Solving the Nigerian Malaise with Chess and Tunde Onakoya

By: Deji Yesufu

At about 3am Nigerian time on Friday morning, 20th April, 2024, Tunde Onakoya took to his X account – formerly Twitter – to announce that he and his team had reached the 58-hour mark! Those who have been following the non-governmental work of Tunde Onakoya know how this relatively unknown 29-year-old Nigerian man, has been using Chess to bring awareness to educationally disadvantaged children in Lagos, Nigeria. Recently he was in London where he played 10 solid opponents at the same time and defeated all of them. He is now in Time-square New York, where he is trying to set a new world record – playing Chess for 60 hours straight. The previous record was held by Halivad Haug Flatebo in 2018 who played the game for 58 hours, 9 minutes, and 37 seconds. Tunde plans to use the occasion to raise one million dollars for his NGO who are already into giving children from poor homes in Nigeria the opportunity to go to school. This is humanitarianism at its best and I write this article to support Tunde and to create greater awareness for his work. Two things can be gleaned from Tunde’s work: his love for chess and his belief that the game can be used to pull children out of poverty to make better use of their lives in a country that gives very little opportunity to people with disadvantaged background.

Between 1800, about the time the Napoleonic wars began, and 1945, at the cessation of the second world war, the world had advanced from the use of cannons (which were the military weapons Napoleons used as advantage to defeat his opponents) to the use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This was a space of about 150 years and what bridged the gap were two things: the violence of war – the need for man to dominate the other, and education. As the second world war was closing, German scientists and American scientists were racing to complete the development of their nuclear war heads. The Americans concluded it first and they disseminated their product on Japan. The war ended.

The world understands now that if this same effort at creating nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, are put into education, health and even the development of workable political ideologies, the world will be a better place to live in. Therefore, the best thing anyone can give a child is an education. Every man is made in the image of God, and with the mind of a child sharpened by education, he is able to add to society through the gifts that he possesses inertly. Education hones these gifts and help us to use them to better society. It is unfortunate that most people see education only as a means for a meal ticket; the highest goal of being educated is to better the lot of those around you. Leaving your world better than you met it.

I play chess in my free hours. I try not to let it dominate most of my day and so ensure that the game is reserved for late in the evening or weekends – because it can become incredibly addictive. Chess is a thinking game: I do not believe that consistent chess players can develop dementia – chess exercises the mind in the same manner a bodily workout will exercise the muscle. The blessing of playing chess is not to limit one’s creativity to the board game alone, but to be able to transport one’s learning on the board to real life situations. I understand that chess is encouraged in the military because it hones officers’ ability to think. The reason why military officers do not lead from the front is because the success of a military endeavor lies wholly in the ability of the officers at the helm to think things through. If he is shot dead at the front, his men will be wasted behind him. So, a wise officer follows his men and directs them from army headquarters at the rear. Chess can also give one ideas on solving life issues; creating business ideas; solving health challenges; reconciling relationship – which are usually difficult; and, as in my own peculiar case, give wisdom to solve the never-ending issues of church politics.

This is what Tunde Onakoya has discovered that has led him to bring the game of Chess to New York to raise funds for his NGO that seeks to give education to less privileged people in Africa. In the light of all these, there would be the nay-sayers who will be thinking that raising a million dollars via breaking a world record is unnecessary publicity, a means to vain glory, and self-enrichment. For such individuals that think like this, one just hopes that they will snap out of their negativity and join a positive bandwagon of truth and productivity.

The biggest mistake that I made years back has been worrying over what some people will say about what I do. I think that if a man’s intentions are both pure and clearly known to him, it does not matter what anybody has to say. Just keep doing what you think is right and the same nay-sayer will return to give you credit for the things you have achieved in the future. It is the reason I have plunged myself in my book writing, ministry, vlogging, and blogging, in spite of so much criticism of what I do. We will meet the nay-sayers in front and we will all have reasons to rejoice. Hilda Baci, a Nigerian chef did a cook-athon in August 2021, creating a world record at the time by cooking for 93 hours, 11 minutes. Tunde Onakoya (hopefully) has today created a Chess-athon, playing Chess for 60 hours non-stop. Perhaps, some of us in Christian ministry could consider doing a preach-athon – with the sole aim of bringing the gospel of Christ to a world without God and without his Christ – at a record breaking time.

This is what Chess does to the human mind: it helps you think creatively; to think out-of-the box; and to come up with ideas that will better the lot of the world, your neighbor, and even yourself inclusive. All this cry about “…there is no job…” boils down to educated young people unable to think beyond having “9am to 5pm” job. There is a world out there to conquer; there is money to make; Chess can help you with your thinking; Tunde Onakoya has discovered how to marry humanitarianism with productivity via the game of chess. Rather than join the nay-sayers, discover yours too. Our world is a world of ideas: there is an idea out there that can make you into somebody one day. Chess will help hone your thinking skill, while a good heart with good intentions will direct you to the right people, and with time God will bless the works of your hands.

Wishing Tunde Onakoya and everyone out there the best in all of your endeavors.

Deji Yesufu is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan, situated in the city of Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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