How Lagos gamblers use lunatics to hit the jackpot

Pool betters in Lagos are breaking new grounds in getting what they call “winning formular” . LANRE ADEWOLE traces their new route to overnight success to the mentally-challenged.

Yellow (identity hidden and skin colour adopted for identification) recently lost his cobbling shop in Shangisha to hike in rent which he said he could not afford.

Within the same vicinity, he became a job-man to a former senior colleague. He has been seeking help to be on his own with little or no positive response. He approached this reporter who is a customer to his current boss. His cheerful disposition would make him anybody’s darling. He knows how to worm his way into people’s heart. The human relations’ strategy seems to be working for him as he appears more likeable than his boss.

But recent revelation during a chat with Saturday Tribune showed that he could be perfecting the wide-smile strategy for a different make of people; the mentally-challenged.

Why? His boss provided an insight in Yoruba language translated here. “Those are the people (mad men and women) who are now believed to possess the celestial power to see winning numbers for ‘Baba Ijebu’ (gambling). When you see people around them in Lagos, don’t think they are there for ritual purposes. Gamblers now patronise the mad people for winning numbers (jackpot) from the spirit realm”.

Yellow is into heavy lucky-gambling, he confessed to Saturday Tribune “I play it,” he said with a smile.

A gambling shop is on the same row of lock-up shops, one of which serves as Yellow and Alfa’s (the boss’) cobbling shop. Even in the early part of noon, it was filled to capacity with young men of different shades.

Apart from luring youths from home, the gambling centres are also said to be wrecking homes and marriages.

Alfa took over the story. “If you stay longer around (at his shop) sir, you would soon see married women coming around to ‘nack’ Baba Ijebu.”

Saturday Tribune was stunned. “Ha, you are surprised sir. While some split owo-obe (family upkeep allowance) into two to play ‘Baba Ijebu’, some will even use the entire money to play. Then, fight will erupt at home. We see them around here. It is not new at all”.

There was a particular incident which Alfa could not, with clarity, provide a fitting end to. He wasn’t sure if the affected wife was eventually sacked by the husband but the woman’s decision to spend the allowance from the husband on gambling which produced no winnings, reportedly caused her marriage a lot of stress.

Yellow is of the growing gambling school of thought that only the celestial could provide the winning numbers to make a gambler rich overnight. Stories of such “divine interventions” excite him as he told them with relish. He was also expecting his big day, though he would not confirm if the meeting with mad men was in the offing.

But he was ready to talk about supposed divine interventions that didn’t produce a jackpot for him. Here are his stories. “One day my mother asked me to iron clothes for her. As I was ironing them, I suddenly saw numbers appearing on them. I wrote them down, played them but didn’t win”.

“One day again, I was sleeping when four numbers appeared in my dream. I remembered them when I woke up and I also played them but didn’t win. If I had won on the two occasions, I would have received N500,000 each”.Saturday Tribune deliberately asked him if he was still into it despite his repeated failures. He was affirmative. “I still play it well,” he said.

Yellow, like countless others, especially the youths, are unwavering in their conviction that “heavens” would smile on them someday with winning numbers that would change their fortune overnight, only that individuals are looking in different “spiritual” directions for help.

Two most-talked-about of such dramatic jackpot winnings seem to be keeping their hopes alive.

A boy in lower cadre of secondary school whose family is originally from Ibadan, Oyo State, identified as Kabiru was said to have been sent by his ‘poor’ mother on an errand to drop N500 with someone. The mother was reportedly into a weekly contribution involving a couple of people, with each person contributing the said amount.

“Kabiru heard a voice giving him winning numbers at the gambling house he diverted to. Do you know he made the family ‘rich’, Alfa asked enthusiastically.

Instead of dropping the N500 with the contribution collector, Kabiru reportedly “knacked” ‘Baba Ijebu’ with the N500 with the numbers he reportedly received in the said trance-like experience while on the road. He even rejected the guidance of the professional gamblers at the gambling centres to play a different set of numbers. Kabiru played and went back home “empty-handed, also deceiving the mother he did as required”.

Alfa completed the story. “His mother was alarmed when the contributor administrator called and picked up a fight with her for reneging on the group’s agreement. She then asked Kabiru about the errand. The boy lied that the money got lost and knowing he was lying, the mother almost killed him with flogging. After the beating and refusal to serve him meals, Kabiru went in to sleep. He was sleeping when three boys who knew their house came looking for him. The mother asked what evil he had done again but the boys said Kabiru came to play ‘Baba Ijebu’ with N500 and the winning numbers that were released later in the day, were his numbers.”

Yellow, who kept interjecting to spice up the story, completed it. “The mother could not believe it. At first, she thought it was a joke or fraud. So, she woke him up and the receipt in his inner pocket confirmed the winning numbers brought by the boys. Ile won daru lojo na. (Their house went into a delirium). The five of them went to the winning collection centre at (location withheld) where N1.5 million was given to the mother. The boys that came and those on the counter at the collection centre got N45,000 dash from the elated mother who kept eulogising the boy.”

Saturday Tribune was determined to seek the lucky mother and son out but checks revealed that they relocated to Ibadan, obviously to start a new life.

The second story of N18 million won by another teenager wasn’t as coordinated in telling by Alfa and Yellow who constantly gave varied accounts. But both were also certain it was also an esoteric release of jackpot numbers that did it for him and his family who almost killed him for engaging in such “shameful” act at a tender age.

Then a close graphic illustration of the two stories emerged. A boy who could pass for 11 years sauntered into the cobbling shop while Saturday Tribune was still around, holding N200. He greeted and faced Alfa, saying in Yoruba, “Mama sent me to collect her shoes.” Alfa responded “Ha, I have not done it but I will soon finish with Daddy’s shoes now (referring to Saturday Tribune reporter), then I will do it”. Then he asked the boy, how much did she give you? “N200” he responded so sharply that Saturday Tribune could not but notice.

After waiting a while, he said to Alfa, “I will come back” and he started to go. Alfa shouted before he could go further, “give me the money in your hand, I don’t want you to come back with “stories” (excuses). Immediately he handed the money over, he started moving toward the gambling joint. Saturday Tribune’s attempt at dissuading him was casually rebuffed. “E fiyen sile Daddy” (that is impossible Daddy referring to this reporter), with his tiny hands speaking more dismissively than his obviously sharp tongue.

A flabbergasted Saturday Tribune man turned to Alfa and Yellow who simply smiled his response away as nothing. “That is their language to objection to what they are doing. It is called “e gboju” (ignore us).

The boy returned later looking a bit remorseful but would not talk about what tempered him at the gambling spot despite Saturday Tribune’s repeated demands. Fortuitously, he was also ready this time to listen to this reporter’s counselling and deliverance prayers. Speaking about himself, he gave his age as 14 years, a JSS 2 student of a public secondary school who wanted to be a great man in the future. The only challenge is that his current future activities if unchecked, could truncate the desired future.

Apart from his like who older gamblers believe could see and receive from the “world beyond” because of the perceived innocence of their spirit, thereby engaging them as “consultants”, the growing gambling community in Lagos, is now heavily dependent on the mentally-challenged to provide the fortune-changing “winning” numbers.

At the point of turning into Ikeja on the popular road called Ikeja-Along, everyday consultations between supposedly normal gamblers and supposedly mad men take place.

Deeply steeped in the belief that mad persons operate in a realm not ordinary and obviously buoyed by the acclaimed successes of a couple of gamblers, gamblers in the state, particularly those into the lucky-number gambling being operated by a certain firm (name withheld), daily seek the mad men out for winning numbers they believe only spirits can provide.

At the said junction is a popular gambling spot where gamblers are usually seen rushing to meet mad persons who are passing by, with a sheet of paper and pen, pleading with them for numbers. And the consultation is always for a fee!

“The betting (gambling) is now a big business. Everybody makes money from it. The owner, the players and even mad persons” a source around volunteered.

An observer added, “That is where those without a job, especially young people, whether educated or not, are now drawing their salary”.

Saturday Tribune observed a scenario where a garage tout was seen with a paper and pen, approaching a mad man and demanding of him in a familiar way, to write numbers. The mad man did and the tout slipped currency notes of amount which could not be determined, into his hand.

Scenes like this are now a commonplace in the state.

You will also be incurring the wrath of the special consultants’ customers if you call them mad persons. For all the gamblers care, they are “forecasters”.

This esoteric route to “jackpot”, Saturday Tribune gathered, is also getting gamblers into more “extraordinary” acts. One of them is to suddenly flip the collar of a polo shirt worn by a passer-by without his knowledge or approval by gamblers who are street boys and quickly glean and memorise the numbers seen on it.

Yellow provided an insight. “There is a belief that the owner of ‘Baba Ijebu’ has something to do with polo shirts and usually hid the winning numbers in the collar. What happens if such person decides to take such act as harassment” Saturday Tribune enquired.

“Kilo kan awon to desperate” (gamblers are desperate and care less) Yellow replied.

Vehicles suspected to belong to the owner of the gambling business are also said to always be subjected to constant stalking by desperate gamblers who are said to believe that some of the winning numbers are on the registration number plates. A few of them, according to stories being bandied around, turned out to be true.

While being seen with special persons like madmen in a state with unenviable history of ritual killings involving their like and their involvement as crime partners would and should attract curiosity, the current spectacle, as observed by Saturday Tribune, is incredulously settling with the residents as “normal”.

A resident explained the lack of interest.

“There is nothing to it. One, they [gamblers] don’t spend too much time with them [madmen] to arouse curiosity. Their exchange is always very brief. Sometimes, the gamblers crosscheck numbers from a madman with another set from another madman. It is always done in the open too and in daytime. So there isn’t a need for any suspicion”.