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How Nigeria Became So Good At Competitive Scrabble?

How Nigeria Became So Good At Competitive Scrabble?
Written by editor

Scrabble is a board game on a 225 square board with lettered tiles where two to four players compete in forming words spelled out by letters on the tiles interlock like those in a crossword puzzle. Only one letter can fit in a grid space of the 100 letter tiles and each letter has a different point value.

Players are required to draw seven tiles from a pool at the beginning and fill their supply after each turn with tiles in the pool and those of other players kept secret so that a player can only see their tiles and those on the board.

For words to score, point values of their letters are added, then multiplied by any of 61 premium squares that may be covered such as double letter, triple letter, double word, and triple word.

Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa is the World’s scrabble superpower. Nigeria is ranked as the world top scrabble playing nation followed by the United States of America 

The Nigerian scrabble national team won the World English Scrabble Players Association Championship (WESPAC) title in 2019, making the team hold the title for the third time.

It is the only African Country that has ever won the championship since the inception of WESPAC in 1991.

The West African Scrabble team has enjoyed a rapid rise over the years. The team subsequently finished 11th in Malaysia in 2009 and third in Mumbai in 2007. Nigeria later on first won the championship in 2015 and then in 2017 Wellington Jighere beat Britain’s Lewis Mackay in the final to become Africa’s and Nigeria’s first-ever world scrabble title winner. In Africa, Moses Peter won the 2018 African Scrabble champion in Kirinyaga Kenya, giving Nigeria the individual and country trophies for the 12th consecutive time.

It is amazing to note that Nigeria has managed to dominate on the global stage in a competition based on English when the West African Country has more than 200 local languages and 400 dialects spoken and English as its official language as a former British Colony. 

According to Quartz Africa, clubs are formed in living rooms with just seven players that are nationally recognized down to all players in the clubs with more than 4,000 players in more than 100 Scrabble clubs scattered around Nigeria. 

Unlike other African Governments, The Nigerian Central Government recognized scrabble as a sport in the early 90s, and there is infrastructure set for players and coaches on government payroll and competitions supported with grants.

Though the game was given recognition in the Country more than 25 years ago, local players, coaches, parents, officials, and tournament organizers say government assistance has been inconsistent, and more must be done to support, sponsor and finance Scrabble.

As much as there is support for the game both by the Government and philanthropy, scrabble competitions are now sponsored by wealthy Nigerians, corporates, and scrabble clubs.

It is further observed that Nigerians use a strategy of playing shorter words even when longer words are available. This tactic has made them dominate the tournaments that have seen 13 Nigerians ranked in the top 50 in the world. 

A five-letter word ‘felty’ saw Jighere win 36 points in his final with Lewis Mackay in 2015. Corporates now compete to teach Scrabble in private schools with every year having playoffs of club games, interclub games, zonal games, youth games, college games, university games, polytechnic games, Nigeria bankers’ games, Nigeria telecoms games, and fast-moving-consumer-goods games. 

The Scrabble Word Finder is now taught in over 50 schools in the country with the owners of the schools pushing the Ministry of education in Nigeria to teach scrabble in every school in the country to create more opportunities and improve their education system. Similar games like Words with Friends have gained popularity due to the huge surge in gameplay.

A Facebook group organizing its tournaments even emerged in 2015 dubbed as Nigeria Scrabble Friends (NSF) bringing a tussle between them and the actual NSF demanding the founder to change the name, but he refused arguing it would not show affinity and closeness among them.

Further, weekends and day-long tournaments are held regularly with young players emerging champions in their rights. Nigeria is also referred to as the most scrabble obsessed Country in the world and Lagos as its scrabble hub.