24 February 2013

Nigeria: How We Monitor Lottery Business - Peter Igho

When the federal government announced plans to mark Nigeria's 100 years of being, many wondered where funds for the celebrations will come from. The National Assembly for instance kicked against the move saying the country has no money for such. But one government agency, the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) says it holds the key to unlocking the vaults for Nigeria's centenary year.

Secretary to Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim was one who brought NLRC to the show during opening ceremony on the centenary celebration at the State House, Abuja on February 4 2013. During the ceremony, lottery was launched as one means that can generate the needed revenue for the 100th anniversary. Chairman House Committee on Sports (which oversees NLRC) Rep Godfrey Ali Gaiya last Wednesday told Sunday Trust that lottery, being the biggest revenue yielder outside oil and solid minerals, can give Nigeria the needed money to organise the celebrations.

He said many citizens budget money to play lottery as a hobby, fun or game. "They bet and go knowing that even if they do not win, what they betted will eventually be used for good cause to help citizens. The lottery industry anywhere in the world is a very big business. The lottery business in the UK financed the last Olympics in London," Gaiya who represents Jaba/Zango Kataf federal constituency explained.

He added, "Our own lottery commission in Nigeria has the potential not just to raise funds but to also sanitise the lottery business. So far, management has succeeded in getting that done. So I see them capable and competent to put in the inputs that will help Nigeria celebrate a wonderful centenary next year."

He noted that certainly, the corporate world will come in because "when Nigeria is celebrating, they are not isolated".

Mr Peter Igho, NLRC Director General also maintained that his commission is capable of sourcing for the resources that are required for the celebrations.

He explained, "The licensees will do their normal lottery where the proceeds will go for good causes but whatever revenue that goes to the centenary is also for a good cause. The projects earmarked for the centenary are for the benefit of Nigerians." Though the DG could not give exactly what is to be realized for the centenary event through lottery, he is hopeful that a big chunk of money will be turned in.

According to him, a promo has already been run involving 580 ATMs from all the banks. Banks are to be part of the programme just as 103 million subscribers who play SMS lottery will also be part of it.

Lottery Act 2004

The lottery Act passed in 2004 says 20 percent of revenue that comes from lottery be given to government for good causes. Igho said NLRC, from this 20 percent has raised about N3billion for government since 2009. "But that is a drop in the ocean for what the possibilities are if all is put in place. The Act that created NLRC also created the national lottery trust fund. The fund keeps the fund," he maintained.

He said because of sanity in the lottery business, interest has grown. Many want to expand their lottery investments even with the hiked fee from N10million to N50million--over 50 applications were received. The number was cut down to not more than 10 so as to not crowd the system. These 10 have opened the market--they are now prepared to go beyond Lagos and the south-west, the DG said.

What are the challenges?

According to Igho, lottery would have done much more for Nigeria if not for ignorance and misconception: "When I was appointed DG, a friend of mine sent me a text [message] telling me that I needed deliverance because lottery is not a thing any good Christian or person of moral ground should enter--it's for people of bad character. I realized that that position was coming from ignorance or confusion of lottery and gambling.

According to him, he came face to face with the mountainous challenge when he appeared for screening for the position of DG in the National Assembly. "It was during that screening I realized that there was still a lot of ignorance about what lottery represents. I needed to educate Nigerians on what lottery is. At that time, 2009 I took over, I was taken to office with just two rooms in the secretariat, Bullet building. And there was no budget--the lottery commission was not even in the budget," he narrated.

But from this obscurantism, he said NLRC has been able to not only enlighten Nigerians and open up the market, it has also stepped up monitoring and regulation of lottery operators in the country.

He said NLRC has opened 16 offices across the country, to reach wherever draws are done. The head office that was two rooms has now grown big to occupy a four-floor building in Utako Abuja.

Igho who carries the Hausa traditional title of the Danjikan Kebbi maintained, "Now, no matter where you run your lottery, NLRC staff are there to monitor and watch the draws. There are a lot of people who were carrying out various kinds of lotteries--nobody knew and monitored what they were doing and they were cheating Nigerians--they promised all kinds of big things and they would not deliver their promises.

"Even those that had permit were doing it without proper supervision. There were only three licensees who operated mostly in Lagos. Even if they had national license they operated only in the south-west. We realized that the national lottery licensees must be able to cover the entire country. We began to provide that enabling environment.

The biggest challenge stems from operators refusing to abide by the rules. Igho explained, "We went on enforcement--we dragged in those lottery telecom operators who were doing lottery and with the support of the NCC [Nigerian Communications Commission] and the ministry of information at that time, we began to regulate. We began to monitor the presentation of prizes.

"Before then, somebody could wake up, promise you high heavens, they promised Prado jeep. When you go for the award, they give keke napep and bicycle and say, 'Well, that's what we meant'. We started insisting that you must give what you promised there must be integrity in the draws.

"Sometimes, yes, they'll keep the promise in terms of the prize but who won the prize? A million Nigerians would have participated in the lottery but when it comes to the draws, they put only 10 names in the box and they call one big [highly placed] man to come and draw and all the 10 names are their brothers and sisters and friends. So somebody wins the Prado jeep but it is not the public that played it--it's their own relation. We have stopped it."

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