Nigeria Is Not Known For Its Scrabble But It Should Be by Howard Debs

Last November in the final of the World Scrabble Championship held in Australia the Nigerian known as “The Cat in the Hat” for his penchant for fedoras beat a Brit becoming headline news in his homeland.

It is now considered that earlier reports incorrectly stated that a schoolgirl/mother rescued from Boko Haram was one of the 276 taken from the town of Chibok in 2014. Another girl also rescued was indeed one of those so abducted.

The strategy of the Nigerians who have the unheralded distinction of having more top 200 Scrabble players than any other country is a short-word approach, eschewing the long-word approach long held to be the sine qua non of the game.

Boko fighters have killed 20,000 since 2009, have kidnapped more than 2000 since 2014, mostly females; in pursuing their maniacal efforts they have the reprehensible distinction of being ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group.

The advent of the Nigerian Scrabble method, known for rack management, a defensive style, pins its success on the unintended consequences of using up all seven tiles each round, and on certain design quirks of the playing board itself which strangely favor shorter words.

The advent of Boko Haram can be pinned to the Nigerian history of dictatorial regimes, spawning corruption, social inequality, poverty, and horrendous human rights abuses including summary executions, torture, rape, restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement.

The Nigerian Scrabble concept is changing the game. Using computer application simulations and analytics a secret list exists of the five-letter words that are most difficult for opponents to utilize. Knowledge of the five-letter words can result in beating the seven-, eight-, nine-letter word players. The Wellington Foundation for Scrabble and Mind Development in Africa has lobbied the government to add Scrabble to the national curriculum, success in this undertaking remains in question.

The current Nigerian President was elected last year on a pledge to destroy Boko Haram, and a combination of anti-Boko vigilantes, volunteer locals, and the army have mounted a counterinsurgency campaign to recapture Boko territory village by village, success in this undertaking is uncertain.


Howard Richard Debs received a University of Colorado Poetry Prize at age 19. After spending the past fifty years in the field of communications, with recognitions including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America, he resumed his creative pursuits. Finalist and recipient 28th Annual 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his work appears internationally in numerous publications recently in Yellow Chair Review, Silver Birch Press, Syzygy Poetry Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, the Clear Poetry 2015 Anthology, among others, and his essay “The Poetry of Bearing Witness” in On Being – On The Blog. His photography will be found in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge” artist and guest editor.

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