The Crusader Newspaper Group

Monopoly tournament in Nigeria mirrors chaos of the real-life property market

By Chris Stein and Dionne Searcey,

The clock was running out at the Lagos Under-17 Monopoly Championship, and the pace of play was becoming so frantic it was hard to decipher the true holder of Banana Island, Tiamiyu Savage Street and other properties on the board.

“I am the owner of this house!” shouted Ibrahim Mubarak, 14, a student from Isale Eko Junior Grammar School, his finger jabbing the property on the board.

But just after Ibrahim collected his rent, time was up: The largest Monopoly tournament in Africa’s biggest city was finished.

Crumpled and weathered Monopoly money lay scattered across 153 wobbly tables in the stuffy gymnasium, where more than 1,200 students had huddled for an hour around game boards based on Lagos. A champion was declared, only to be usurped moments later by organizers who had made a mistake and overlooked another competitor.

“The key to winning is just to have determination,” said Elizabeth Braimoh, 13, the official winner and a student at Topfield College.

Nigerians have a fondness for board games. Chess and ayo, a game similar to mancala, are popular here. And the nation’s prowess at Scrabble went global this year when a Nigerian player, Wellington Jighere, captured the world championship.

But playing Monopoly is appealing for another reason: It mimics the chaos of the real estate market in Lagos. Buying property is a tangled affair, plagued by bribery, scams and even machete-wielding gangsters.

“It’s a true reflection of what is on the ground in Lagos,” said Tarba Fatai Oladele, a physical education teacher at Ipakodo Senior Grammar School.

Monopoly began to take off about four years ago here, when Lagos got its own version of the game. The new board replaced staples of the American game, like Park Place and Boardwalk, with local properties like Bourdillon Road, a street in the Ikoyi neighborhood lined by luxury apartments, and Agege, an area near the main airport that is home to a government affordable housing project.

In August, the Lagos State Sports Commission named Monopoly an officially recognized sport. Officials quickly organized the late-September tournament, hoping to break a world record for the number of competitors simultaneously playing the game — 605 people at Universal Studios in Singapore in March, according to Guinness World Records. The Lagos event has been submitted to Guinness for verification.


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