Nigerian child chess prodigy granted US asylum

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The family say their asylum status in the US has come as a great relief

At eight years old, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi stormed to victory in the New York State Chess Championships while living in a homeless shelter.

He rose to national stardom with that performance, which saw him defeat 73 of the best chess players in his age group and win his division.

His success in 2019 came less than two years after his arrival in the US. His family had fled the Islamist militant group Boko Haram and left their home in Nigeria.

“We escaped by the mercy of God,” Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi, told the BBC.

“The only thing that we can say is we really thank God.”

The family announced this week that they had been granted asylum by the US government, concluding a dramatic five-year journey that began in terrifying fashion.

During their final days in Nigeria, members of Boko Haram were searching for Mr Adewumi.

He was the owner of a printing business, and one day a group of men asked him to print some informational pamphlets. When he discovered they were Boko Haram members, he refused.

Members of the group entered his home days later – while Mr Adewumi was away for business – and interrogated his wife and two sons. “I was seriously worried,” he said.

He quickly planned his family’s escape and in June 2017 they flew to New York City. They moved into a homeless shelter and his two sons enrolled in school.

Then Tani, who is now 12, found chess.

“I think the game is very creative. I like the strategy and the creativity,” he told the BBC in a telephone interview.

Image shows Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi garnered national attention after his win in New York

The family remained in the homeless shelter while supporting their son’s ambition to become a grandmaster in the sport. Mr Adewumi worked a job washing dishes and his wife Oluwatoyin found a job cleaning.

Then Tani won that famous victory at the New York State Championships and garnered national attention.

A fundraising website for the family raised more than $200,000 (£164,000) and an anonymous donor paid a full year’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment for them.

In 2021, Tani competed at a chess tournament in Connecticut and won every game – becoming one of the youngest national masters in the history of the US Chess Federation.

The family now lives in an apartment in east Manhattan, and say their asylum status has come as a great relief. “We were very very happy. We really appreciate God that it [asylum] came successfully,” Mr Adewumi said.

He has started a new job as a licensed real estate agent and Tani is winning a growing number of chess accolades.

But that isn’t enough for the 12-year-old.

“I hope to become a grandmaster,” Tani said. “Or maybe more than that – a world champion.”

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