Meet a serial investor, who plays the odds

Gambling, goes the consensus, is a mug’s game. Certainly that was my view. Apart from the annual raffle draw in the office where I worked, I steered well clear. Not least, having cleared the contents of my late uncle’s slum flat in Ashaiman, strewn with betting slips, I associated it with failure.

This March, marks my 10th year with Universal Merchant Bank in Accra. As a senior vice president relationship manager with a private bank, I have been working with many of the same high-net-worth clients for years, advising them through any decisions they must make regarding banking, lending, trusts, insurance, and investments – every financial aspect of their life.

At a business cocktail on a certain Friday, an age-long client introduced me to a cousin of his – Dr. Herbert Hansen; a Nigerian entrepreneur, philanthropist and   professional gambler, widely regarded as among the most successful sports bettors in West Africa, having a winning streak which extended for over a decade.

“I want to stop all gambling other than sports betting and returned to my roots in business; car dealing,” he announced while sipping his Martini on the rock.

The effect was immediate; two other men stopped their conversation and spun around to face Dr. Herbert. Then they all giggled like it was a big joke.

 “You are in safe hands,” his cousin responded; pointing right at me.

I was quite astonished because I had never associated gambling with success. When I think of gamblers, I imagine a different class of persons; the term “degenerate” definitely pops up in my head.

He winked at me, “I am a responsible gambler. I bet only on short odds. Never more than 1/1 (or “evens” as I learned to call it), but more often around 4/9.  I think like an investor. I never bet for emotional reasons,” he clarified.

 “I started gambling when I was 9 years old, when I bet the money I earned from my first garage junk sales on the Brazilian national football team (Seleção Brasileira de Futebol) to beat the French national football team (The Blues), in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final. In terms of pure skill, this was the greatest World Cup game of all times,” he recalled.

“Wow! I remember that game; I had supported The Brazilian side too. It was the final World Cup for many Brazil legends such as Socrates, Junior and Zico. I reminisced -envisioning the game in our small 80s television box.

“In the scorching sun, Brazil roared into the lead through Careca and missed a number of chances to extend their advantage. France equalised through Platini, and both teams exchanged blows in a truly epic encounter. The Guadaljara crowd chanted Zico’s name so loud and for so long, demanding that the veteran was brought on as a substitute, Tele Santana eventually obliged. Zico rolled back the years, creating a penalty with a genius through pass. Zico stepped up to win the game for Brazil, but inexplicably saw his spot-kick saved by man-of-the-match Joel Bats.” He narrated.

“The game went to penalties after more missed chances. The two captains both incredibly failed – Socrates and Platini – but it was France who emerged victorious and I lost the bet, but it did not deter me from gambling. I was a losing gambler for many years. I had lost $50,000 by the time I was 22. I once lost my house in Nigeria after an English premiership match ended not in the favour of my bet. The winner did not take possession; we agreed that I pay off the debt over the next 18 months and I did.  So you see, I didn’t end up in the streets,” he continued.

“I am a millennial millionaire. My success changed in my mid to late 30s; over a period of 10 years, I had only one losing year, with a 7-year winning streak,” he expounded.  

Dr Herbert Hasen dalliance with betting was an interesting and profitable diversion, but for an estimated 500,000 people, gambling to improve their income I wasn’t too sure.  Gambling is like cocaine. Some can handle it. Most cannot.

I listened attentively to the gambling master but I was certain it wasn’t something I wanted to try.  I presented some business deal involving millions and billions of dollars that he was very interested in. He asked me to send the necessary details to him via email and we scheduled for another meeting in Lagos Nigeria.

 Dr Herbert Hansen, after taking the last sip of his expensive cocktail said, “Anyone thinking of emulating my years of betting responsibly is absolutely on an unpredictable yellow brick road. Sure, you might end up in profit. But personally I wouldn’t bet on it.” He gave me a firm hand shake and walked away with a smirk.

Dancing in the Rain: A Dream Deferred but not Denied

Abigail drove Jason to school on a Monday morning. Jason was excited and proud to have his grandma by him for his “show and tell”. His grandma was his most favourite person and he didn’t have a hard time telling his class that his grandma was a practicing nurse for thirteen years. Abigail enjoyed answering several questions from the children. It was so much fun. Finally she watched her grandson settle in his class. She had a cordial talk with Jason’s teacher, before she left to pick him up again at school closing time.

Abigail drove to the Crowell shopping mall, some distance away from Pearson Elementary School. As she was busy shopping for fresh groceries; moving up and down the aisles, she came across a very familiar face. The face hadn’t changed much. Abigail pushed her shopping trolley around and passed by the young man to be sure. He took no notice of her. She turned around again to see if it was really Onyeka; the nine year old boy she nursed many years ago at National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi. She hastened to follow him from behind, and overtook him.

“Are you Onyeka?” she said aloud. He heard her, and looked towards her direction. He took a closer look at her, and pointed his finger across to her, trying to be sure if she was the most compassionate nurse he used to know. “Nurse Abigail?” he asked.

“Yes, I am Onyeka,” he answered, with a loud shout. “Where did you go all these years? We wished to contact you, when we were told you left NOHIL, but we had no one to ask your whereabouts. My parents hated to ask anything about you from Nurse Rachael because we knew she didn’t like you at all,” he said.

“You did?” you were such an adorable boy back then, I am so glad you got your miracle,” she replied as she hugged him as firmly as she could. There was an explosion in her brain… the good sort… the type that carries more possibilities than she could be conscious of… but there were hundreds of questions there in that buzz of electricity… “I can’t believe this; you can walk now and you look great! How did this happen or is this really not Onyeka?

“Actually, I have been walking for over twelve years now. In fact, I had my spinal surgery a few weeks after you resigned with the help of Dr Willams Abade. He told us about his friend; Dr. Yasir Salimon; a renowned Nigerian-American neurosurgeon and academic who was starting out a healthcare development company with his wife, Perpetual. The company was launching out with free spinal surgeries to underprivileged Nigerians in Lagos state. That was my miracle! My condition fit perfectly with the description they needed. Dr Willams Abade provided them with all the medical history needed for the surgery.”

“Originally, Dr Willams Abade thought I would need two separate surgeries to complete the realignment. He also thought I might need to wear a body cast after the operation.

However, after examining my scans Dr Yasir  Salimon  was able to combine the surgeries into one and used only a brace on me. He came to Nigeria with implants and equipment from the US so that they could operate for free on people with spine-related problems like me. He was the lead surgeon and a couple of others assisted him at the time. They carried out about 10 surgeries and mine was one of them.
“I finally got to experience a completely unconscious ability to walk, stand, and chat with people without being reminded that I have pain to attend to and that’s what I call a medical miracle.”

Two months after my surgery and recovery period at home, I was ready to start the hard work of rehabilitation, which began with range-of-motion exercises, gait retraining and pool therapy. Rehabilitation was a slow process, it took 12 to 18 months; I underwent six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. After completing six weeks inpatient rehabilitation, I began outpatient rehab. I stood for extended period of time and practiced walking with a cane. After six months my gait and walking mechanics had greatly improved.

My parents, older sister; Ada and I were not discouraged, we had our eyes on the prize — numerous dancing at family celebrations, afternoons of sunshine and playing and countless years of active companionship.

Dissimilar to numerous others with my background, I received a scholarship to study medicine in Stanford through the Agency for External Aid, a Nigerian government program which is targeted at improving the quality of life for Nigeria’s most vulnerable communities.

I went on to receive a combined MD/MSc degree at Stanford Medical School, Stanford, California and  I have recently completed my post-residency fellowship training in complex nerve reconstruction at Louisiana State University and complex spine surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; all in the States.

His narrative was quite unbelievable, shocking really. Abigail’s mind was sent reeling, unable to comprehend or process the array of achievements that he had grossed. She felt giddy with excitement. She wanted to run, to shout, and to tell everyone that her Onyeka had risen above his medical limitations. She felt pumped, excited, more alive than she had ever thought possible.

Over the years I have learnt never to cave in when bad circumstances occur. I realize that whatever happens to me only breaks the old me and build the new me. It’s my choice to stay down when things go wrong and never allow what happens to me, keep you down. I see every situation as a chance to become what I have always intended to be, hard times will not make me bitter but will leave me better,” he added with his trademark smirk  that Abigail recognized.