Since Wellington Jighere became the first African to win the World Scrabble Championship in 2015, his country has celebrated him as a superstar. In Nigeria, Scrabble is not just a game, but a prestigious sport. For his training, he chooses a very solitary method.
As a meeting place, the Scrabble champion has suggested a small tournament in a nondescript conference center on the outskirts of Lagos. Players sit across from each other at 30 small tables in the glaring neon light of a conference room. Whoever wins at the end of the day will receive the equivalent of 180 euros and will be allowed to compete in the state championship in a few weeks.
Wellington Jighere, the 2015 world champion, has long since qualified for this. So he won’t be competing in this tournament. But the 35-year-old pro loves the atmosphere. This concentrated silence, which can probably only be found in this form at Scrabble events with such a gathering of people in Lagos. Broken only by the clicking of the letter tiles. Or the murmur of the spectators when an exciting game is nearing its end. It is the quiet soundtrack of his life.
Here he is a superstar. A BBC television crew has come to interview him. Players approach him, ask for advice. Since Jighere became the first African ever to win the World Cup title and $10,000 (8577 euros) in Australia three years ago, he has had celebrity status. An enormous achievement, especially since he had only arrived in Perth shortly before the first match. The host country almost denied him a visa – a recurring problem for Nigerian Scrabble players at international tournaments.