Tani whose full name is Tanitoluwa has just won his seventh trophy in just over one year of playing chess at the New York State chess championship. He is the newly crowned chess champion for kindergarten through third grade.

Tani went undefeated at the state tournament last weekend, outwitting children from elite private schools with private chess tutors.

Even with his recent affinity with a chess board, his play has skyrocketed month by month, and he now has seven trophies by his bed in the homeless shelter. He tells New York Times that he wants to be the youngest grandmaster.

Tani with his mum, dad and brother (Espact)
Tani with his mum, dad and brother (Espact)

Apart from being a chess prodigy, Tani is also homeless.

He is a third grader and he lives in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, New York. His family’s request for asylum continues to drag with another hearing slated for August, but Tani says, “I feel American.”

According to New York Times, his dad, Kayode Adewumi rents a car to drive an a bus, and has also passed an exam to be a real estate salesman while his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi has also passed an exam to be a home aide.

Tani’s family fled northern Nigeria in 2017, from the threat of Boko Haram’s brute force, raiding, pillaging, killing and kidnapping. His father, Kayode Adewumi, made the decision to move his family.

ALSO READ: How Africa became a hotbed for terrorism

A study by the International Centre for Counter-terrorism, The Hague, captures the links between terrorism and migration thus, International migration is driven not just by political violence, armed conflict and state repression but just as much by economic and environmental factors. This type of migration is likely to grow enormously in the years to come due to climate change and loss of employment opportunities due to globalization.

“There are multiple causal relations between (forced/irregular) migration and terrorism - but these are generally complex. While it is, in concrete situations, difficult to isolate specific factors as being responsible for migration, a major driver of forced migration is severe state repression involving attacks on civilian populations that, in cases of (civil) war, often also amount to war crimes or war-time terrorism.

Of the over 300,000 deaths from terrorism in 2014, Nigeria ranked second after Iraq with 23.0%. Thus, it is not beyond belief to understand why Nigerians are running overseas.

New York Times reports that, “Tani, his parents and his older brother arrived in New York City a bit more than a year ago, and a pastor helped steer them to a homeless shelter. Tani began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116, which has a part-time chess teacher who taught Tani’s class how to play.”

After asking his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, Tani has since joined the Chess Club after his mother emailed the club to tell the teacher that Tani is “interested in the chess program, which he will like to be participating in,” but she could not afford the fees.

Russell Makofsky, in charge of the P.S. 116 chess program, waived the fees. A year later, Tani’s rating is now 1587 and rising fast. A year ago, he had the lowest rating of any participant, 105. The world’s best chess player, Magnus Carlsen, stands at 2845.)

Tani’s style continues to alarm people. Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, which held a pep rally to celebrate Tani’s victory said, “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person.”

Tani with his Mum and brother. (New York Times)
Tani with his Mum and brother. (New York Times)

Hsu noted that while Tani lacks a home, he has enormously supportive parents dedicated to seeing him succeed.

His family, though very religious, allows him miss practice when necessary, him mom takes him every Saturday to a three-hour free practice session in Harlem, and attends his tournaments. His dad lets Tani use his laptop each evening to practice.

Nonetheless, it is still hard for young Tani, who once cried because he misheard a Judge whom he thought said was going to deport his family. He also cries sometimes from being teased over homelessness.

His school chess teacher, Shawn MartinezHe is so driven. He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”

Makofsky said, “One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources. I’ve never seen it.

New York Times reports that, “Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich this nation — and that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. Back in Nigeria, his parents say, his brilliance at chess would never have had an outlet.

Tani’s Dad says, “The U.S. is a dream country. Thank God I live in the greatest city in the world, which is New York, New York.

Chess in Nigeria

The Nigerian Chess Federation meanwhile continues to struggle with a crushing lack of funding and systemic issues.

In January 2018, Technical Director of Nigeria Chess Federation (NCF), Mr Bode Durotoye appealed to school authorities to include the game in their school curriculum to promote it at the grassroots.

He was quoted by The Vanguard that, "We want the game to begin from schools, both private and public to be part of school curriculum because it is a game of the intellectuals. Man, 22, allegedly breaks into school in Ekiti, steals roofing sheets

“The game has to do with an empire or kingdom as such the players think of how not to allow enemies take over their kingdom.

“The game is open to all categories of age; children, cadets youths even old people of 70 years old and above. It is played by all sex. Our target is that, the game should be well know and be popular throughout the federation. We need media to help propagate the game.”

Secondary School Students at the International Schools Chess league. (Guardian NG)
Secondary School Students at the International Schools Chess league. (Guardian NG)

An International Schools Chess League is organised by the Nigeria Chess Federation commenced. The last one held at Queen’s College, Lagos with over 20 schools in attendance, but none like Tani has risen through the ranks. Signs that Tani could have achieved what he has - in New York - in Nigeria are a pipe dream, at best.

There is a Pedachess Educational Team Championship for Children between ages eight and eleven at Chrisland School, Opebi, Lagos, but it is very unlikely to have the same pedigree and learning power to propel an 8-year-old to over a 1587 rating in just over a year. The enabling environment is lacking.

Tani now prepares for the elementary national championship in May. His P.S. 116 chess program overseer, Russell Makofsky has also started a Gofundme account from his family that has garnered $87,231 as at 4:44 pm on Monday, January 18, 2019.