By Prosper Ishaya
A few minutes into Etim’s arrival at his favorite betting shop, he is in front of an available desktop computer navigating the betting interface, making selections. When he’s done, he writes out the booking code of his bet and approaches the staff counter where he processes his stake and obtains the bet slip.
According to Etim, 24, who is a regular bettor, the process of placing a bet some time back wasn’t always this seamless. “To book games then, we’d have to copy manually from papers stapled to a board the assigned number codes for each game as well as our preferred option, it wasn’t always this easy,” Etim explains.
Confirming this claim is Richard, a betshop owner, who affirms the stress his staff had to go through to satisfy customers. The counters, he says, were “always clogged with bettors struggling to stake their bets”. And owing to how fast-paced things were, there always were inconsistencies with some bet placements and customer service.
When sports betting boomed in popularity and patronization years ago in Nigeria, all betting companies made a significant adjustment to their preexisting model. In the new adjustment, they provided supplementary computers reserved for customers to book games. This was in effect to ease the flow of business operations. This adjustment would in time later evoke some kind of digital revolution.
For average Nigerians, access to proper basic computer education is possible only via two mediums: computer schools and mutual education. Computer schools basically, are institutions focally specific on instilling computer education. And while these institutions pose as a solution, it also has its own problems like expensiveness, overpopulation etc.
Mutual education, the latter, is fast becoming a popular medium. As the name reveals, it involves sharing computer knowledge mutually. And it is with this medium, betting outlets provided — and are providing — basic computer education without having to charge any dime.
Owing to the availability of supplementary computers in bet shops nationwide, every average Nigerian (predominantly males, 18+) have guaranteed access to these computers. It is also owing to this provision that some bettors have acquired firsthand basic computer knowledge/access.
Actually, before the present betting model was instated, bet owners like Richard were doubtful of the idea’s feasibility. They feared that most of the bettors wouldn’t be able to use the supplementary computers. Sparking this fear was the reality of the high level of computer illiteracy in the market’s customer demographic.
“My main fear was the fact that most of these bettors couldn’t use a computer let alone stake games with one, but after adoption of the model, it seemed like most of them just learned in the process.” Bassey, another betshop owner says.
Bassey’s statement is particularly true about development. Most bettors had learned in the process of adapting to the model. *I never attended a computer school or even learned computer practically in secondary school,” Etim confesses “When the bet shops changed their pattern it was also important that I adapt to it to make things easier. So you see, I had to learn.”
Like Etim, other bettors had to adjust to the new model to make things easier. Imperatively, they took it upon themselves to learn how to manipulate basic computer hardware like the keyboard and mouse. Relating his experience, Ogban, another bettor, explains that the learning process was somewhat of a contagious one.
“For someone like me who didn’t know how to use a computer primarily, I had to learn.”. When asked how he learned he exclaims “By just watching and asking questions, it was just that easy.” According to him, he also helped others learn when he grew confident in the new knowledge, and “that’s how, I think, most other people learned.”
Another bettor, Vico, who pledges himself a street boy explains that since betting has always given him hope of hitting it big one day he’d have to keep up with new developments, and learning how to use a computer was one of those sacrifices he needed to make. “Now, I fit be computer expert sef. I no dey even waste time to book game again.” Vico says, smiling.
Most of these bettors had their first computer usage experience in bet shops. Some admitted that they had studied “Computer Studies” in secondary school but without practical knowledge. “It was all theoretical, just notes. Though the school had a computer lab, it was never open.” Daniel, another bettor confesses.
Joe, who administers a small computer school, relates that the only time business seems to boom is when secondary school candidates are done with their SSCE. “It’s always the best time to market,” he says. This owes to the fact that most secondary schools are unfulfilling with impacting proper practical computer education.
While computer schools have always posed as a solution to computer illiteracy in the country, it also has their problems. Some complaint about how expensive its fees are. Also, some berate how unfulfilling these computer schools are, too. Joy, an alumnus of one computer school, reveals that her computer knowledge remains shallow even after paying for one. The main cause she said was that these institutions were greedy because they admitted more students than their resources can carry.
With a projected population of 143.26 million internet users in the country by 2026, access to computers remains a problem for many. According to a survey conducted in 2020, only around 18 percent of Nigerian households had a computer which is a remarkably low proportion of the country’s growing population. Also, a 2021 report by experts revealed that access to smartphones and digital devices was at a -60 percent deficit in the population.
While betting outlets are fast becoming one the easiest places to access a computer, the user experience is however limited. According to Etim, asides from accessing the internet to book games and follow score updates, there’s particularly nothing else you can do. Also, owing to poor participation of women in sports betting, it effects a denial of this opportunity for the gender.
When approached with the question of interest in the digital sphere, some of these bettors express their willingness to engage in the space. “Should the opportunity present itself, I’d love to further my knowledge.” Sam comments. However, some others like Vico, are just poised with the hope of hitting it big one day — “blow” in his words — and are disinterested in the digital world.
“It’s not like people are unwilling to learn these things, the resources aren’t just there. The government, too, is just not trying,” Edikan, an undergraduate who frequents one of these bet shops, laments. For digital literacy to be achieved in the country’s ever-growing population he adds that it “will require government’s intervention armed with a decisive approach.”
Though the country is home to some tech giants like Flutterwave, Paystack, Kippa, etc, and numerous tech professionals tagged “Tech Bros”, its rate of digital literacy still lags amongst the majority of its population which requires the need for an enforced digital orientation.
As the world continues largely to grow digitally, it isn’t entirely healthy to continue breeding a digitally deficient population. Now, moreover, is the time for solutions to be sought.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
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