Fawaz: Story of 18-Year-Old Chess Champion Who Came From Oshodi Slum

Blue BRTs, lively commercial motorcyclists (Okada), humming tricycles (Keke Marwa), groaning yellow public buses, private cars and a relentless stream of pedestrians tell you you’re in Oshodi.

Not for the faint of heart, this bustling metropolis offers a virtual and aural cacophony of sights and sounds that will leave a mark on your memory long after your visit is over.

Oshodi is a growing community, fed daily with immigrants pouring in from neighboring states in search of a better life.

Playing chess in slum Africa

It is home to some; some found it, while others got stuck in her filthy city delinquencies.

I’ve always been intrigued, but not interested in Oshodi because of the manic stories I heard. Oshodi brings out the fear of the unknown in everyone, no matter where you come from.

Upon arrival, you come face to face with a bunch of stern-looking young men reeking of alcohol and cigarettes, collecting their daily dues from frustrated bus drivers.

Get carried away by their aggressive approach and your phone or money could suddenly take off and be gone.

Except you don’t own anything worth stealing. Only then can you be safe in this infamous neighborhood where gunshots, robberies and stabbings plus mayhem are the norm.

Provocatively positioned between slummy Mushin and bourgeoisie Ikeja-Oshodi has a reputation for nefarious activities. And the stories are true. So dangerous is Oshodi that even a bag full of rubble runs the risk of being snatched in broad daylight.

You’re just the icing on the cake if your face looks unfamiliar in some areas. Resist the robbery and you might end up with a Spartacus-style dagger hole in your body.

bright spot

Amid this gang-less chaos, there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel, as Chess In Slum of Africa recently changed the lives of 51 children living in Oshodi.

Fawaz Adeoye is a former bus conductor in Oshodi, but he is determined to make his way through the suffocating hopelessness and poverty.

It was the pendulums and arrows that 18-year-old Fawaz carries in his daily work that led him to participate in a chess training organized by former chess champion Tunde Onakoya.

They selected Fawaz along with other street kids to undergo the basics of chess training, with a lot of emphasis on mental math.

Now that the training was done and dusted, it was time for the kid to prove to the world that good things can come from unlikely places, even if Oshodi and its inhabitants have been written off by many high-ranking eyebrows.

“51 homeless children in one of the most dangerous ghettos in Nigeria showed up to our chess training every day because they saw an opportunity to learn – a new hope,” Onakoya said.

“Some of them are orphans, while some fled their villages to seek greener pastures in Lagos,” he added.

Fawaz had always dreamed of becoming an actor and comedian, but he knew that playing chess in the slum was an opportunity too good to pass up.

He knew that when the desirable is not available, the available becomes desirable. He took part in the training and that was the beginning of the turning point in his life when Fawaz combined hard work and versatility full of common sense to become the champion of the pilot project ‘Chess In The Slum of Africa’.

“Adeoye Fawaz, an 18-year-old boy who works as a bus conductor and has spent years of his life under the Oshodi Bridge, emerged as our overall champion in both chess and mental math.

A Star Is Born,” Onakoya wrote on his Twitter handle.

Playing chess in slum Africa

“The final stage of the mental math competition was fast-paced and furious, but Fawaz answered the questions. Now imagine giving these guys a good education?! Imagine giving them encryption?! Imagine how many of them we lost on the streets because no one paid attention,” he said on a Twitter thread.

It was an emotional moment as tears welled up in the eyes of onlookers who came to celebrate Fawaz’s heroic performance.

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Dressed in traditional Yoruba Buba and Sokoto attire, his cap embodied hope amid the hopelessness as cheering fans carried him shoulder-high. For the oppressed, Fawaz’s story is a clear sign that as long as there is life, there will always be hope.

“Those who never see us as good now treat us with more dignity,” Fawaz said during an interview (performed in Yoruba) with the BBC.

The widely celebrated chess champion revealed that while he lost his mother in 2019, as a three-year-old he had long been separated from his father.

He said: “When my mother died, her relatives ‘shared’ me and siblings between them. I know the whereabouts of two and I don’t know where the other two are.”

Fawaz recalled being more concerned about getting food than about taking part in the chess class when it started.

‘I asked Uncle Tunde if he wanted me to starve when he talked about teaching us chess.

“In the beginning I didn’t understand the game at all, but along the way I reasoned that the game could help change my life.”

That turned out to be a smart choice by Fawaz, who confessed that he never dreamed of becoming a champion.

“I’ve never finished first in my life, but I did in the chess league and I’m very happy. Those who don’t want to be associated with me at all now talk to me freely.”

Travel to Oshodic

According to Fawaz, he had an altercation with his aunt while in Iyana Oworo and threatened to return to Ibadan.

However, when he arrived in Oshodi, he saw some familiar faces and decided to stay with them, intending to earn some money, before continuing his journey to Ibadan.

For the 18-year-old, staying under the bridge has helped him in some way by becoming a chess champion celebrated across borders.

Already looking forward to a brighter future, Fawaz wants to become a chess master, return to school to get an education and also try to design fashion.

Chess in the slum of Africa Project

For a nonprofit with a vision of taking vulnerable children off the streets through chess, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Ministry of Sports agreed with Onakoya’s laudable initiative.

Certainly, Sports Minister Sunday Dare cannot deny that ‘Chess In Slum of Africa’ has charted a course for other sports federations to follow.

The emergence of Fawaz and other street kids from Oshodi in the just concluded chess tournament shows that there is a cloud on the horizon.

Their success stories ignore one of the old life impressions: that nothing good comes from the slums. These early signs promise a bright future for chess in a neighborhood known for its affinity for football and music.

Everyone knows where Adeoye Fawaz comes from.

What remains to be discovered is how far he can go in the sport that announced him to the world.

As for Oshodi, it has proved once again that “white paper” comes out of black pots,” and what the community needs is just one chance: the crucible that can turn coal into a diamond.

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