Dar es Salaam. In what appears to mirror the biblical David and Goliath clash, a Dar es Salaam resident is readying to sue Vodacom Tanzania over an SMS that would have made him a millionaire overnight.
Mr Daniel Njau, 47, is accusing the telecommunication giant of taking him and his family for a ride over the recently concluded “Jay Millionaire” lottery promotion.
He says he participated in the promotion that Vodacom ran for several months and struck the jackpot. He reportedly won Sh100 million, the highest prize.
“It was one of the happiest days of our lives as a family,” he says. “It was in January when, through a Vodacom SMS, the number of my son Innocent was announced the day’s winner of the Sh100 million.”
The younger Njau is a student in Moshi and had left the telephone number to his father as he went to school. “The number was enrolled in the Jay Millionaire promotion and I continued to play, receiving the daily short messages as the days progressed,” the senior Njau explains.
As he went about his daily routine, Mr Njau received the SMS that would have turned the Njau family’s lives around. The younger Njau’s number had won the promotion of the day’s top prize of Sh100 million.
He told The Citizen in an interview: “My heart skipped as I read the message. I could not believe our luck. I slept over the news, not having the guts to tell anyone. I decided to wait for a call from Vodacom, as promised, before breaking the news to other members of the family.”
The call did not come within the 48 hours Vodacom had reportedly said. As the clock ticked without any communication, Mr Njau became apprehensive. “Anxiety grew with each passing day and all I could do was hope the call that would make me a millionaire was a few seconds away.
That SMS remained permanently on display,” he said of the message that read: “Hongera! Wewe ni mshindi wa leo was TZS MILIONI 100. Utapigiwa simu na wafanyakazi wa Vodacom kwa maelezo zaidi ndani ya masaa 48.”
The message announces that the subscriber’s number was the winner of Sh100 million for a particular day’s draw. It says the lottery winner would be contacted by Vodacom employees within 48 hours. But that all-important call did not come and Mr Njau, a Dar es Salaam-based businessman, took it upon himself to visit Vodacom offices and those of the Betting Control Board to find out what was happening.
It has been five months of criss-crossing between the company and the board, according to Mr Njau. Vodacom now says that message was wrongly sent to his son’s registered number and reportedly appears reluctant to pay up. But Mr Njau is staying on the case. “I am shocked and disappointed but I have not given up on the matter,” he says. “We have decided to pursue justice in court and have already instructed our lawyer to file a case against Vodacom and the Betting Board.”
He has written several letters to the Board and details numerous meetings between himself, the board and Vodacom to no avail. The older Njau is acting on behalf of his son through the power of attorney.
“The promotion promised millionaires every day for the months that it ran. My experience now suggests there may have been no such millionaires and all they did was collect millions from those enrolled but created no such promised millionaires,” Mr Njau claims. “I want to fight not just for the family but millions of Vodacom subscribers who may have been taken for a ride in the promotion.”
He reportedly rejected an undisclosed payout by the mobile company “as a token for the SMS they now claim was a mistake”.
But Mr Njau argues that the lottery results were supposed to be computer-generated and he wants to know how it was that the message was sent to his son’s number erroneously. “After showing them the text message, they told me that it was true that it was from Vodacom, but was mistakenly sent by the system,” he recalls. “I was surprised by their response since they normally say that one winner of Sh100 million daily would be selected daily, and I was the one for the day.”
Mr Njau has stuck to his guns, rejecting an offer of “disturbance” pay as suggested by the betting board and Vodacom officials. He adds: “The trend has now turned into intimidation. The company officials have told me I will lose everything if I do not accept their offer. They have even claimed my son’s mobile number was not registered and, even more surprisingly, that it cannot be detected in their system.” Mr Njau has submitted his complaints in writing to the Gaming Board of Tanzania (GBT). In a letter dated 23 April, the GBT wrote that it encountered several issues in the case, among them his participation in the disputed lottery draw. The Board says that, according to Vodacom, he was not a legitimate subscriber and had never taken part in a lottery draw. And records show that there was no winner of Sh100 million on that day, according to the board reply.
Meanwhile, Vodacom admits to have communicated through SMS to the telephone number that is registered in the name of Innocent Njau. But, according to the Board, the company had clarified that the text message sent to Mr Innocent Njau was erroneously generated by the lottery system used in determining the winning numbers.
GBT Director General Tarimba Abbas said Daniel was not the rightful holder of the telephone number that received the text message and the person legally entitled to follow up f the matter is Innocent. Mr Abbas says in the letter, which Mr Njau describes as shocking, coming from an institution that is supposed to represent the interests of the public: “Even if you come to us with SMS that you won, we usually go back to the draw of that particular day and confirm it. We found that Innocent’s telephone number did not win Sh100 million.” Vodacom Tanzania’s Head of Brand and Communication, Mr Kelvin Twissa, defends the promotion.