The young man you see in the picture is called Tunde Onakoya. Tunde is a young Nigerian man who, like every other young Nigerian is doing his best to survive in a country that has been wrecked to its core by corruption and bad governance.
Every day, Tunde wakes up in Lagos and goes about his business in a city that is a gigantic contradiction of unfettered opulence and abject poverty. Every day, Tunde sees how the city unleashes its wrath on the poorest of the poor and even on the most innocent – young children left to themselves by the vagaries of life’s circumstances, sleeping on roadsides and under bridges. Every day he sees them speaking through car windows, begging for money or begging money from other Lagosians, numbed by the sweltering discomfort of the yellow Danfos and the winding Lagos traffic.
Tunde however decides to stop being numbed by it all. He decides to do something.
If there is anything Tunde loves in the world after his mother, it is chess. So, in 2018 Tunde decided to take a chess board to one of the vilest and most dangerous places in Lagos where thugs, commonly known as ‘agberos’, have established their own government – Oshodi Underbridge.
Tunde sets down a chess board and beckons to one of the kids. He is as scared as any could be in this devil’s cove. But then the kid walks up to him and he proposes to the kid to play a game of chess with him. The kid says he doesn’t know how to. No problem, Tunde tells him. I’ll show you how.
4 years later, in 2022 Tunde’s tweets on his work with a cohort of over 70 boys were shared by Paris Hilton. Yes, THE Paris Hilton, as she championed a call for donation for his programme, CHESS IN SLUMS. A month later, former Manchester United player Patrice Evra travelled to Nigeria specifically to see Tunde and spend some time under the bridge playing with the boys and posing for photos with them. If you want to see his entire journey, check him out on Twitter where he has documented his entire story. All in all, over 500 children from difficult neighbourhoods in Lagos have benefitted from the Chess In Slums programme.
But we will be amiss if we don’t point out what those many boys who all lived homeless under the bridge gained from the Chess In Slums programme. Some were reunited with their family. A few showed a knack for tech and are now learning how to code, all expenses paid. A few have integrated normal society and are currently working regular jobs. Some have shown a great knack for chess and one or two are on their way to becoming grandmasters, winning cash prizes as they go along. Many have returned to school with the Chess In Slums programme paying for their education.
Why am I telling you this story?
Well, first of all, yesterday we posted a screenshot of one of our Twitter followers who mentioned that everyone can try, like Eto’o to make something out of the little they have going. Many people that I daresay are not our followers, came to insult and make light of her tweet.
But we can see how what our Twitter friend said turned out for Tunde. What Tunde started with a chess board snowballed into something beyond teaching kids how to play the board game.
He gave them the power to dream beyond their environment by showing them the potential locked inside them.
Many of those kids were invited to places that they could have never dreamed of. Places that many of the people who ran their mouths yesterday have never set foot in. One airline company even offered to fly the kids in a plane over Lagos, so they could see the city.
Do you know what that can do to a teenager that was left to himself and had been living under a bridge for the better part of his teenage life? Just the sheer amount of mind-broadening that can bring to that child? To climb into a plane and see how big the city is? At home much lies beyond the bridge he has been living under?
The second reason I am telling you this story today is that since you guys hold Nigerians in such great esteem then I had better give you an example from there. I could have gone with a Cameroonian, but since you can’t take the example from Eto’o of all people, then what would be the point?
We underestimate the power of small acts. Small acts, done repeatedly, become habits – good or bad. And habits can make or break us. My aunty always says it is the little drops that make the ocean. If you think about how large and full the oceans are, you can begin to imagine the butterfly effect of what you say, think or do. Of how the chewing gum wrapping you put in your pocket instead of littering the streets, can contribute to nation-building.
There’s great power in starting small, in doing small things. Tems recently shared a photo of where she recorded her “For Broken Ears” EP. The EP that has songs like ‘Damages’ whose video has millions of views today. The same EP whose song “Higher” was sampled by the rapper Future. . It’s mainly two speakers, a laptop, a mic, and a keyboard placed on her bed.
We don’t have to be Billionaire Eto’o before thinking of how we can improve our country.
The greatest miracles often start in the smallest of places.
– Wandji Wilfred.