• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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The Tunde Onakoya Example

CISA, BAMA partner to empower vulnerable children from Lagos’ slum communities

By Melody Fidel Okwuazu

As they say, not all heroes wear capes and that cannot be truer than in the case of the Nigerian, Tunde Onakoya. Garbed in his overcoat out there in the harsh elements of Times Square, New York, a thick muffler around his neck, a Yoruba cap in place, fully-bearded face inscrutably fixed on the chess board as he chased a dream, Onakoya looked every bit like a prophetic figure from the Old Testament giving us a message from God.

On Saturday, the 20th of April at 12:40 am (04:40 GMT), Onakoya and his playing partner, Shawn Martinez, set a new Guinness World Record for the Longest Chess Marathon with a time of 60 hours to beat the previous 56 hours, 09 minutes and 37 seconds record set on the 11th of November 2018 by the Norwegian pair of Hallvarg Haug Flatebø and Sjur Ferkingstad.

Read also: Chess master Tunde Onakoya recounts how father struggled to get him education

Now, the record has been achieved, the celebrations are still on. We still have memories of Nigerians, high and low, converged in the little space the spectacle was taking place in New York, displaying the best of the famous Nigerian swagger, belching out the National Anthem in celebration after Onakoya achieved the feat, sending out a message about the resilience of Nigeria and Nigerians worldwide.

The world is still digesting that message as Onakoya returns to take a victory lap as he’s welcomed and feted by political and business leaders and the ordinary people who recognize his herculean effort to once again put Nigeria on the map of greatness. But in that brief moment he was sitting out the in the cold in New York pursing this dream, Tunde Onakoya became the teacher of the world.

Of course, Tunde Onakoya is not the first Nigerian to set or break a world record sanctioned by the Guinness Book of World Records. Before him almost 20 exceptional Nigerians have broken Guinness World Records. In fact, after him, another Nigerian, Clara Chizoba Kronborg, a social media entrepreneur, has broken the Guinness World Record for the Longest Interviewing Marathon with a time of 55 hours 24 seconds to beat the previous record of 37 hours 44 minutes held by Rob Oliver of the United States. But the point here is not to discuss all these exceptional Nigerians, even as we must always celebrate them; my purpose is to focus on the achievement of Tunde Onakoya and to present his example as something far more significant than the chess and the record. His life is an example that we all as Nigerians must learn from if indeed we are looking to make our nation great. When I reflect on it, I see that there is so much Onakoya is teaching us.

At 29, Onakoya may seem too young to teach the world any enduring lesson. But, truly, he’s as old as time. He’s come to us from a future that those after us will one day meet and celebrate better than we are celebrating him today.

They call him a chess master, but he’s really a master of life. He obviously started his dream earlier than before it began taking shape in Ikorodu in 2018. Indeed, Ikorodu is fast becoming the creative capital of Nigeria when we consider that the greatest African female football player, the four times African Women’s Footballer of the Year, Asisat Oshoala and the now famous no-budget skit-makers of big budget films, the Ikorodu Bois, are from there. That was where Onakoya started from.

He was from an indigent background. His father was a commercial bus driver/conductor and his mother took the job of a cleaner at a private school, Yintab Private Academy (YPA), in Ikorodu in order to get a discount as a staffer to be able to send her sit-at-home son to the school. Onakoya, who had picked up on chess at a barber’s shop was lucky to see that the school had a chess programme.

Read also: Dapo Abiodun appoints Tunde Onakoya Sports Ambassador of Ogun

He came under the influence of the late Mr Clement Okoro, a school staffer in charge of the chess programme and soon this boy who in JSS 1 couldn’t speak proper English found something in chess that made him stand out amongst his peers. His diligence saw him appointed as the school’s Head Boy and upon finishing, he looked to read Medicine at the University of Lagos.

But at his first JAMB attempt, he was unlucky to miss the cut-off mark by one point. The next year, he passed, but couldn’t take up the admission at the Lagos State University (LASU) because he couldn’t pay the new fee of N250,000 as at then (up from N25,000 the previous year). He went into depression lamenting his life, but the mother never gave up on the hope of her son going to a tertiary institution. She badgered him into going to Yaba College of Technology to read Computer Science, even though Onakoya himself hated the idea of going to a polytechnic.

At Yaba College of Technology, he picked up his dying interest in chess and became part of the school team representing the school in national competitions and winning medals. He survived school with the little prize monies he was winning from tournaments. But after he graduated and without a job and without the small monies coming from competitions where he represented his school, he was back to Ikorodu, giving up on chess and back to lamenting his life.

He briefly took up a teaching job at Mowe that paid a paltry N6000 a month, but he left after three months because the commute plus the work was just too stressful. He took up playing musical instruments at churches, earning very little, but that period gave him an opportunity to reflect. It was at that point he decided he would be a chess coach. He offered his services to secondary schools around between 2016 and 2018, but then began to lose motivation again because things were just too rough for him.

But something happened in 2018 he described as “a defining moment.” He had gone on his instruments-playing venture to a place called Lungu, which is a slum in Majidun. There he saw the worst of slum life and the effect on children and young people. That was where he had the epiphany that led to the establishment of Chess in Slums.

He began teaching the kids in this community chess and began to witness the changes this was bringing to their lives and their community. He began to take it as a mission to teach kids chess and as he faced the challenge of continuing to fund the programme, help came by way of people volunteering to help through his exposure of the activities on Twitter (now X) and other social media platforms. Soon, he began to be featured in the big international media like the BBC, CNN, France 24, DW, Aljazeera and so on.

As journalists at home and abroad began to cover his activities, the story spread that he was using chess to transform young people’s lives in slums. We saw him take it to Ibadan to rescue young people on drugs; he brought it to under the bridge at Oshodi to rescue young people in crime to the extent that his effort attracted attention from world class stars, like the Frenchman, Patrice Evra, who came to Oshodi to see things for himself.

Read also: Meet Nigeria Tunde Onakoya attempting to break GWR 58hrs Chess marathon

He took it to Makoko, another slum and water community in Lagos where he in 2021 discovered 10-year-old Ferdinand Jesuwame, who suffers from cerebral palsy but who turned out to be a chess prodigy. The boy’s feat in chess came to the attention of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who contacted Onakoya and met the boy, Ferdinand, with whom he had an interesting game of chess. From then on, the Governor took over the education of the boy.

In 2020, Onakoya adopted three orphaned kids who had just lost their mother. She had an accident at the refuse dump she was scavenging plastic to feed her family and had one leg amputated. She was then unfortunately transfused with HIV positive blood, which then led to her death. She died in Tunde’s arms. Her dying wish was that Tunde takes care of her kids and he’s kept that promise. At 26, he suddenly was thrust into fatherhood and he’s enjoying it because he sees the massive change his intervention has bought in the children’s lives.

So, Onakoya is back after conquering the world. But we must not forget why he took the Guinness challenge in the first place. He attempted the record to raise US$1 million for the education of children in slums in Africa. The accolades are pouring in and someone has even gifted a home to his parents. Perhaps, he Tunde has been gifted one or two things here and there, but I’m not sure if his target of one million dollars for the education of the kids in slums have been met. I think it’s important that irrespective of whatever else we do either as public officials or private citizens to honour Onakoya, that target must be reached because that is the whole reason for the man engaging in this record attempt.

Beyond all that, the lesson Onakoya is teaching us is that as a people we have the capacity to transcend our condition if only we can reach within us to call on our inner strength to look beyond our personal challenges and think how each of us can help our communities. Onakoya did not use his own indigence as an excuse to not help others. He’s using the talent that he has to help young people and communities and he has used that talent to place Nigeria on the map of greatness through chess. Today, many young people who have never heard of chess are learning the game because they see him as an inspiration and they see how much it can help them intellectually.

Onakoya has just started writing his own great story, which I hope one day would be on the big screens. He needs all the encouragement he can get because he has proved to be a man who can inspire his generation of Nigerians and those after him.

I congratulate Onakoya for his feat and I pray that the Almighty continues to bless his efforts for the benefit of our young people and our nation.


Melody Fidel Okwuazu is a multiple award winning entrepreneur-missionary who is the Founder and a Director of the Nigeria and UK-based Stability and Sustenance Limited.