Football betting may create problems among young Nigerians, but a ban is not the solution.

Football betting may create problems among young Nigerians, but a ban is not the solution.

Statement of disclosure
Saheed Babajide Owonikoko does not work for any corporation or organisation that would benefit from this article, consult, own shares in or obtain funding, and has not disclosed any related affiliations beyond its academic appointment.


The success of the European UFABET  football leagues and improved internet connectivity make football betting attractive in Nigeria among young people. From Getty Images by Catherine Ivill / AFP

Football betting in Nigeria has a long history that can be traced to colonial times, when pool betting, especially among older adults, was common. Since then, more younger people have taken up betting, like European League games, on the outcomes of football matches.

The nation has several betting outlets where individuals can manually position a bet. They can also open a betting company account online, use a debit card, and position bets on a website or app.

A study reported that around 60 million Nigerians are engaged in active sports betting between the ages of 18 and 40 years. They spend about $2 billion per day on sports betting. This converts annually to around 730 billion. This is huge in an economy where the national budget for 2020 is almost ~11 trillion.

The rise in football betting among young people in Nigeria is caused by two factors. One is the growth of poverty and joblessness. Of the total population of about 200 million people in Nigeria, about 87 million are said to be extremely poor. In 2018, the youth unemployment rate was placed at 36.5%.

In the third quarter of 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, 29.7 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 34 were unemployed. Betting, either as a betting operator or as a gambler, can tend to be a way of making fast money.

The rising use of the internet and smart cell phones is the second factor driving and enabling football betting in Nigeria. 84% of Nigerians had cell phones in 2017. Based on estimates from the Nigerian Connectivity Commission, the number of internet users in Nigeria is 122 million. This is more than half of the total population of Nigeria. In Nigeria, the rise in internet users can be attributed to the affordability of internet access; internet connectivity is guaranteed with less than 100 (less than US $1). For individuals, making bets online using their phones is quick and easy.

I was interested in the potential implications for Nigerian society, and particularly for young people, of this situation. I wanted to know if any social issues such as rivalry, crime and addictive behaviour were generated by the convenience of online betting for economically hard-pressed young Nigerians.

I gathered data for my research from in-depth interviews with fans of European football teams, better, parents and guardians of fans and better, security officials, betting outlet owners and operators, as well as football viewing centres in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo State, South West Nigeria, and Yola, Adamawa State, North East Nigeria. Furthermore, I have witnessed betting activities and gathered data from recent online news storeys and other publications.I discovered that there was a correlation between football betting by young Nigerians and a perceived increase in violence and illegal activity from the different interviews conducted and my observation. But the solution is not to ban such betting, in my opinion, but to tackle the unemployment and poverty that drives people into it.

Conduct around betting

My field interviews and findings indicate that there is a concern about adolescents cheating to fund their betting on football. I was at a security meeting in Adamawa State where parents protested to the police that their teenage kids / women had found an unprecedented theft of their money to support football betting. In Adamawa Province, a parent interviewed clarified that:

I found that money was being lost on a regular basis in our home. I figured it was simply a misplacement at first. Later, I began to hear concerns from my neighbours about the lack of money in their homes as well. We later found that our sons were the ones who robbed the cash to play football betting because we still see them with bet receipts and we understand that they don’t have business where they can get betting cash.Interactions with these adolescent gains mean that they invest between $1,000 (about $2) and $3,000 (about $7) on regular betting. Yet rarely does the jackpot arrive. Customers are regularly warned of battle at football watching centres. One of the managers of the Yola viewing centre told me:

We have seen incidents of violence among our viewers recently. Some of these battles are about long-standing conflicts that have not been resolved. Often, it is due to frustration incurred by large losses in football betting.Football betting, especially the use of “good luck charms,” may also often encourage ritualism. I was referring to one of the gamblers who said:

Without any sort of spiritual enhancement that will guarantee and insure you, you can not literally go and put a huge amount of money into betting. If you do that without spiritual growth, you can just give your money on an ongoing basis to bet businesses with their managers and workers to feed on fat while you remain broken. Also owners of betting firms use divine influence to ensure that their clients do not win …For the government to criminalise betting, particularly football betting, there have been calls from moralists, especially in religious circles. During an Islamic prayer in Yola, Adamawa Province, I witnessed two such discussions. One state has, in truth, been urged to take the first step. This is unlikely to be effective, I believe. It will just drive betting into the background and make regulating and monitoring it more difficult for the government. Instead, policymakers should pay greater attention to persistent poverty and unemployment.