Friday morning I was still taking to my friend that drove me down to Lagos for my weekend class at Orange Academy about the eight year old lad that just became the best Chess player in New York. A year ago, the now famous boy was a refugee in one of the failed states in Nigeria. Bam, he got relocated, learnt chess and became an authority in the game. All within a year! He’s just eight years old as you read.

What changed? The same boy, the same refugee, the same Nigerian, same brain. I’d tell you what changed.

Environment.

He probably would be preoccupied with spending more time outside classroom than in school because of lack of money to pay school fees if he was still in Nigeria. What am I even saying? Does a refugee have such luxury? He’d be waiting with hundreds of his age mates for the Bill Gates of this world to send food aid through some fancy UN programs for failed countries.

But put the same boy in a place where he could discover a board game like chess. A place where he could be deliberately nurtured to learn the game. A place where he could be decisively coached to be the best he could become in the same game. And what you see is a different result. The disparity would be so outrageous you won’t be able to comprehend and believe the possibility.

A poet friend of mine I met through my ex broke a cheerful news on his Facebook page on same Friday night. He just got admitted to Grad school–without a first degree. Let me put that in a familiar perspective. He is going to have a Masters degree without a first degree. How come? What happened?

Environment.

Just a year ago, Romeo my friend like thousands of his age mates was regarded as a nobody in Lagos. I mean, to stand a chance of being regarded as a decent, even if not respectable person, you have to have a first degree and ensure it is not a third class certificate. Or be stupendously rich. If you disbelieve me, check adverts for job opportunities in the dailies. Romeo doesn’t have this Nigerian means of identifying dignified persons because our idiotic system of education in this environment can’t comprehend and accommodate his genius. Our system is more interested in result than the process. It is more interested in conservativism than dynamism.
It is only interested in simplistic narratives.

But the system that values every kind of creativity as blessing to humanity identified him and gave him a chance at our expense and arrogance. A year fellowship at Harvard. Within the same period, now this. Grad school. Same boy, Uniben found unfit to have his certificate.

Uniben posing as having sense but Harvard putting paid to such delusion. How can someone qualified to get Harvard fellowship not be able to have your certificate?

This is what the Nigerian environment has been doing to the best of her youths. Quashing the belief in their self-worth. Telling them they are not good enough, that the idea in their heads are not valid and they can’t dare to dream.

The guest lecturer that took me in my Orange Academy class the following morning is a Professor of Literature at Iowa. He said he watched a documentary, “Awon boys”; a nuanced interpretation of ghetto louts in our slums a day earlier at the ongoing iRep International Film Festival and admitted he could see a part of him among these boys. Well for someone who lost his dad at 2 and his mum before 18, this is understandable. It is a typical Nigerian lower middle class story.

But if he never changed environment, how do you think he’d have fared? He’d become a University don in one of the best schools in the world?

I know I’ve been yammering on environment and the nerve to possibly change it all through my narratives but my undertone lesson here is, nothing is wrong with you. You’re enough. Your dreams are valid.

Don’t let the Nigerians system tell you otherwise.

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