World Scrabble Day: Meet the Iron Ladies of Nigerian Scrabble Federation.

For today 13th April World scrabble day, we reached out to the Ladies dominating the scrabble scene in Nigeria.  They are Tuoye Mayuku, Oluwabukunmi Afolayan and Bisi Akanbi. They are popularly referred to as the Iron ladies of scrabble among their colleagues. However, we were only able to reach two of them (Ms. Tuoyo Mayuku and Mrs. Afolayan Oluwabukunmi) for an interview. The focus of the interview was on their personal experiences, women’s involvement in scrabble and how the sport could be promoted in Nigeria.


Tuoyo Mayuku

Ms. Tuoyo Mayuku at the African Scrabble Tournament in South-Africa
Ms. Tuoyo Mayuku at the African Scrabble Tournament in South-Africa

Tuoyo Mayuku is a 40 years old professional scrabble player and reputably the best female scrabble player in Africa based on her performance at the 2014 African Scrabble tournament in South Africa. A position she has held since 2006. Tuoye Mayuku is from Delta state and is a graduate of Sociology from the University of Jos. She is also the organizing secretary of the Delta State Sport commission, an opportunity she was given by Delta State government based on her records in scrabble.

  • How long have been playing scrabble and what do you consider being the benefit of playing scrabble?

I have being playing competitive scrabble since 1996 and i would say there are so many benefits to playing scrabble. Some of the benefit are that it Improves your vocabulary and broadens your knowledge. It also makes you wax stronger whenever you face any hard situation.

  • How did you pick up interest in playing scrabble?

Before I picked up interest in playing scrabble I was involved in other sports like table tennis, football but I first got introduced to scrabble by my elder brother and discovered scrabble was my game. It is an intellectual game that improves your mental stamina. It also a game that is stress less.

  • In your opinion, what do you think is responsible for scrabble not going mainstream like other sports?

I think the major reason is because scrabble is not a spectator sport where people who are not active players can easily understand or enjoy the game. However with the help of technology that is changing as more people have taken liken to the sport.

  • Can you share with us some of the tournaments you have participated and the medals you have won?

Since 2006, I have participated in the African Scrabble championship and I have remained the best player in the female category since then.  I won top female at the championship in Zambia in 2012 and also won the 2014 edition in South Africa. I also played in the 2011 World premiership in Malaysia, where we had between 40-50 champions from around the world and I was in the early 20s ranking. All these are asides the numerous tournaments I have participated and won in Nigeria.

  • Despite requiring less physical strength, why does scrabble seem to be dominated by men in Nigeria?

Yes, I agree with you that there are more men playing scrabble in Nigeria than Women. And this is perhaps because over time women have generally not shown interest in scrabble, perhaps because the awareness was not there. I remember when I first started playing scrabble and joined the federation, I was the only one but this has improved over time. Now we have about 100 female scrabble players in the federation. This is still s small number compared to the men but it is improving.

  • What do you think are the issues hindering women from taking up scrabble as a sport?

I would say scrabble can be time consuming. I remembered I was on verge of deciding to stop playing the game because it was affecting my relationship. It was when I got to Malaysia and I saw other women, couples and even elderly people from other parts of the world playing professionally that I decided to continue playing the sport. I thought it will be a disservice to me and to God to stop using the gift He has given to me. In Nigeria, I would say it is not easy for a woman to play scrabble professionally. I remember there was a time I played for 2 nights consecutively; a lot of men will que up in my house to play. If you start playing you could easily forget yourself and plan non-stop. I will say the major challenge for women is an enabling environment and spousal support.


  • Have you ever being discriminated against on the bases of your gender?

Not at all, in fact the Nigerian Scrabble Federation have being very supportive and given women preference. For example if they are playing trails to select people to represent the country, they always try to ensure that women are represented and given the required international exposure in scrabble. I had the opportunity of travelling with the federation for various international tournaments.

  • Can you share with us your highest score in Scrabble?

My highest score so far has been 584 at the Shell Scrabble club, Warri in year 2000. That was the game that took me to the Masters level.

  • Personally, what do you consider to be the greatest benefit of playing scrabble?

From Scrabble I got a job during the Youth service year in 2004 and I did not even apply for the job. The commissioner for sport in Delta State at the time saw my name in the newspaper and reached out to me. I was later appointed as the Organizing secretary of Delta State Sport Commission.

  • What do you think can be done to promote the sport and encourage more women and children to engage in the sport?

I think there is a need to take the game to the grass-root, which is what the Federation’s Secretary is working on now. We are taking the game to grass-root and we are starting to see result, even in far-away north. Our strategy is to ‘catch them young’. Another issue is the need for increased government support for scrabble. The government’s effort in sport is focused on football at the expense of other sports in Nigeria. I can remember that during the last world championship, it was the President of the Nigerian Scrabble federation in person of Alhaji Suleiman Gora that personally paid for the flight of Nigerian players to the championship. I am doubt if the man has being reimbursed. So there is a need for government funding.



Afolayan Oluwabukunmi

Mrs. Afolayan Bukunmi
Mrs. Afolayan Bukunmi

Bukunmi is a 33 years old professional scrabble players. She has won several awards in scrabble tournament around the country. She was among the 15 players (13 male, 2 females) invited by the Nigerian Scrabble Federation for a camping exercise in preparatory for the African Scrabble championship which held in Zambia 2012.  Bukunmi Afolayan is from Ogun State and is a graduate of Business Administration from the University of Ado-Ekiti.


  • How long have you been playing scrabble?

I have been playing active scrabble since 2006, making it 10 years now.

  • Among all the different sports thay you could be engaged, why scrabble?

To be candid with you, I am not a big fan of sport that require too much physical energy. I prefer intellectual sport that makes you think. Scrabble is a game that you don’t just play, you need to be intellectually on your toes. And being that I am a lazy person when it comes to physical sporting it, scrabble reached out more to me.

  • What do you consider to be the benefit of playing scrabble?

There are a lot of benefits to playing scrabble. For a start, scrabble enhances your intellect and it helps improve your calculation. I have more or less become the human calculator of my home. Anything my husband wants to quickly add up some figures that he normally would use a calculator, he runs to me to ask to save the energy of getting a calculator. So scrabble has helped improve my arithmetic ability.

  • What do you consider to be responsible for the game not going mainstream like other sports?

I will say the major reason is because scrabble is not a spectator sport. What I mean is before you can enjoy watching scrabble; you most often have to also be a scrabble player. Unlike basketball, football, volley ball etc. where you don’t necessarily have to be a player to be entertained watching others play the game. This I would say has hindered scrabble from going mainstream.


  • What are the major scrabble competition you have participated in and what medals have you won?

Well, I have won a lot of awards from playing scrabble but one of the awards I most appreciate and cherish was the Gold medal I won at the last sport festival’ Eko Sport Festival’ hosted by the Lagos State government. Another notable International scrabble tournament I have participated and have won several awards is the scrabble tournaments organized by Sen. Goodswill Akpabio who is the grand patron of Nigerian Scrabble Federation. The event is an International one as many countries are represented at the tournament and it us usually hosted at the Le Meridian Hotel in Uyo. I have won ‘Best Female’ at this international scrabble tournament for 3 consecutive years, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Mrs. Afolayan Bukunmi at a scrabble tournament
Mrs. Afolayan Bukunmi at a scrabble tournament


Like other sports, although requiring less physical energy scrabble seems to also be dominated by men at the professional level, why is this so?

Yes I will agree that scrabble is dominated by men. For a female to play scrabble I will say the female will have a male mentality. I learnt scrabble in school on seeing my male colleagues play. My initial interest in learning how to play was refused by the guys I saw playing in my environment. They wrote my interest off partly because they thought as a female I will not be able to play. This was until one of the guys took up my interest, taught me how to play and I have since been playing. Even at the time, I was the only female scrabble player.  I must also add that most of my female friend could also not wrap their heads around why I was interested in the sport. To them it was a waste of time, which why I will say females who take up scrabble will have a bit of male mentality.


  • Don’t you think it is the men who have taken up the sport that are making women think scrabble is not a sport for them?

I actually think scrabble is a sport for women because it requires more of the intellect than physical energy unlike other sport. It is a bit of a puzzle that there are more men playing the sport in Nigeria than women. However, in other parts of the world, this is not the situation as women are more engaged in the sport than men.


  • As a lady have you ever being discriminated against on the bases of your gender in the sport?

Asides the experience I mentioned earlier at the beginning stage of my interest in scrabble in school, I have not had anyone discriminate against me on the based on my gender. I think this might due to the fact that I have proved myself in the game that what a man can do, a woman can do better. I should also commend the Nigerian Scrabble Federation for the effort they are making in encouraging more women to engage in the sport. Although we still have just 3 females in the top level of the Nigerian scrabble federation, namely Mrs. Temituoyo Mayuku, who has being playing scrabble for over 30 years and based in Warri, Mrs. Bisi Adekanbi based in Ogun State and me. People refer to us as the Iron Ladies of the Nigerian scrabble federation. Notwithstanding, NSF is making an effort, a good example is the fee exemption given to women who want to register for tournament. The Scrabble Federation in Nigerian is one big happy family where we are also involved in each other’s lives beyond scrabble.


  • What about in life, would you say you have being a victim of gender discrimination?

No, I don’t think I have been a victim of discrimination based on my gender. This is perhaps owing to my mentality of making sure that I stand out in whatever situation or environment I find myself. I am also grateful to God for giving me a supportive husband who en9

  • Since you have being playing scrabble, what will you say are the benefits you have gotten from engaging in the sport?

Let me state that I did not have a job for the first 5 years after I graduated from the University. Playing scrabble eventually turned out to be an advantage for me. Asides the numerous competitions I have participated and won cash prizes, like the Sen. Godswill Akpabio scrabble tournament where I won close to four hundred thousand naira in cash prize, I am also currently employed as a scrabble coach by the


  • What do you think could be done to encourage more people particularly children and women in the sport?

I think the advantages of playing scrabble needs to be more projected in terms of improving the intellect and helping to improve their arithmetic abilities.  I particularly think scrabble should be introduced and encouraged in primary and secondary schools as a strategy for improving student’s academic performance. Also scrabble is considered an optional sport in Nigeria Sports Festival meaning that it does not feature in every festival and is solely dependent on  the preference of the host, example is the sport festival coming up in Cross-River this year that scrabble is not included. I think this has to change if Nigerian Sport Federation is serious with developing scrabble in Nigeria.

  • Can you share your highest scrabble score with us?

That was atthe Sen. Godswill Akpabio tournament in 2012 where I had a score 620 against my opponent.






Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source


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