How we use lottery to create, redistribute wealth’
National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) was established 10 years ago by the federal government to sanitise and regulate the business in Nigeria and generate additional revenue. In this interview, NLRC’s Director-General, Adolphus Joe Ekpe spoke with ANTHONY OTARU on the journey so far, its contributions, enlightenment programmes as well as proposed anniversary celebrations among others.
HOW much has the commission so for generated for the Federal Government since its inception?
I think it is not the Federation Account per se, because the Lottery Act specifies that proceeds of lottery should be remitted to the trust fund, so we have the National Lottery Trust Fund where the proceeds of lottery is remitted and the Act specifies 20 per cent of the proceeds. So far, from inception of the commission that is 2005, we’ve remitted close to N5 billion to the Trust Fund. The National Lottery Trust Fund headed by an Executive Secretary who currently is Abu Gumel manages the Trust Fund.
What is the commission doing to checkmate some people who hide under all sorts of things to do lottery and later come up in different names?
I think this is an interesting question, because lottery as defined by the National Lottery Act Section 57, clearly states that it could be a scheme, it could be a promotion, it could be any game or any programme that have a price and it has to be determined by chance, whoever that may win that price. So it is a scheme, it could be an activity and, therefore, some people are hiding under consumer sales promotion to carry out lottery schemes, lottery activities and saying that they are consumer sales promotion. This is a promotion by the producer of the product to sell. You either reduce the price, let’s say you are selling the product for N10, 000 and you decided to give 50 per cent up, it is a consumer sales promotion. You decided to say, if you buy this, I would give you this; it’s a consumer sales promotion. If you say, buy three of this and get one of this, it is a consumer sales promotion but when you say buy this product and stand a chance of winning other things, you have introduced lottery into it. And that is where the lottery commission comes in to regulate those who are using lottery content. For example, a banker says, deposit your money and keep it for so period and stand a chance of winning this. It is an ordinary banking transaction but now has lottery content and, therefore, it should be regulated.
And there are banks, Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank, they regulate this, now there are other producers of goods and services that actually comply but some of them now hide under consumers sales promotion to challenge the authority of the commission, thereby denying government the revenue that suppose to come into the Lottery Trust Fund.
How are you dealing with the issue, that is, checkmating these dubious acts?
One is that we are in court, because they are the ones that have authority. So, we are in court and we are telling the court that whatever somebody is doing that introduces lottery content should be regarded as a lottery promotion. It could be a consumer sales promotion, but it now has lottery content.
Two, we want to actually self educate those who are carrying out these activities that let them have their own conscience because some of these companies are multi-nationals. They are not operating just in Nigeria. They operate in other countries. Take Nestle, for example, they have foreign impute, take Guinness as another example, take Flour Mills, all these are multi-national companies that have their headquarters outside this country and they will not use those types of consumer sales promotions and will not subject themselves to the rules and regulations of the lottery agencies in those counties. So, we are appealing to them that instead of fighting the authority of government, subject yourself. This is because there is no need for us to fight. It is just for you to regularise. This is because you are not carrying out a sales promotion that has lottery content. We only charge you and supervise you so that people will not fall victim to 419 schemes. So one is following the legal process, we believe that the courts will rule in our favour and two, try to reach out to talk to them to prick their conscience, may be to repent if we are to use that religious word. And be good representatives of their own companies in Nigeria here.
Now 10 years gone, do you think it is worth the while?
For me I am looking at it from our perspectives. One, as an institution which has existed for 10 years, it is good for it to review its past and ask, what have you done? How have you feared? What were the things that you did that were not right? So it is good to review your past. It is good to assess where you are vis-à-vis where you started. Has there been a progressive development? Now you have to look forward. How do I move forward from where I was? Where am I? So, it is a way of reviewing our past, assessing our present and then, charting the way forward. But in doing this, you have to appreciate those that have made contributions that is the fourth aspect of it. So, our 10 years of lottery regulation marking is to look at our past, assess our present, chart a way forward and then reward those that have contributed to its growth because as I use to say, the ungrateful is grateful. If you don’t appreciate the little steps taken by others, like you rightly say, Mrs. Iroche was the first DG here, from 2005-2008. She was the pioneer DG. This commission started as a small unit in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, with staff of other agencies seconded to the commission then.
Now Peter Ighor took over from 2009, set-up 14 offices nationwide. He has done a lot to bring the commission to limelight. And they were the people who started generating revenues to the coffers of the Trust Fund. Now there are ministers that have supported the course of the commission vis-à-vis Board members that have also helped the Commission to grow so, they need our appreciations.
There are National Assembly members who were performing their oversight functions and were very supportive of the commission. So, we need to appreciate them, there are operators who are subjecting themselves to the rules and regulations, so we need to appreciate them and that is why we want to mark the 10th years anniversary of lottery regulation. We are happy that we have survived 10 years, we are happy that people laid the foundation, and we are happy that we are here to build on that foundation. We are happy that we can move in a better and more progressive way than what our predecessors did. So that is why this is important to us.
In September, we shall be looking at how to come up with what we call an Award Night. Here, we will use the occasion to recognise those that have contributed to the development of lottery and giving honour to whom honour is due, because you have to build on what somebody has started and you will say, thank you for starting this process. Then, on a very lighter note, later in the year, we want to do what we call Face of Lottery. This is a beauty contest, you know that lottery is any scheme, any activity, any programme that has a prize, and most beauty contests have prizes. So, we want to stimulate lottery so that the girls who will participate will win prizes.
What mechanisms have you put on ground to educate the people on the importance of lottery, given widespread skepticism as well as religious and traditional apathy of Nigerians towards lottery business?
There are societal beliefs, there are religious beliefs that has bias against lottery because some of them are ignorant because they belief lottery is gambling. But for me as a Christian, I can quote more than 10 Bible passages that talk about lottery that used lots in taken decisions. And I can quote them for you because when you want to take a decision that involves people in participating and winning or getting something that will not go round everybody, the best approach to be fair and equitable to everybody is to use the lot.
So in the Bible, we have several passages that talks about the use of lots in taking decision. Examples are Numbers 26:55; Numbers 33:54; Joshua 13:6; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; 1 Chronicles 24:1-7; Jonah 1:7; Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34 etc up to Acts 1:26. All these talk about the use of lots in taking decisions. For example, Morocco and Niger Republic are predominantly Muslim countries. The head of Niger’s Lottery Commission is a lady, a Muslim, they operate Ramadan lotto and Hajj lotto, where those who participate and win, if it is Ramadan, you get the reward of things you use to break your fast. If it is the Hajj Lotto, then you go for the Hajj. It is because people do not understand the concept very well. We need to organise it in a transparent way not to give the religious bias to the people. Lottery can be tied to socially acceptable product in the society.
Take the British system, for example, where you have their football system well developed. Lottery is tied to it and that is why in Nigeria, people play lottery tied to the British League. And because sport is something that people like, you see, people participate. So, the same way, if you are participating in a lottery scheme that has a product that is acceptable to you, there is nothing wrong in it. You should look at the product and that is why the commission has to go into an understanding with the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission. We have to sign an MOU to see how we can develop a product that will be acceptable and that is why we have the concept of the Christian Pilgrims Lottery Scheme.
Apart from financial gains, what other area could one benefit from lottery?
One is that, if you participate in a lottery scheme, you stand a chance of winning. And if you win depending on the price, it can change your fortune that is number one. Two, lottery is a scheme that creates employment because somebody has to operate it and that person can not just operate, he has to get marketers, the agents, those who sell the lottery tickets, so it is a way of creating employment. Now lottery is a way of generating wealth or re-distributing wealth. Two million people could play in the lottery scheme, that is, you are generating the wealth. Maybe four or five people will win, you’re re-distributing, so it’s a way of creating wealth or re-distributing wealth. It is an avenue of developing the society. And that is why the Act states that 20 per cent of the proceeds of lottery should go for good courses, that is, they should be remitted to the Trust Fund and these monies for the prosecution of good courses. Good courses are projects that touch our lives: schools, health, sports, disasters etc. provided the money is there, whatever you used to solve or intervene in the problems of society is a good course project.
Now, this brings to mind the money released by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan for buying sports equipment for selected primary and public secondary schools. What is the present position of the equipment?
The equipment has arrived because even today, I was discussing with Abu Gumel. The equipment as we are talking now is in Lagos ports. What is holding the clearance now is that they say, they have to pay Custom duties, they have to be cleared or so, initially, they were requesting for a waiver but Ministry of Finance has declined and they now have to raise money to clear those sports equipment and they will be ready for distribution very soon. I believe in the next two or three weeks from now, this will be sorted out.
As part of your enlightenment programme, what are you doing to let people know that lottery is genuine and transparent?
It depends on the stakeholders within the industry. The commission has to make sure that those operating lottery are credible people competent and well trained. They also have the integrity to operate in a transparent way. The commission has to be responsible to supervise and call erring operators to order. So we have a big role to play as a commission. Now, those who play lottery should first of all verify if that lottery scheme is recognise or authorised by the commission so that you don’t fall victim to 419.
So, on our website, you can get all our lottery operators, regular lottery operators and the entire promotional lottery scheme are on our website.
If you are participating in any lottery scheme, find out if it has been authorised by the commission. Now, in addition to the confirmation of that scheme, you should equally watch out in case you are surcharged or in case you feel that you have been deprived of your winnings, make a report to the commission. Report to us, and immediately we get your report, if it is not a recognised one, it will trigger-up for it to be closed down. We have to go into investigation and to restore.
We have restored so many people who have participated in lottery scheme that won and were deprived of collecting their winnings, or somehow, they were not given as at the time they were suppose to be given. So, that is on that.
For us in the commission, we have to equally work with other agencies of government that will help us to reach out to the people for them to know, like the media, I am happy that we are here talking now, the media has to help the commission to reach out to the people that those who are participating in the lottery schemes should confirm from the commission to know if they are genuine and if they have any report to make, they should make it available to the commission. So, we need that support from the media. We equally need the support of the police and that is why, we have a detachment of the police working with us in terms of arrest and prosecution of illegal operators. We have equally signed an MOU with EFCC in training of our staff, arrest of illegal operators and the prosecution of the illegal operators. We have also reached out to the judiciary, right now, we have a designated court for Lottery Offences “Federal High Court 8” has been designated by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court as a Lottery Offences Court where offenders could be tried in that court for quick dispensation of justice and proper interpretation of the laws. So we are trying to reach out to as many as other stakeholders in the lottery business.
Are we expecting collaboration with the Muslim Hajj Commission as you did with the Christian Pilgrims Commission in floating a Hajj Lottery scheme?
Yes, we are working on that. We want to take them one after the other. Like I said earlier, these are socially acceptable lottery scheme. So we are looking at working out the same thing with the Muslim Pilgrims Commission.
Your words for Nigerians on lottery
My appeal to participants in lottery schemes is that they should always get in touch with the commission, if they have any issue, they should also report to the commission. My words to persons interested in operating lottery are that, they should do it in the right way. Do it according to the rules and regulations and remit what is appropriate to government.
My words for my colleagues at the Trust Fund are that let lottery money start to work for this country. Let good course projects be implemented for people to see, so that they can identify that even though I don’t win as a person, part of what I paid is coming to me as a benefit based on this project that I am seeing. We at the commission here needs to work hard, train ourselves; we need to be ahead of our operators, and we need to actually assist our country to develop its economy.