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Our interviewee of the week is Ajibola Olanrewaju popularly known as “Papa”. He shot into Nigeria chess limelight with his positional play at National Sports Festival, Imo 98 where he assisted his team to a gold medal winning performance. Subsequently, he has been on the national Olympiad team and All Africa Games national chess team. He is a winner of several tournaments in Nigeria during the course of his playing career that has spanned over two decades. Perhaps, his outstanding achievement in chess is his chess in school organization, Pedachess, that is probably the biggest chess in schools organization in Africa.
We sat down to lunch with him and talked for over two hours. We bring you the transcript in a three parts publishing.
TO: Okay we’ve talked about Pedachess but the question is still there. What is your experience as a chess entrepreneur? How was Pedachess formed?
AO: Okay, well. King was involved. Edunwale King
TO: Was it not born in Chrisland, with your, chess and maths program
AO: Yes, that’s where it started but Edunwale King was also part of the initial thing and Douye Asingbi. He was at the beginning and this guy was… This person was there Yemisi, I have forgotten her surname. Yemisi was there. She was there, then this guy Ogolowa Clifford.
TO: Oh, Ogolowa was with you?
AO: Yes, he was with us at the very early stages
TO: You had a team of very strong players oh
AO: But the problem with Clifford, he was talking above the kids. They couldn’t comprehend him and he couldn’t come down to their level. He was talking chess and they didn’t understand what he was saying and so that’s another quality of a good instructor. You must be able to come down to the children level so it is even better to take a total novice to instruct chess in the primary school than a master but it is always good when you have a master that can come down to the children’s level. For instance I come totally… My favorite class is in nursery two. If you see me with my nursery two kids you won’t believe what you see, I’m almost a nursery two child when I’m there
TO: No, but you will be sacrificing many knowledge for them now, you just give them bits, tiny things, won’t be telling them all the things
AO: No, the mind of a child, you see the questions they throw at you. It’s the amount of pictures you can paint that will make them understand then they would start suggesting things. For instance I remember telling them of the king and the queen and one of them told me that the king walks and the queen and one of them was telling me that the king walks and the queen flies. Immediately he said that, I had an understanding so when I go to the class I say the king walks and the queen flies. You know they are very imaginative, they are very creative. They come up with
TO: You’ve learnt a lot in this your chess in school program. You’ve had wonderful experiences
TO: What did it take to be the most successful chess in school practitioner in Africa?
AO: Ha ha ha, am I the most successful?
TO: But one of them. Nigeria is the most…
AO: Well I’m not maybe you are talking of Pedachess anyway
AO: But what did it take to be…?, I think patience,
TO: Years and years, how many years, 15 years?
AO: No, we’ve been there for, you know Pedachess started employing people with it as in the main concept of growing Pedachess since 2008 so we’ve been there for 7 years but Pedachess has been in existence since 2002 but it was from 2008 that we started expanding
TO: So what did it take, what will you say it really took? Is it knowledge or what are really the key ingredients behind it? Is it that you studied some things?
AO: No, no, no, I think the key ingredient is
TO: Is it character or what?
AO: Yes, character. The mind to better the lot of others that was the idea you see so for me I could bend but when I go to schools I was negotiating with the mind of my instructors. If I’m negotiating with the school and they are offering me peanuts I’m thinking is this enough to sustain an instructor? If it’s not we won’t take it and you know that was where I differed with the likes of Coach B. He felt I was paying too much to my instructors but like two or three years after, he came to tell me that I did the right thing, that he can now see it because when I go to schools I don’t negotiate peanuts because once you negotiate peanuts who is going to sustain? So even now I’m thinking of how to better the lot of my instructors.
TO: Your fees are very small. Many of your schools, your biggest schools have very little fees of N1000
AO: No, they have volume
TO: It’s still small
TO: But it should go to N1500
AO: No, you see those are the things you have to understand, we are leveraging. For instance if a school has the name, you use that name to leverage
TO: Basically, you are working for Pedachess not Pedachess working for you? That’s the key because you did it for the team, for the organization
AO: Yeah, I did it for the organization and there are other people there to that are doing the same thing for the organization
TO: So you are not looking at the organization being something you use but you are trying to serve the organization?
AO: Yes, that way it grows eventually it will grow to be able to take care of everybody’s financial need, eventually. So that’s the growth
TO: So you sacrifice millions for the organization by organizing the…
AO: Yes, the Pedachess annual tournament
TO: And you give out a lot of money in the process
TO: You spend a lot of money that won’t enter your pocket
AO: We want the organization to grow so the organization is investing that’s the way we see it
TO: And it’s your money that you are spending
AO: It’s the organizations money
TO: So how can we increase the size of the chess market collectively as a chess community in Nigeria?
AO: I think
TO: I’m coming, how can we increase the number of people involved in chess as players and professionals. The size of the chess markets as a community in Nigeria
AO: See recently, the president of the Nigerian chess federation came with a program from South Africa and sort of belittled what we are doing here. I didn’t go for the meeting but honestly if I was there I would have told him that it’s not fair to think of us as scrap because even in South Africa, I had somebody from South Africa requesting for our work books because he felt they could use it in South Africa. So the point is people go to schools and they are the one that spoil the markets for themselves. You go to a school and they are offering you peanuts and you are jumping at it. You know we have to place a value on ourselves, when we do the schools will place value on us
TO: Okay that’s how to increase the worth of chess in schools practitioners. First of all the parent body should not look down on chess in school practitioners in the country and chess in school practitioners should not look down on themselves
TO: So how do we increase the size of the chess market for chess players, you know for
AO: Listen it’s the same thing, it’s the same thing. It has a ripple effect, see if people start going to schools and they know that okay I can go to schools, I earn fairly okay, I’m able to sustain myself financially, so chess wise I’m doing well. Now if I’m doing well I’m teaching more kids
TO: Yes, more
AO: Yes more, so I have a lot of kids now playing chess. Oh, this guy is also doing well, he has a lot of more kids playing
AO: In a few years, with all these kids – Daniel Anwuli is a product of our Pedachess – All these kids come and start playing tournament, before you know it some of these kids have parents in key positions in the society and they want to sponsor because their child or their wards are doing well
TO: We were talking about how to increase the size of our chess market then we lost some part of our recorded conversation. I want you to expatiate what you said about increasing the chess market by increasing the values of the instructors and the values of the instructors increase when they give value to the school. So what are the values these instructors must give to the school?
AO: So what I’m saying is you must let the school understand that I’m improving your students, I’m going to give myself to make sure these students are better and like I said, you know I said there is a school I go to as early as 7am, 7am to 8am.
TO: So what makes them better? Is it solving chess challenges, you help children to know how to play the game and they are made to solve chess challenges?
AO: Yes, they start solving puzzles. Let me explain what I said, it’s not like I teach them chess, you know the first thing they start is they start solving puzzles, mate in one, where can the knight go, what is the knight attacking, what to capture, is this check, is this stalemate, they start thinking. Now when they start thinking something start happening in their brain, you know correcting something, you showing them logic, how to think logically. You know so when they start that, all those things are transferable to their academics, all those qualities. So that’s the point, I’m not just teaching them start playing chess, no, no, no, if they get to that level they will start playing but until they get there, we don’t …
TO: So what you are saying is chess in school practitioners should not focus on chess, they should focus on thinking, they should focus on their academics
AO: They should focus on the qualities of chess and how it helps the students. Chess has qualities
TO: Okay they should use chess
AO: As a tool to help the children to think
TO: Not that they should focus on playing chess?
AO: Well focus should not be on playing chess, you see
TO: Do the schools appreciate the difference?
AO: They do. See, a school, for instance I said Oneil is my best product. When I met Oneil, Oneil was below average, his mum came to meet me and said she wanted him to be a member of my school team and I said no, who is your son? She said Oneil and I was trying to remember Oneil, what class? She said he was in year two. Oneil Egwatu, that boy, he’s an average student. These are the best brains in the school. So I said but ma I know what to do, let’s do this, let us get instructors for him at home, let’s start teaching him. So they started teaching him and they were thinking of a way to help him. Then he came to year two then he was in my class, I started helping the guy, I found out that he likes thinking about different things and I started helping him. He started making sense to himself and everybody in the class then to me. So when I saw that, excellent Oneil you are getting it.
TO: So you used chess to develop his logical thinking. We should use chess to develop critical thinking skills, logical thinking, general thinking skills. We should not just use chess to know how to make, how to play the Ruy Lopez or to play the Sicilian, that’s all or the Alekhine defence. Alekhine defence will not lead you anywhere oh but it can get you some points. Okay, so now down to the last two questions. What do we look forward to you doing as a chess player in future? NFOC, Lagos Classic, NBL. So what are your exciting chess plans, future exciting chess plans, what chess plans are exciting you?
AO: I want to demolish everybody but when you say the future, the future is my son
TO: No, no, I’m talking of you
AO: Yes, I want to be chess manager and make all the money
TO: So you are not visionary as a player again?
AO: No, not too much, honestly not too much sincerely
TO: We didn’t even really talk about your playing career in this interview
AO: Ehm, not that important
TO: No we could have talked about your Olympiad qualification, your All African Games qualification and others…
AO: Well, those were interesting anyway but not that important, but really, not too much for me because I can’t give the time that is needed. I want to do other things honestly speaking. I want to go into fashion, I want to go into music, do different things, at a point I have to give up all these chess for something else. I don’t want to be just chess…
TO: So being a chess champion is not exciting you again?
AO: What do I gain but for pecuniary reasons, what else is there?. It’s not like I have one thing I am chasing. Winning a tournament now will not have any impact on me as much as it would have an impact on the likes of Anwuli or Lapite. For me it’s just how much I’m getting from these tournaments.
TO: So what projects are you planning to undertake in the future in Nigeria chess with what opportunities for Nigerians?
AO: Well, Pedachess has quite a lot of things coming up but I might not be in the best… or I might not be disposed to disclose all the things now but we have plans especially for primary and secondary schools, eventually we might start doing things for adults as well.
TO: But you have plans for primary and secondary schools?
AO: Excellent plans for primary schools and secondary schools, even for public schools.
TO: And you don’t want to tell us
AO: Well because there are still issues going on we’ve not finalized yet
TO: So if someone wants to join Pedachess, if someone wants to work for Pedachess, how does he get in?
AO: Well you put in an application letter
TO: Is there a website?
AO: Yes, there is a website
TO: Is there recruitment portal on the website?
AO: No, no
TO: Can you apply on the website?
AO: No, but you can contact people and then…
TO: Who do you contact?
AO: There are people on the website. You can send a mail to someone in the website
TO: So what kind of qualification should the person have?
AO: Well at least you must have finished your HND, BSC
TO: You should have a degree
AO: You should have a degree or a degree in view then we will do an interview anyway for them and we will do a training so we get to meet our instructors because we are working with children so we have to be careful with the type of people we are exposing them to, so we meet all the instructors, we talk to them, we try to see in between the lines.
TO: So if you want to get a job with Pedachess, you contact them through the Pedachess website. What is the website?
TO: www.pedachess.com and you show them your certificate or your
AO: No, no, once you’ve contacted us we’ll call you
TO: Okay, once you’ve contacted, when they are recruiting they will call you
AO: They will call you
TO: Are you recruiting right now?
AO: Very soon. August, we are going to be having…
TO: Okay you are going to be recruiting in August. August is just a few days away
AO: Yes, and we’ll be having a training but what we’ll do is that everybody comes in, we do a general training then after the training those that we want to remain, but some we will do away with anyway once we’ve finished but if you feel you stand a chance we’ll train you
TO: Do they pay for the training?
AO: No, they don’t pay
TO: You pay allowance for the training?
AO: No, but we give them transportation allowance
TO: Wow, that’s wonderful. So you go for free training, no expenses on your path
TO: Do they get to eat?
AO: Yeah, light refreshment
TO: But you have to be a graduate?
AO: Yeah, you have to be or
TO: About to be a graduate
TO: So you are not disclosing any particular projects
TO: Thank you very much Ajibola Olanrewaju