Room D8 Angola Hall of the University of Ife is one place that will always trigger fond memories. Between 1982 and 1983, I lived there with some of the most remarkable characters it was my privilege to encounter in my 7-year Ife odyssey.
Obasi, Obegolu and Molokwu, foremost denizens of D8 were medical students, but in the matter I shall shortly reveal they were as committed as, if not more, than I was. There was also my bunkmate, Kehinde Aremu; a civil engineering major who was always going to become a parson. His particular passion was beyond question. Kola Amodu and Femi Sharaibi were D8’s most important tenants: they were national chess players. The duo, really colourful fellows, spent a larger chunk of their waking hours around the game.
It was only a matter of time before the rest of us got initiated into the cerebral cult of chess. And the beautiful thing about the game is this: it has no place for luck. You excel either because you make smart moves or you exploit the not-so-smart moves of your opponent. Even though the rigorous demands for studying architecture could never permit me hone my skills past the very rudimentary levels, so genuine and deep-rooted was my interest that thirty years along, the names of International Grandmasters of chess like Gary Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky are still lodged stubbornly in my head. In chess, I embraced the clearest meaning of the words, gambit and endgame.
Maybe because I never graduated beyond the lower rungs of proficiency, a singular concept became my most cherished: stalemate. For those not conversant with chess, here’s a brief run-down.
It is a two-player game played on a chessboard which is a chequered, 64 squares flat board arranged in an 8×8 grid. It looks a lot like the local ‘draft’ board. A game starts with each player having 16 pieces: eight pawns, two bishops, two knights, two rooks, a queen and a king; each with different movements and attacking patterns. The objective is to ‘kill’ or ‘checkmate’ the king of the opponent by hemming it into a situation it can’t wriggle out from. The whole course of the game is usually divided into opening, middle game and endgame.
Stalemate is an endgame situation. When the king, although not in check, can only move into a position of check and no other piece can move, a stalemate happens. Kings and potentates shouldn’t commit suicide! Of course a stalemate means the game is a draw which is why as a greenhorn; I always looked forward to it.
The more I think about 2015 and the concomitant socio-economic and political permutations, the more I’m convinced Nigeria is headed for a stalemate of sorts.
Nigeria has never been this polarised along the ever-widening ethno-religious chasm. This has grave implications, not only for the 2015 general elections, but the very survival of the nation. And like in a chess game, the two players – PDP and APC – do not seem to be making any provisions for losing; especially at the presidential level. There is a real possibility the presidential contest will involve a run-off, and whoever eventually wins will be burdened with superintending over a severely fractured polity.
Dangerously tumbling oil prices for a nation that depends almost entirely on oil earnings to run its affairs can only mean one thing – economic stalemate. As I write, many states and even the federal government are lagging embarrassingly behind in paying statutory bills; and it can only get worse in 2015. When you add the on-going, murderous, money-guzzling insurgency in the northeast to the already potent mix, you have the making of a socio-politico-economic time bomb waiting to implode in our faces.
A stalemate isn’t such a bad thing; at least for underdogs: and underdogs aptly describe what most Nigerians are and have been for the most part of half a century. A stalemate presents a refreshing opportunity to start all over again in the tasking and strategic game of nation building. Much like in chess, 2015 might just present us the privilege of that critical gambit: re-ordering and re-arranging our assets towards finally checkmating the demons we permitted to corner us into this pretty pass.
As a nation, we have long fantasized and longed for the opportunity to remake Nigeria. 2015 might just be our year of repentance and the beginning of true recovery.
On the other hand, a stalemate can also be an excuse for tired and frustrated players to pack it all up. Some years ago, certain people predicted that was just what Nigerians will do in 2015.
It doesn’t have to be so. We shouldn’t abandon the game in 2015. We dare not. Amen!
The writer is Olugu Olugu Orji. Email: [email protected] Blog: oluguorji.wordpress.com