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Who is Tunde Onakoya? Nigerian chess master, coach and founder

Who is Tunde Onakoya

Tunde Onakoya is a Nigerian chess master, coach, and the founder of Chess in Slums Africa, a non-profit organisation established to train children in underprivileged communities in chess and provide them with access to education.

He is trying to set a new Guinness World Record for the longest chess marathon currently set at 56 hours and 9 minutes.

Onakoya is teaming up with US chess master Shawn Martinez in Times Square, New York to set a new world record of 58 hours and raise $1 million to educate children in underprivileged communities across Africa

Growing up and the gift of chess

Onakoya was born on October 6, 1994, in Ikorodu, Lagos Nigeria, and learned to play chess at a barber’s shop in the slums of Ikorodu, Lagos where he grew up.

Onakoya struggled to afford primary education early in life and had to drop out of school at age 10 to pursue alternative means of survival in a country plagued by low education access and high unemployment rates amid high population.

But chess helped Onakoya get back into school.

His exposure and love of the game propelled him to heights he could not reach, and provided him access to an education too expensive to pay for.

Onakoya earned scholarships and obtained a diploma in computer science at Yaba College of Technology, where he became a gold medalist at the Nigeria Polytechnic Games and the RCCG Chess Championship.

He has also won the National Friends of Chess and the Chevron Chess Open.

“Finding chess gave me something. It gave me an identity, an intellectual one, and it made me believe that I could also be intellectually inclined, and it made me believe that I could also be a thinker. That through just this game, I could find my place in the world again,” said Onakoya on his discovery of Chess during a speaking event in Germany.

Chess in Slums Africa

In September 2018, Onakoya started Chess in Slums Africa as a volunteer-driven non-profit organisation to educate and empower young children in impoverished communities through chess.

“The tragedy of poverty is not just not having money, but not having access, completely removed from the systems, education, the rule of law,” Onakoya said.

“I want to be who I needed when I was young to someone else.”

Through Chess in Slums Africa, Onakoya has organised several interventions for children across slums in Lagos state including Majidun (Ikorodu), Makoko, and recently, Oshodi.

The children are engaged in a two-week session to unlock their potential through chess while learning to read, write, and acquire basic literacy skills.

6 years down the line, Chess in Slums Africa has trained over a thousand children across 11 countries in Africa including Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda and secured lifelong scholarships for 20 of them.

“A slum is just a place, it doesn’t define the people that live there,” Onakoya said.

Onakoya is also a board member of the New York City-based non-profit The Gift of Chess which collaborates with Chess In Slums to distribute chessboards to children across schools in Africa.

“Beyond the four walls of a classroom, education is the capacity for thoughts, for critical thoughts, for independent thinking and for problem-solving.”

Guinness World Record

On April 12, 2024, Onakoya announced his aspiration to break the Guinness World record for the longest Chess marathon and raise $1 million to sponsor marginalised kids to school.

The awaited chess-a-thon began on Wednesday, April 17 at 11:30am EST and is expected to conclude on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Onakoya has received support from millions of Nigerians at home and in New York City who continue to cheer him on into setting the new world record.

Prominent individuals among Nigeria’s elites have also rallied behind Onakoya with words of encouragement and food provision to keep him going.

Former vice presidents Atiku Abubakar and Yemi Osinbajo openly commended Onakoya, backing him for success, with Babjide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos state and Dapo Abiodun, governor of Ogun state, who share their thoughts and sentiments.

Popular Nigerian artists Davido and Adekunle Gold also showed up at Onakoya’s setup at Times Square to support and encourage him.

Onakoya is also tipped to succeed from the US and UK embassies in Nigeria and notably from football star, Patrice Evra, who had played chess with kids at Oshodi underbridge during his visit to Nigeria.

So far, Onakoya has played and won over 180 games and raised more than $62,000 for his charity cause.

Read also: Tunde Onakoya breaks Guinness World Record for longest chess marathon