Fawaz: Story of 18-year-old chess champion who emerged from Oshodi slum

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Blue BRTs, lively commercial motorcycle operators (Okada), humming tricycles (Keke Marwa), groaning yellow public buses, private cars, and a relentless stream of pedestrian traffic tell you are in Oshodi.

This bubbling metropolis, which is not for the fainthearted, offers a virtual and aural cacophony of sights and sounds that will leave an imprint on your memory long after your visit is over.

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

It is home to some; some found it, while some others have gotten trapped in her squalid city delinquencies.

I have 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, irrespective of where you are coming from.

On arrival, you come face-to-face with a bunch of stern-looking young men reeking alcohol and cigarette, who go about their daily collection of dues from frustrated bus drivers.

Get carried away by their aggressive approach and your phone or cash could suddenly develop wings and be gone.

Except you own nothing worth stealing. Only then can you be safe around this notorious neighbourhood where gunshots, mugging, and stabbings plus mayhem are the norms.

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 debris stands the risk of being snatched in broad daylight.

You are just the icing on the cake if your face looks unfamiliar in some areas. Resist being robbed and you might just get a dagger hole in your body in a Spartacus style.

Bright spot

Amid this thuggish chaos, there is a tiny light at the end of its tunnel as Chess In Slum of Africa recently turned the lives of 51 Oshodi-based children around.

Fawaz Adeoye is a former bus conductor in Oshodi, but he is determined to find his way past the stifling hopelessness and poverty.

It was the slings and arrows that 18-year-old Fawaz carries on the daily job that pushed him to take part in a chess training organised by former Chess Champion Tunde Onakoya.

They selected Fawaz alongside other street kids to undergo the rudiments of chess training, with much emphasis on mental mathematics.

With training done and dusted, it was time for the kid to prove to the world that good things can come from unlikely places, even though Oshodi and her inhabitants have been written off by many high-placed brows.

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

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

Fawaz had always dreamt of becoming an actor and comedian, but he knew that chess in the slum project was an opportunity too good to miss.

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

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

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

“The final phase of the mental math competition was fast and furious, but Fawaz aced the questions. Now imagine if you gave these boys a proper education?! Imagine if you gave them coding?! Imagine how many of them we’ve lost to 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 around to celebrate Fawaz’s heroic performance.

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

“Those that see us as never do well now treat us with more dignity,” Fawaz said during an interview (conducted in Yoruba) with the BBC.

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

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

Fawaz recalled he was more concerned about getting food to eat than taking part in the Chess classes when it started.

“I asked uncle Tunde if he wanted me to die of hunger when he was talking about teaching us Chess.

“At the initial stage, I did not understand the game at all but along the way, I reasoned the game could help in changing my life.”

That proved to be a smart choice by Fawaz, who confessed he never dreamt of becoming the champion.

“I have never emerged first in my life, but I did that in the Chess competition and I am very happy. Those that don’t want to be associated with me at all now talk with me freely.”

Journey to Oshodi

According to Fawaz, he had an altercation with his aunty then at Iyana Oworo and threatened to return to Ibadan.

However, while he got to Oshodi, he saw some familiar faces and decided to stay with them, intending to make some money, before he proceeded on his journey to Ibadan.

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

Already looking ahead to a better future, Fawaz has his eyes on becoming a Chess Master, returning to school to get educated, and also taking a shot at fashion designing.

Chess In Slum Of Africa Project

For a non-profit organisation with a vision geared towards taking vulnerable kids off the street by providing education through chess, it won’t be a bad idea if the sports ministry can identify with Onakoya’s laudable initiative.

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

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

Their success stories ignore one of old life’s impressions: that nothing good comes from the slums. These early signs promise an excellent future for Chess in a neighbourhood reputed for preference for football and music.

Everyone knows where Adeoye Fawaz is 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 once again proved that “white pap comes from black pots”, and what the community needs is just an opportunity-the crucible that can turn coal into a diamond.

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