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Wellington Jighere Wins The English-Language World Scrabble Championships

Wellington Jighere, who graduated university earlier this year aged 32, beat his British rival after four straight games in the best-of-seven final round against Lewis MacKay.

The Nigerian Scrabble team congratulates Wellington Jighere in Perth
The Nigerian Scrabble team congratulates Wellington Jighere in Perth on Sunday
Photo: Calla Wahlquist/Guardian

A Nigerian man who graduated from university at 32 has become the first African to win the English-Language World Scrabble Championships after beating his British rival in what he described as “a battle between one man and a whole continent”.

Wellington Jighere, 32, from Benin City, supressed severe jetlag to win four straight games in the best-of-seven final round against Lewis MacKay, 30, from Cambridge, who is ranked 19th by the body’s players’ association, on whose website Jighere doesn’t even feature.

Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, was among the first to offer his congratulations on the surprise win, saying Jighere had “done the country proud”.

Jighere, who was sponsored by the Nigerian government, romped to victory using words including “dacoit”, meaning a member of a class of robbers in India and Burma; “yow”, Australian slang for keeping a look-out, and “katti”, an alternative spelling for a weight used in China.

A board showing the championship game between Wellington Jighere and Lewis Mackay
 Photo: Calla Wahlquist/Guardian

He wrote in his Facebook page that he “had not slept well in about a week”.

“I'll be releasing a more appropriate statement later,” he wrote. “I really must endeavour to rest now. The fact that I was able to perform in spite of the sleeplessness still baffles me. It only goes to prove that God was deeply involved in this matter.”

Jighere started playing Scrabble in 1996 after an older brother introduced him to the game, according to enthusiasts’ website Scrabble TV Live.

He only recently completed his national service and university degree and had taken time out of finding work to train for the tournament, which he said would be his last after coming third in Mumbai in 2007 and 11th in Malaysia in 2009.

In African Scrabble circles, he was already a household name, having won the Africa Scrabble Championship in Nairobi in 2008 and defended his title in 2010 in Accra, Ghana. But he is little-known outside the continent.

The Nigerian Scrabble champion Wellington Jighere
The Nigerian Scrabble champion Wellington Jighere

In Perth, he won the final game with 448 points to Mackay’s 426. The Nigerian team accompanying him also emerged as the best of the championship, with five of its six players finished in the top 50 of the tournament.

He and his teammates only arrived in Australia the day before the tournament started, so had little chance to get over the 20-hour flight or the seven-hour time difference.

He told Guardian Australia he had undergone fatigue training to combat the jetlag. “It is the first time that an African has won in these world championships so I have to go and celebrate with them,” Jighere said.

Sulaiman Gora, president of Nigeria's Scrabble federation told the BBC that Jighere and his teammates had trained for a year in a succession of “Scrabble camps”, and that the new world champion was a quiet person whose "greatest strength is humility".

His win was, he added in an interview with the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper, “testimony of the potential of Nigeria as a country”.

Sammy Okasagah, the man known as the “Boss” of Nigerian Scrabble, said the victory was “well-deserved”.

“From the very day I came to Nigeria and watched your poise, calmness and silent deadly instincts,” the US-based enthusiast wrote on Jighere’s Facebook page. “I knew I left the mantle in hands that were indeed 'overcapable'.

"This is just the beginning, much more to come.”

Joghere returns home with a $10,000 (£6,600) prize and a potent tool in his job-seeking armoury.

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