide in the face of harsh economic policies of the present All Progress Congress government which has plunged the country into a recession with very harrowing negative consequences.
This piece is neither to defend the government nor MMM but to point out elements in the economy that has given place to platforms like MMM and leading to a gradual destruction of the spirit of enterprise among the Nigerian youths.
I cannot really say with certainty when the gaming culture crept onto us in Nigeria but I can hazard a guess that it became quite pronounced with the advent of democratic governance and this is not to say that gaming is a novelty to Nigerians.
After the thirty month-long Nigeria/Biafra civil war, Pools Betting was introduced to Igbos of the south east who had just emerged from civil war. Without access to credit and just managing to eke out a living and put food on the table for their families, most Igbo men were enticed into playing pool where they predicted matches being played in England with a view to ‘making a killing.’ Pools Betting companies sprang up all over Igbo land and more people lost than won the pools. The Pools just enticed men with the facade of winning so week in week out men spent money at the pool offices all over the place with the hope of winning big and living happy lives ever after.
The more intelligent ones took solace in enterprise rather than at the pool betting companies and with with time they pulled themselves up and built big businesses all over Igbo land. That the Onitsha market is easily the biggest in west Africa is a testimony of the enterprise of the Igbo people and that Nnewi is today the hub of the automative industry in Nigeria is another testimony that enterprise rather than money at the pools tables builds lasting wealth.
I grew up in Owerri, the Imo State Capital. I cannot point to one business in Imo state that I can attribute its origin to money won from pools betting. After the war, one man in the town was said to have won ten thousand naira then which will be equivalent of ten million naira now. The story was told of how he was arrested by the police and detained before the news of his win was broken to him. The gist then was that if the story was broken to him without this measure he may either himself or another close relative. The man is alive today but cannot be said to be rich by any definition. The one story building he started could not be completed but the money he was said to have won would have built several of such buildings at that time.
Gaming and other forms of betting became rampant towards the middle of the third republic government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. One might argue also that events in Europe and America and technological advancement made gaming very attractive.
I remember that people went to Pools offices on Saturdays to find out the result of the matches played in the evening to see if the results matched their predictions. It was the era of ‘perm three from four’ or ‘booking’ of numbers.
With advancement in technology today, its possible to watch live matches played in any part of Europe so it became necessary to introduce technology such that its possible to bet the outcome of a match on a phone and play through the different mobile platforms and later watch the outcome of the matches even on the phone and see the results almost immediately.
Gaming companies dot all the nooks and crannies of our land and many youths do nothing than bet in the hope of winning big and living a good live. The average Nigerian youth carries very expensive technologically-savvy phones that gives them the ability to place bets on the go and watch out for the results.
I believe that part of the major patronage the telecommunication companies receive is from both the gaming companies and the players who depend on data to carry on the business. What I have noticed is the occasional story of a guy winning big to keep the hope alive that if happened to one it will happen to another.
I was told of a young man who came in from Malaysia to bury his late father. He was at a barber shop barbing his hair in preparation for the trip back home when a shoe maker gave him some numbers to play. He played and won three million naira. You can imagine the feeling this evoked and I am sure the youths in the area who heard the story of the big win would have increased their stakes in the hope of also winning big.
I have spoken to a lot of people on this matter – ranging from academicians, lawyers, gaming participants etc – and the conclusion is that there is a loss of the values of the founding fathers of this nation.
One lawyer, Chief Akaigwe, told me that the founding fathers of this nation were men and women who believed in hard work, adding that a look at the ages of the men and women who fought for independence like Azikiwe and Awolowo shows that they were young men who had acquired education at very young ages and confronted the colonial masters on the basis of knowledge.
He wondered whether any of the young men carrying expensive phones would have been able to withstand the colonialists as the majority of them are even too lazy to study hard but just laze about hoping to be rich without the hard work that is required.
Pastor Chidi Nwandu blamed the lack of enterprise on what he called the absence of the fear of God adding that what the young people prefer to hear is how they can be rich rather than the real message of salvation saying that what we have now are ‘owambe’ Christians who prefer to attend services only on thanksgiving Sundays for the dance. He adds that it not surprising that some of them use their phones to converse on platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp right inside the church, and in the presence of the Lord! The Pastor concluded that enterprise may be doomed with this kind of ‘jayejaye’ Christians.
An economist, Jide Olaokun said that the resort to gaming was because of the break down of real economic activities adding that the young people find solace in gaming and in hoping to make if big saying that the opposite would be suicide. The APC government is according to him, rudderless and if care is not taken this recession will move into depression adding that what is going on would be a child’s play as Nigerians would move enmasse to other smaller African countries to make hay just as Ghana did when their economy went south some years ago. The economic factor that would lead to such massive emigration he said, will be cataclysmic to the West African sub region.
Indeed there is a sense in which government is looking the other way while gaming companies occupy all the nooks and crannies of the country is because the business is sort of regulated to the extent that operators pay tax to the government. Nobody is worried that while youths are occupied with gaming the spirit of enterprise is waning. It’s the same factors that led to insurgency in the Niger Delta, Youths discovered that money could be made easily from oil bunkering so while waste time studying to graduate and queue for unavailable jobs when you can make more in a short period from oil bunkering or kidnapping.
The solution really then would be that government should face the task of nation building and the rebuilding of the economy destroyed with political actors whose stock in trade is greed and the sharing of national resources among themselves. Unless something is done urgently to stem the tide, gaming will yet loom large and schemes like MMM will boom.
While the CBN is strutting the land, condemning MMM and calling it a scam, similar schemes are appearing every day. There are today over twenty of such schemes so the question to ask is – how many can the CBN monitor with the scarce resources that are available to it. The CBN should be concerned about the corporately receding economy rather than behaving like Nero who literally chased rats while the kingdom burnt.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele