Nigeria Chess icon Aikhoje Odion receives Gold medal after two decades

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International Master Aikhoje Odion receiving his Elista '98 Gold medal from FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich

The African Individual Chess championship was held in Lagos, Nigeria, on the 17th of September, 2022. Nigeria chess icon Aikhoje Odion would have marked over a two-decade wait before receiving the gold medal he won at Elista, Russia, during the 1998 chess Olympiad. The unprecedented debacle which led to the seizure of the medal as a shortie for monies owed was the prelude to a seemingly unending long wait.

During the wait, however, several notable individuals tried to intervene in the issue. Still, non seem to have achieved any meaningful result.

As already known, International master Aikhoje Odion won a gold medal at the chess Olympiad held in Elista, Russia, in 1998. 

The Gold Medal from the 1998 Chess Olympiad, Elista, Russia won by IM Aikhoje Odion

However, due to some issues with his travel arrangements, the International master couldn’t stay behind to receive the medal. At the time, the Executive Director of the world chess federation FIDE, Mr. Emmanuel Omuku, had to accept the Gold medal on Aikhoje’s behalf. Afterward, arrangements were made for the medal to be sent to the Nigerian sports ministry for proper presentation and glamor. 

International Master Aikhoje Odion attending to members of the press.

But things would eventually tumble through a turbulent dark tunnel. The said Chairman of the Nigerian chess federation, NCF, at the time, Architect Theophilus Caiafas, intercepted the medal and held it as surety for his personal expenses in sponsoring the Nigerian chess team to Russia. 

Inquiries revealed there seems to have been a pre-gentlemanly agreement between the sports ministry and the NCF chairman regarding the sponsorship of the chess team. It is believed that the ministry of sports deferred some responsibility to the Chairman, understanding that he would be reimbursed his money on return from Elista.

Architect Caiafas had considered this a breach of the pre-arrangement. He decided to seize the medal as leverage, pending his reimbursement. How morally justifiable such a decision was, remains a question yet to be answered. 

Intervening measures which tried to resolve the issue seem only to have led to further complications. The case between the sports ministry and the erstwhile NCF chairman saw the Nigerian Nobel laureateProfessor Wole Soyinka, involved in an attempt to broker peace between the aggrieved parties. However, no concrete resolutions were reached, and the medal was eventually rumored to have been missing during this unfortunate incident.  

With the saga fast becoming an impasse, the Nigerian diaspora honored the chess genius with a commemorative plaque in honor of his groundbreaking achievements at the Elista, Russia chess Olympiad.

This feat was a milestone by a Nigerian chess master whom few would have thought possible at the time. So on the 10th anniversary of his missing medal, Odion was honored at the Dresden chess Olympiad by the Nigerians in the diaspora with a connotative plaque for his outstanding performance ten years earlier. 

Ever since Mr. Aikhoje’s achievement at Elista, chess in Nigeria has experienced remarkable growth. Many communities in the country can now boast of a local chess club, a thing which, before then, was barely imaginable. 

The transformation since the Elista achievement has been quite immense. The past two decades have seen many schools include chess in their curriculum. Other organizations have taken the game to the many sprawling urban areas where it was much welcomed. From there, it’s gradually filtering into the slums.

Fourteen (14) years after the Dresden honorarium, the Nigerian Chess Federation, NCF, informed the chess icon through a letter that he would finally receive his missing medal. The letter further stated that the medal would be presented at the 2022 African Individual Chess Championship Opening ceremony held in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Letter from the Nigeria Chess Federation NCF

It was only befitting that the current FIDE President—Arkady Dvorkovich, who was on a working visit to the African championship in Lagospresented the medal to IM Aikhoje Odion.

From Left to Right: FIDE President—Arkady Dvorkovich, FIDE Vice President—Mr. Lekan Adeyemi and the 1998 Elista Olympiad Gold Medalist—International Master Aikhoje Odion

With the records now set straight, the horizon seems brighter for much African chess community. The Nigerian chess icon Aikhoje Odion has waited over two decades to claim the gold medal he won in ’98. Few understand how daunting such a long waiting spree could be and the many misgivings that could have transpired between the dueling parties. 

The wait has been long, but hopes are revving again.

Congratulations!

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