In Lagos State, out of the inexhaustible milk of one man`s human kindness and the incomparable game of chess, hope is springing eternal for some of Nigeria`s poorest children.
In Majidun, a slum suburb in Nigeria`s commercial capital Lagos, and Makoko, the world`s largest floating slum on the coast of Lagos, Chess in Slums Africa, founded by the inimitable Mr. Babatunde Onakoya, Nigeria`s chess national master, is reaching some of Nigeria`s most deprived children with the flames of redemption.
At once, Lagos State captures the defiance of the Nigerian spirit and the debilitating despair and desolation that desperately seek to break it. A microcosm of Nigeria, the `Center of Excellence’ hosts Nigerians from every state and expatriates from every country of the world. People escape the hopelessness of their rural villages and go to Lagos, Nigeria`s land of endless possibilities, in search of greener pastures for themselves and their families.
But the possibilities in Lagos come at a cost – a cost so steep it is backbreaking. Nigeria`s commercial nerve center and center of excellence is also Africa`s capital of thuggery where the government patronizes thugs. The state also proved a spacious graveyard for Nigeria`s young when on October 20,2020, at the invitation of the Lagos State Government, state actors rained bullets on young people whose only crime was protesting against police brutality. Their blood continues to cry out against Nigeria from the grounds of the Lekki toll gate.
Life in Lagos is cut-throat. Ranked by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Survey 2021 as second worst city to live in only after Damascus in war-torn Syria, many have disappeared into its bottomless underbelly, never to re-emerge.
For children, Nigeria`s endangered species, Lagos holds many bogeymen. There are the slums, Makoko being the most notorious, where children are born into poverty, live in poverty and die in poverty. Then, there are the streets where mercy is a mirage and the vulnerabilities of children are vaporized by the vulpine viciousness of some of Nigeria`s crudest criminals. In Lagos, vice is gold.
It is into this paradoxical story of pain and power that Babatunde Onakoya, Nigeria`s chess national master steps in, offering the game of chess to children like Prometheus offering to men the gift of fire stolen from the titans.
Already, young lives have been transformed forever in refulgent testament to the unaccountable journey that kindness can make. Children who knew nothing but cruelty, poverty and illiteracy are seeing the scales ripped off their eyes by the game of chess and one man`s courage of conviction.
In his late twenties, Mr. Onakoya attributes his compassion for the children to the transformational power the game of chess wielded over his own life. It is truly heartwarming.
In the same State where inebriated truck drivers fleeing from power-drunk LASTMA officials reduce kids returning from school to blood and bones, chess is shining a light into the stygian darkness of sewage-ridden slums which is the only home some children know.
In a State where cultism and drug abuse threaten to tear away every last vestige of childish innocence, one youth`s courage is making a generational difference. In a State where unarmed youth were massacred for nothing but protesting against institutionalized brutality, a youth armed with nothing but chess and compassion for children is showing the transcendental power of kindness.
In a country where the President indiscreetly branded youths `lazy, in 2018, and in a State where government officials do everything they can to avoid disadvantaged neighbourhoods, it is a youth who carries the torch of hope to the depths of Nigerian despair.
Nigeria`s redemption will rise out of the ribs of children and young people. Out of those ribs unclogged by the bottomless wickedness of corruption and nepotism will come the breath that will cause the waters of a new Nigeria to flow. The aging kleptocrats who rule the country continue to outdo themselves in their bid to raise a new generation of Nigerians destitute of patriotism and compassion.
Nigerian youths and children must recognize that belongs to Nigeria belongs them and will eventually be left to them when death, the great neutralizer, finally reduces the hands that currently hold power in Nigeria to dust. It is why they must persevere and preserve themselves even as they seek an immediate transfer of power under the Not Too Young To Run Act.
In a country where politicians use children and youths as pawns in the deadly game of politics, it is fitting that it is through the agency of a youth that the game of chess is making kings and queens out of them. The Not too Young to Run Act is yet to realize its many potentials. But the task of rebuilding Nigeria remains an urgent one. The task falls to young people.
In a contest organized by Chess in slums Africa, Adeoye Fawaz an 18-year-old who worked as a bus conductor and lived under a bridge in Lagos until recently beat fifty other young people to emerge the overall champion in both chess and mental maths. For the occasion, Mr. Babatunde Onakoya got the kids a haircut, new kaftans and new black shoes before Fawaz went on to become an improbable champion.
It is out of the hearts of young people that the dawn of a new Nigeria will break.
Thank you Babatunde!