The Nigerian lottery Industry has really come a long way. It has undergone different phases, under diff acronyms, from unregulated to a regulated space, but one thing the Industry still lack is a general made in Nigeria for Nigeria national game, which brings us to our topic in question.

The Ghana game!!

The 5/90 game which has Ghana Origin, was brought into Nigeria many years ago by some operators such as Premier Lotto, who created a market for it and popularized it, to the extent that it became the most played and accessible lotto game in the country; simply known as Ghana game. The game follows the pattern and draw time as that of Ghana.

This particular game was operated seamlessly within the country for many years, until 2015 when Western Lotto Nigeria Limited came into the lottery scene.

Subsequently after obtaining its lottery license to operate lottery in Nigeria, Western Lotto entered into a deal with Ghana LMC VAS, owners of the Ghana Games Intellectual property, which allegedly conferred on Western Lotto, the exclusive rights to sell and promote the Ghana game franchise in Nigeria. Following this deal, Western Lotto in December, 2019 sought an order from the Federal High Court in Lagos, against the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) and 24 others, comprising of the Registrar of Trademark and other lottery operators, in Suit No FHC/L/CS/2321/19.

In March 2020, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the FHC in Lagos, after dismissing the preliminary objection filed by the 24 respondents to the instituted suit; granted an Anton Pillar order to Western Lotto, authorizing them to raid the properties of the defendants of the suit and to seize all products, equipments and games style related to ‘Ghana games’. They were also authorized to inspect photographs and look for materials and documents which constitute evidence of the infringement of Western Lotto’s claimed exclusive rights to use the trademark associated with Ghana games.

Western Lotto following counter suits and an appeal against the Judgment sought an Out of Court settlement with NLRC, which is one of the defendants to their instituted suit (without recourse to the other defendants). After a prolonged back and forth, they finally obtained the Out of Court Settlement with NLRC.

The terms of the settlement acknowledged the exclusivity of Western Lotto’s rights to the Ghana games, while enjoining other operators (which were parties to the suits but not parties to the settlement) to adhere strictly to the terms of the settlement, which to all intents and purposes according to the operators, will make Western Lotto a quasi regulator.

Following this Agreement with NLRC; Western Lotto sort to discontinue the suit against NLRC & 23 others, but the lottery operators refused, stating that several applications are pending before the court (s) and deserved to be heard and considered.

One of the applications before the Court was that of the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) in which they sought to be joined in the appeal with regard to the Judgment restraining other operators from operating the Ghana game, citing that parts of the agreement entered between Western Lotto and NLRC is of great concern, as it promotes anti-competition.

On the 19th of July, 2020, the FHC in Lagos while presiding over an application by Western Lotto seeking the Court’s recognition of their agreement with NLRC declined to give its consent to the prayer seeking recognition of the supposed agreement. The Judge ruled that “after considering various applications from the respondents, pending before the court and following a subsisting appeal on the subject matter and with the record of appeal having been compiled; the court will wait for the determination of the appeal and thus cannot adjudicate on the matter. The matter was adjourned “sine dine” (pending determination of a matter).

Government Intervention:

With the decision of the court to adjourn “sine dine”, Western Lotto took the matter to the Ministry of Special Duties & Inter-governmental Affairs for intervention and thus began the incessant summons of lottery operators to Abuja.

A document titled, regulations for licensed “Ghana Games” operators in Nigeria, which outlined the scope of the game and operations, monies to be paid and retained by operators, rules and regulations to comply with and that there will be an installation of a monitoring server at the Ghana office as well as NLRC etc, was made available to the lottery operators, in one of the meetings between the Ministry’s representatives; the representatives of Western Lotto and the lottery operators, in Abuja.

At the meeting, the operators were mandated to sign the document or face government sanctions, as there was no timeline for the court’s decision on the matter and the government is supposedly losing out on revenues while the matter is pending.

The operators resisted, citing that the matter is “sub judice” (pending before a court) and so cannot be subject to outside interference. They stated that they were the ones that were taken to court, expended funds on legal representations and considering that they were not part of any negotiation or settlement; it is only fair that the matter be allowed to run its course, without any interference by any government agency. The operators amidst threats of sanctions, refused to sign any document in relation to the matter.

After what seemed like a brief respite, the matter once again reared its head, this time the summons came from the Senate. The Senate Committee on Sports headed by Senator Obinna Ogba summoned the lottery operators on the ground that they are investigating poor remittances to the government coffers by lottery operators.

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi had moved a motion at plenary calling on the Senate to probe the non-execution of the terms of settlement between the NLRC & Western Lotto as according to him, this delay is costing the government hundreds of billions in revenue annually.

Western Lotto at the meeting stated that it has exclusive rights to Ghana game and that non implementation of the agreement it entered with NLRC, is one of the reasons the government has been losing huge sums of money in revenues annually. This generated rounds of argument amidst operators, present at the meeting and according to the operators, the implementation of the said agreement, will only allow Western Lotto to appropriate the regulatory functions of the industry’s sole regulator; NLRC. The meeting ended unresolved.

This Ghana game deal and the commotion it caused in the industry between 2019 and 2021, threatened to undermine the efforts already made to unite and move the industry forward, and the constant interference on lottery related matters is obviously not allowing the industry to breathe and harness the potentials within. The emphasis and efforts should be on putting in the works to make the environment an enabling one, rather than just chasing after the benefits accruable to the industry. One cannot hope for much milk from a fragile or comatose cow, no matter how much one beats it.

At the moment, it seemed that the Senate’s attention has been diverted to System Numeric; another company claiming that non implementation of a deal with the NLRC has cost government trillions in revenue.

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