Scrabble as a leisure game has been played in Nigeria as far back as pre-Nigerian independence. However it remained as such (leisure game) until 1989 when the Scrabble Association of Nigeria was formed.
The association was formed at a congress of Scrabble players who had converged for the first ever Inter-club Scrabble competition in Nigeria, during the Easter holidays of 1989, under the auspices of the Ibadan Scrabble club. The brain behind this great event was Mr. Segun Adegbenro, who got the mandate to promote the game in Nigeria from J.W.Spears & Sons PLC (The owners of the Scrabble trademark) and Prince Gbade Sanda; the then chairman of the Ibadan Scrabble club. That congress marked the beginning of organized Scrabble in Nigeria.
Scrabble Association Of Nigeria (SCAN)
During that first congress in 1989, the first executive board of SCAN was inaugurated. The elected key officers of the board then were Col. Gold Eburu- President, Prince Gbade Sanda- Vice President and Mr. Segun Adegbenro- National Coordinator. These three officers and other elected officers nurtured SCAN up until the Nigerian Ministry of Youth and Sports recognized the association on the 30th of April 1997. With the recognition of SCAN as the twenty-sixth National Sporting Association by the Nigerian Sports Ministry in 1997 (Following the formal inauguration by the then Honorable Minister, Chief Jim Nwobodo in Abuja), the game of Scrabble began to further grow in scope and standard. SCAN was then allocated an office in the National stadium complex, Lagos, while a secretary who is a staff of the ministry was appointed to run the affairs of the association. The minister also approved the membership of the then current executives as board members who were to remain in office for the next two years.
SCAN started to encourage the formation of state associations all over the country with the help of her zonal coordinators. All previous scrabble-playing clubs now became affiliates of such associations. Some of these scrabble clubs were located in Ibadan, Lagos, Warri, Kaduna, Kano, Uyo, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Benin, Minna and Makurdi. SCAN was also organizing a minimum of ten tournaments in a year across the country.
With the advent of organized Scrabble in Nigeria, came Scrabble competitions (with the first being the one inaugurating SCAN in April 1989). Thereafter, a minimum of ten (10) tournaments were organized yearly by SCAN. These ranged from National Open tournaments competed for by all comers, to National inter-club tournaments competed for by club sides, to even “doubles” tournaments competed for by partners (who choose themselves). Most of these tournaments were sponsored by some corporate organizations such as: West African Milk company (WAMCO), National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), SONA breweries, Savannah Bank, Alaja Steel Rolling Mills, etc. and others by private individuals such Architect Dejo Omotosho (Sole sponsor of Kwara Open) and Chief Mike Ajeigbo, amongst others.
Some tournaments were also sponsored and hosted by club sides e.g. Kano Open by Kano club, Shell Warri Open by Shell club Warri, etc.
The climax of tournament play Scrabble in Nigeria was the attendance of the first PANASA (Pan African Scrabble Association) Scrabble championships in Nairobi, Kenya in October 1994, by Nigerian Scrabble players. This was the first time Nigeria was participating in an organized international Scrabble competition.
Nigeria had previously been invited to the World Scrabble Championships (WSC) in 1991 and 1993. On both occasions, she could not attend due to non-issuance of travel visas to her representatives. Nigeria was to later host the second PANASA championships now known as the African Scrabble Championships (ASC) in 1996.
Since the first PANASA (now known as the ASC) in 1994 till the fourth in Ghana in April 2000, Nigeria dominated Africa Scrabble scene by winning all four editions. Nigeria has gone further to win 11 out of the 12 editions held from 1994 – 2016! Nigeria only came second for the first time at the fifth PANASA held in Nairobi, Kenya in October 2002. Nigeria finally attended the third WSC in London in 1995 and was represented by three players and two officials. Iffy Onyeonwu finished 13th out of 62 players from 30 countries.
The 4TH WSC also saw Nigeria represented by three players (Out of which only one player was an original qualifier). The other qualifiers were not issued traveling visas. At the 5TH WSC, the main Nigerian qualifiers were once again not issued visas! Thus, two of the Nigerian foreign-based players were called upon to represent Nigeria: Sammy Okosagahand Femi Awowade finished 8th & 18th respectively. This performance gave Nigeria a country rating of 4TH best in the world behind USA, Canada and England.
A Nigerian player Mr Jighere Wellington became the first African to be crowned World Scrabble Champion when he won the World English Scrabble Association Championship (WESPAC) on the 8th of November, 2015 in Perth, Australia. Nigeria was also adjudged the overall best performing team in that tournament, a feat she maintained in the 2017 edition.
Today, the Scrabble Association of Nigeria is now known as the Nigeria Scrabble Federation (NSF). It has grown from the early formative years. There are now thirty-seven state associations, with no less than one hundred and twenty club sides. There are also no less than twelve annual National open tournaments open to all comers.
Scrabble is now played in all of Nigeria’s forty plus universities, with it becoming a medal winning sport in the biannual Nigeria University games (NUGA). It has also become a medal winning sport in the country’s biannual National Sports festival. Currently, it is being introduced into the Nigerian Secondary schools, with the intention of having an annual National Secondary Schools Scrabble competition. These will no doubt help to boost the much-needed awareness the game requires.
These days, Scrabble is played on street corners, homes, schools, offices, etc, even without any prompt by the NSF.