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Nigerian Child Chess Prodigy Who Won Championship at 8 Is Granted Asylum to Stay In US. Now His Sights Are Set on World Title

A Nigerian immigrant who defied the odds and became a chess champion at 8 years old while living in a homeless shelter has been granted asylum to stay in the U.S.

Reports show Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi and his Christian family left their homeland to escape the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram in 2017. They later sought religious asylum out of fear of what could happen if they returned to Nigeria.

Even though Tani’s family struggled to maintain permanent housing in New York, the talented chess player took the sport by storm. When Tani was in the third grade, he defeated 73 other chess players in his age group to win the state championship. Two years later, he became the national chess master becoming the 28th-youngest person to secure the title.

Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi National Chess Champion
Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi celebrates becoming an American national master at the Fairfield County Chess Club in Norwalk, Connecticut, in May 2021. (Photo: The U.S. Chess Federation)

Tani wanted to take his winning strike global, but he could not leave the country because of his immigration status and pending application.

“That was a very big challenge for him,” Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi, said.

Tani’s family has since found a permanent home after the first story of his chess accomplishments went viral. A GoFundMe account his father created was flooded with $257,179 in donations, surpassing the $50,000 goal in 2019.

Now the family has another reason to celebrate. The 12-year-old boy, his parents and his older brother, have been granted asylum and can continue living in the U.S., allowing Tani to bring home more trophies and medals to add to the showcase, especially the title of grandmaster, one of the highest accomplishments a chess player could reach.

“It feels amazing because it’s been such a long journey,” Tani told The Washington Post. “I’m just grateful that we’ve gotten this opportunity.

Tani learned the game at his elementary school in Manhattan and grew so fond of it that he asked his mother to join the chess club. Soon afterward, Tani competed against other young players and grew into a player no one could beat. He became a national master in 2021. However, the family’s asylum case loomed over his head.

The Adewumis applied for asylum in 2019 and had to wait on a court date amid a lengthy immigration process and the COVID-19 pandemic. They feared they would be sent back to Nigeria, where their lives would be in danger because of their beliefs.

Boko Haram members were looking for Tani’s father right before they fled the country, the BBC reports. He owned a printing business in his hometown and was approached by Boko Haram members about printing pamphlets, and he refused. Men went to his home days later and questioned his wife and sons.

“I was seriously worried,” he said.

Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi's family
The Adewumi family poses for a family photo in December 2021. (Photo: Facebook/Kayode Adewumi)

However, attorney Matthew Ingber learned about Tani in 2021 and assembled a legal team to help the Adewumis with the case.

“There is always risk associated with any trial,” said Ingber, adding that deportation is “always a risk when you’re dealing in these types of asylum cases.”

The lawyers helped the family “speed up the process and ensure that they got a favorable outcome,” attorney Christopher Mikesh said. “What we thought would be a better idea is to try to convince the government that this case really was open-and-shut, and there was no real question that our clients deserved asylum.”

“They’re active members of their church, of their community, of their school. They really are a paradigm case for granting asylum,” Ingber explained. “They are contributing in ways that should make us all feel very proud to have them as part of our country.”

The family had a hearing in July, where a judge reviewed the application and moved it forward to the next step. The final approval was granted in October, and the family received their asylum cards on Nov. 30, The Washington Post reports.

The father said they would apply for permanent residency in about a year, which would give them the flexibility to travel.

Tani is now excited about his chances of winning the grandmaster title.

“I know I will do it, and I know it will happen,” he said. “The future is bright. It’s full of color and good things.”

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