SHOLA ADEKOLA, LEKAN OLABULO, CHIMA NWOKOJI, KEHINDE AKINSEHINDE-JAIYEOBA and OPEYEMI OWOASEYE provide details that could help in unravelling the inside-the-ceiling deals in the controversial Lagos ram-fighting sport, or more appropriately, gambling.
Both were into the business of ram rearing and using their prized stock to eke out a living by going into heavy gambling on whose ram could subdue the other. It is no longer a secret that those involved in this fast-rising gambling can go to any extent in placing their fortune and acquisition like cars, millions of naira and even landed property on animals knocking heads together on instinct. But practically all those who witnessed the outing by the duo were shocked by the extreme they went in the ram-fighting business.
Both staked their wives. And expectedly, one of them lost. His ram was subdued and it surrendered. Now, a human life, literally, had to go for an animal’s bad day. Eruku, the loser, wasn’t ready to let go of his wife, who didn’t even know she had been staked on an animal’s capacity. The battle to retrieve winning prize was said to be intense. Sadly, Eruku lost his own life in the course of preserving a love he initially valued below a ram’s capacity. Welcome to the world of insanity called ram-war business.
Saturday Tribune’s covert investigations showed that it would be unlikely for the gambling business to be sane, because it is heavily ruled by abuse of banned substances like Indian hemp, overdose of tobacco, high-concentrate of local snuff, cocaine, heroine, among others.
Even Lagos State government confirmed that it was in the knowledge of the fighting rams being stuffed with narcotics before fighting sessions and the question that will naturally follow is, if it would be possible for those administering narcotics on their rams, to completely abstain themselves from doping? And would any sober man stake his wife on a ram?
Saturday Tribune fished out Kola, the alleged wife-winner but he would not confirm if he was involved in the wife-betting saga.
He told Saturday Tribune reporter: “Yes, people bet their wives, cars and huge money,” mistaking the reporter for a potential investor. He then became curious and demanded the identity of the caller, but not until he had bragged about how great the ram-gambling business had been for him in the years he had been into it.
Kola’s associate, popularly known as Landlord tells his success story with pride.
“He (Kola) resides around Igbo-Olomu area in Ikorodu. He has been in the business of ram war for many years and has built houses through this same business. He even built a separate house where he keeps his rams and trains them for battles. He gets the rams ready because that is how he earns his living and he has no other business he is doing”.
Kola himself confirmed this much to Saturday Tribune before his suspicion took better part of him. He also encouraged the reporter to give the very lucrative business a trial, promising to guide her through.
Landlord added that “Kola takes the rams out for war every Sunday morning with his cars, to war against his opponents and he can bet with anything when it comes to this business, including his wife because it had happened before. In fact, he had won a lot of cars through this business and many people know him for that.”
He would, however, not to be dragged into divulging what really transpired between Kola and Eruku, the exact day and the outcome of the agreement.
Jamiu (surname withheld) was once renowned in the business like Kola. He is out of it now but gave Saturday Tribune an insight into the reason for the confidence to stake anything and anyone by those well steeped in the gambling.
Jamiu , who once owned a ram, before he sold it about two years ago confirmed to Saturday Tribune that some of them use Indian hemp and other substances on their rams before any major fight, though he claimed not to have done that to any of his rams .
“There are two reasons why people keep ram. Some keep it as pet, while others keep it for business purpose.
“ ,” Jamiu said.
He also explained that “for the snuff and the Indian hemp, there are two different ways of using them on the animals . One is by putting it in their nose and once they breathe, they would sniff it and it would charge them .
He added that “another way they do it, is to wrap the Indian hemp like human smokers do, then they would light it and put it inside the nose of the ram and allow it to breathe in the smoke from the lit Indian hemp .
“Usually it works because the ram, which is under the influence of such Indian hemp or snuff will become very restless and in many cases, it gives them strength.
“What they stand to gain from giving them Indian hemp and snuff is money . They make a lot of money. If a ram, bought for between N25 000 and N45 000 wins a major competition, the owner can be tempted to sell it as high as N500 000 . People will compete to buy the ram from him.
“Ram owners also use the drugs for their animals during bets, whenever there is a major fighting competition”.
He however stated that the system had failed on many occasions as the effect of the drugs sometimes failed the purpose for which it was intended, with some rams reportedly weakened by the effects of the drugs on them
According to Jamiu, “there have been many cases of the Indian hemp not working on the animal. Instead it weakened such animal, with its owner losing the bet “.
Expectedly, the ram owners would have a defence, especially as it relates to the aspect of their business which the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), in a chat with Saturday Tribune, tagged criminal.
To have a more formidable front, the ram owners and businessmen operate two well-coordinated associations; Ram Owners Association (ROA) and Ram Lovers Association (RLA), both registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The latter was even established and registered by an American who eventually handed it over to a Nigerian-American. While the first association holds its sporting event in Oshodi, the second one holds its own at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
Close to four years ago, a member of RLA who wanted to be addressed as Kay Kay and lives in Ejigbo said he bought a ram named ‘King of the Rings’ for less than N50,000. Today, Kay Kay who is a printer by profession says the ram is “priceless” because of its ability to win every fight”.
When prodded on the winning formula, he explained that there is no winning secret for rams because, “you can never force them to fight. Once identified as a fighter, you make sure he’s not lacking,” while recommending that such a prized fighter should be given to “vitamins” and be made “clean between the hooves”.
Mr Samuel Adesiyan, a member of Ram Owners Association insists that for rams in Shasha, fighting is basically for entertainment, saying: “We do it for fun and it has been legalised.”
Adesiyan, while stating that the main ram fight competition comes up around February, added that the second competition holds between October and November on Oshodi playground.
He, however, rejected the allegation of ram owners being inhuman towards animal by using them to fight, saying animals like humans will always fight naturally.
In his reaction to the allegations that the rams used for the fights are fed with hard drugs to enhance their performance, Adesiyan retorted: “ This is far from the truth. We don’t use drugs on them”.
He likened the allegation to that of a man who because he wants to engage in a fight decides to first drink bottles of beer which he said will only end up weakening him and rendering him unfit to fight.
Rather than enhance the rams with drugs, he said such rams are placed on special diets, given special injection and dewormed twice in a year to make them very healthy and fit for fight anytime.
To further show the love the owners have for the rams, he said even at times when a particular ram is sick or at the point of death that he finds it impossible to slaughter it for consumption as a result of the passion he has developed towards it which made the allegation of applying drugs on any ram to fight untenable.
Yusuf, who said he was a member of the Ram Lovers Association of Nigeria (RLAM) explained to Saturday Tribune that the association is working to bring ram fighting into the mainstream by enforcing a strict set of rules to ensure ram safety and fair play.
“We brought in rules and regulations of different weight categories, just like in boxing. The rams are just like any other athlete. People expect to see fairness.”
Yusuf owns a champion ram named Little Tiger which competes in H, the lightest category.
“After football, this is what brings people together. If you go there you won’t think of any other thing , you’ll concentrate on the rams and you’ll be happy.”
He also said that the competition is a celebration of “our cultural heritage as practised by our forefathers. Ram charging is a cultural sport that has existed for a long time but is (now) being used by people for betting purposes in order to generate money. Ram fighting is one of our cultural heritages that our forefathers practised but they did not have a legitimate body governing the coordination of their sport,” he said.
According to the RLAM member, though there are informal competitions held at Lagos suburbs and streets, associations are formed to properly manage ram competitions and prove to the public that the animals used in the sport are being monitored.
“The association over the years has been able to generate competitions and make it known to the public that the fighting rams, referred to as gladiators, are safe,’’ he said.
He added that the association, especially at Surulere, discouraged any form of “unofficial” betting within the premises of the competition in order to create orderliness and reduce fighting among fans during the competition.
Speaking on the rules of the game, Yusuf explained that The Nigerian Ram fighting rules state that at the start of a tournament rams are allowed to hit 30 “blows” before the referee calls a tie. By the finals, rams can headbutt up to 100 times.
But sometimes the fight never takes place at all, with unwilling rams high-tailing it to the safety of their owners amid laughs and jeers from the crowd.
In a formal annual ram championship like the one usually held at Jalisco Sports Centre, Bolade, Oshodi, about N1 million, is usually at stake.
During the 2013 sixth edition of the gaming event, over 100 rams contested in the two-week long championship.
Ram sports promoters said that the championship was aimed primarily at picking out the strongest ram, with findings revealing that the strongest rams at the Lagos zonal competition would compete in the national rams championships.
Ram owners from the 33 zones in the West, comprising Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Kwara, assemble their rams for the annual event.
Mr Kay Kay further explained that fights were over
seen by three officials to further control and reduce the occurrence of injuries on the rams.
“We have the ram monitor, ram referee and ram marshal who jointly help to properly station the rams and conduct their charges in order to minimise injuries to the heads of the participating rams.
“These rams can charge at a speed of 50 km an hour and collide with a force that can literally crush a human’s skull like an egg,’’ he said .
He said that the rams, naturally equipped with horns to resist such pressure, can make over 30 charges at fight which he said made the fights interesting to watch.
Even without crazy side betting, official prizes are still huge, by his admission —cars, kitchen utensils, cash, et al. But the aces are still with the gamblers.
Apart from the money the ram owners generate through the tickets sold to the audience, the most profitable aspect of the ram fight, according to many members, is still money that comes through gambling.
The associations also rake in their fortune from membership dues as countless Lagosians, including Nollywood celebrities, particularly of the Yoruba genre, troop into the business.
The sporting/gambling activity now takes place in all the local government areas in the state where zonal competitions are staged. Mr Kassim Adebanjo, a member of ROA explained that there were two competitions in a year. There is the proper competition and ‘death of the season’ competition which starts two weeks after the Ramadan session.
There are different groups in the tournament which is determined by the weight of the ram. This starts from rams weighting 30kg, 40kg up to 100kg. The rule of the game is that the rams fight their mates in strength. On no condition will a ram of different weight category fight together.
During a friendly competition, the fight is always interrupted to prevent the rams from hurting each other, but at the ‘death of the season competition’, the rams engage in uninterrupted fights until one gives up to serious wounds or in some cases, to death.
At the zonal level, the friendly matches attract a lot of crowd, but limited people, to place bet because the fighting rams might not be well known to them. However, there are gamblers whose conviction will be solely on the appearance of the ram, how sturdy it looks, the size of its legs, its horn, and how aggressive it appears.
Regardless of how polished the ram-fighting business is being made to look by the promoters, NDLEA says an all-inclusive probe is coming into their activities.
The government organ responsible for investigation and prosecution of drug abusers described the act of feeding fighting rams with hard drugs as unlawful, vowing to commence investigations into the allegation.
Speaking for the anti-narcotic agency, its spokesperson, Mitchell Ofoyeju told Saturday Tribune: “The action of the ram owners in giving them drugs to enhance their performance is unlawful. It contravenes section 11 of the NDLEA Act because they must have the drug before administering it to the animals.
“Such persons can be charged for unlawful possession or dealing in narcotic drugs, popularly known as cocaine, LSD heroine or any other similar drugs. Besides, it is against society’s moral values. Above all, the drugs equally have negative effects on the health of the animals.
“However, no case has been reported to the Agency, but let me assure you that the allegation shall be investigated and perpetrators prosecuted in accordance with the law.”
Lagos State government says it isn’t unaware of the nefarious acts going on with the ram business, but not acting because those behind it aren’t affecting the public for now.
It said the rams being brought to the abattoirs are duly monitored and no case of narcotic infested ram has been reported. However, the government said it was aware of the use of strong substance on rams for fighting competition but noted that the rams are not being sold for commercial purpose.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Tunbosun Ogunbawo, rams brought into the abbatoirs are duly checked and certified safe for human consumption.
“We watch the activities of butchers at the abbatoirs. The ram fighters don’t bring their rams to our abbatoirs, they are the ones who kill and eat it on their own, aside from some very few that decided to patronise them and they don’t bring the ram to the market.”
Source from the livestock department of the Lagos State Agriculture Development Authority explained that aside the use of strong substance on rams for the purpose of fighting, some ram owners give their livestock tobacco to ward off cold, especially during the rainy season. He noted that the agency has always been sensitising the public, especially livestock farmers, discouraging such practices.
“When these animals have cold during the rainy season, the local method the livestock farmers use is giving them tobacco, although not all of the farmers practise this method,” he said.
He explained that the rams for gaming are not for the open market as the rams in the market are brought in from the northern parts of the country.
According to a butcher known as Mahmud at the Agege Abattoir, they do not patronise individual ram sellers as they buy their rams in bulk from those bringing them in, in large number.
He explained that those behind ram-fighting also will not want to bring their rams to the market because they only sell old and wounded animals which no butcher will buy because the quality has depreciated.
He noted that they might want to woo buyers by selling it at a cheaper price but the professional butchers would not dare to buy it because it will spoil their market as customers who buy such might not patronise them again.
The position of the state government may not sit well with animal rights activists who consider any act of unintended pain on animal as animal cruelty. While it is yet to become a popular movement in Nigeria, the few animal rights activists in the country may yet see this controversial ram-fighting business as a test-case for the enforcement of what they preach. It is also not unlikely that the state government’s concern may now transcend likely public consumption of hemp-infested ram. Only that it may be difficult situating the right punishment for gambling the mother of one’s children away.