Unemployment: Nigerians find solace in sports betting.

Like most white-collar workers, Andrew Ejike gets dressed and leaves his house in Enugu city in the morning. A computer laptop bag, which he carries like a suitcase, suggests that he is going to the office. When he returns home in the evening, his neighbours often ask: “How was work today?” and he replies by saying, “Work was fine”.

Interestingly, Ejike does not have a job, and certainly does not have a formal employment. He is unemployed.

But he has ‘created’ a ‘job’ for himself. He is, more or less, a ‘professional’ punter. Sports betting is what Ejike does and when he leaves for ‘work’ every morning on working days, the ‘office’ he goes is actually any sports bar around town.

On getting to the bar, Ejike would set up his laptop, connect to the Internet with a mobile device, open the website of any of the mobile sports betting companies and start working on forecasts, or permutations, in order to come up with the bets he would place for the day.

A bachelor’s degree holder in Estate Management from a federal university, Ejike has been sustaining himself and his young family with proceeds from sports betting after failing to secure a stable employment since he graduated more than 10 years ago.

In a chat with our correspondent, Ejike explained that he lost two previous jobs after the firms he was working for closed down.

“The pay from the jobs was not much anyway but I believe there is dignity in labour. I was also hoping that along the line I would get something bigger and more stable. But I couldn’t even hold on to those jobs because the firms closed down and nothing better came along,” he said.

According to Ejike, he has always been passionate about sports, particularly football, and, even while he was working, had been placing bets regularly on sports betting sites, recording ‘considerable’ success in the process. It was after failing to secure another job that Ejike decided to ‘repackage’ himself by regarding his sports betting habit as a ‘full-time’ employment.

“I am not proud of my joblessness, I like to get dressed and go out in the morning to do something meaningful, and then come back home at the end of the day. But unfortunately for me, I could not do that because I don’t have a formal job. It is true that sports betting is not really a job but it has been my sole source of income for a while now, I don’t win all the time but on the average, I do win quite often, somehow it happens that I am making a living from it so, for me, in the absence of a full-time employment, betting could as well be my job at the moment,” Ejike explained.

Checks by our correspondent revealed that Ejike is just one of many unemployed Nigerian youths who have embraced sports betting as not just a hobby, but as a means of livelihood. To this class of Nigerians, the activity, which mostly requires a considerable dose of luck for one to prosper in it, is an avenue to make ends meet.

For Sunday James, betting was nothing more than a hobby when he was working for a new generation commercial bank. But, as he revealed in a chat with Saturday PUNCH, he has come to rely on the activity for income ever since he was laid off along with some others when the bank downsized. With another job nowhere in sight, James saw betting as a pathway to financial independence.

“I have not had any job for about three years now, as someone who once worked in a bank where the salary was good, it has not been easy. But sports betting has been providing some much needed relief along the line. The occasional winnings have been very helpful”.

Ernest Chidi has not been able to secure any job since he graduated about five years ago. A ‘prim and proper’ youth who distanced himself from all forms of social vices, including gambling, while in school, grim economic realities have forced Chidi to embrace sports betting.

“I don’t know what I would have done without (sports) betting, it is as if my life now depends on it,” the young man said.

Chidi further revealed that, hitherto, he had no significant interest in football and other sporting activities, until he stumbled on sports betting. As he narrated his story during a football match between two popular European clubs at a viewing centre, our correspondent observed that Chidi’s attention was not really in the game per se – he was obviously more concerned about the bet he had placed on the match. He kept checking a website where he could get updates on live matches on his mobile phone in a bid to follow up on the scores in other matches he had placed bets on.

Those who have known Osaretin Jacob over the last three or four years would admit that you would hardly see him without noticing very long printouts of sports betting tickets dangling from his hands. Jacob, an occasional tricycle and motorcycle rider, hoped that he would eventually win big through sports betting. During an encounter with our correspondent, when he was observed comparing his tickets with some of his friends’, who were also brandishing their own betting slips, Jacob expressed a strong belief in his chances of winning millions of naira, despite staking little amounts of money.

“I don’t have much cash so I usually bet on a large number of matches so that I could win a more substantial sum if my predictions are right,” he explained to our correspondent.

Further interactions with Jacob showed that he had placed all his hopes of ‘making it big’ in life on betting. He seems to have information about any case of ‘big wins’ recorded in sports betting, and is desperate to, one day, make a big win himself.

“I have already planned how I will enjoy life when I make it big. I pray that God will answer my prayer. It is just a matter of time,” he added.

Rising unemployment rate

Amid a soaring unemployment rate, it is not surprising that an activity like sports betting, which comes with promises of instant financial gains, has been taken up by some Nigerians, particularly the youth, who are the ones mostly affected by the lack of jobs in the society.

According to Trading Economics, a website which provides historical data, forecasts and news on more than 300,000 economic indicators from nearly 200 countries, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has been on the rise.

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