- Nwakpa, Okorodudu speak up on reviving game
Nigeria has had her fair share of prestige and honour in the league of boxing nations, both in the Olympic, Commonwealth and other international games in the recent past, as the sport, next to athletics and football, has put Nigeria’s name on the Olympics’ map, with laurels coming from prolific pugilists, who fought so hard to popularise the game in the country.
In the past, boxers fought with raw talent, raw power and little techniques, but they were later nurtured to face the test of time. Most glorious boxers were picked from Western and Southern Nigeria.
Lagos, especially, was like a Mecca of boxing in the country. Lagos Island, popularly called ‘Isale Eko’ and Ajegunle, the acclaimed jungle city, both have rich history of producing talents in every area of endeavours and Mushin, where notorious individuals always come from till date, produced tough boxers for the country.
Going down memory lane, Nigeria’s first ever Olympics medal came from boxing through the late Nojeem Maiyegun, who won a bronze medal in the light middleweight class at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Eight years later, the country won another bronze medal at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972, through Issac Ikhuoria in the light heavyweight class.
Peter Konyegwachi won a silver in the featherweight category for Nigeria at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, while David Izonritei and Richard Igbineghu won a silver medal each in the heavyweight and super heavyweight categories, respectively, at the Barcelona Games.
Qualification for all these boxers to represent Nigeria was like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle. They went for screening, had very good training programmes and were camped under strict and tough conditions.
The boxers were highly motivated with adequate resources and more techniques of the game with training tours of Cuba, London and/or America.
But unfortunately, it is a different ball game nowadays. According to former boxer, Obisia Nwankpa, pugilists, these days, have been neglected and abandoned. No more discoveries in boxing. No more catch-them-young programmes for the country’s future Olympic Games hopefuls. No more competent coaches around to impart fresh knowledge of the game on the boxers. Nigeria has been managing for nothing. No more positive results at the global stage.
Nwakpa, whose professional career gave him more prestige than his amateur life, shared his experience with The Point on the way forward in bringing back the glorious days of boxing in Nigeria, shortly after Nigeria failed to win a medal in the boxing event at the last Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.
As an amateur boxing coach, Obisia, has seen it all and has a lot to talk about with his 20-year experience as a coach. He said, “Boxing in Nigeria today needs a revival with a drastic approach and great zeal and determination to turn its fortunes around. You can imagine Nigeria failed in Rio because so many things were neglected. The right people are not in charge of Nigeria’s sports and that is why we can never get good results at the global stage.
“Boxing is my life. I was sad when Nigeria’s only boxer to the last Olympics, Efe Ajagba, crashed out of the medal zone because he was not properly prepared for the task. He was led by blind coaches, who could not see the weaknesses of his opponents. They never knew that boxing has gone scientific.
“I was not expecting much from Team Nigeria because of the way they prepared for the games. The only boxer could not have cost Nigeria too much expenses in terms of preparations, but Team Nigeria suffered so much with inadequate funding and lack of motivation. The athletes were prepared with ‘fire brigade’ approach, because funds were released at the last minute to take the athletes to Rio to honour the games.
“When I was in charge as a boxing coach, I was frustrated and neglected. At a point, I was using my contacts to feed the boxers and also transport them to feature in many boxing tournaments. It was hell leading 36 boxers without funding and the Sports Ministry wants us to perform magic. I tried my best to make the boxers happy, because I have accepted the job as a national coach and I did not want to fail.
“Some of the boxers are still around today but not in the country. In 2008, eight of the boxers absconded outside the country when they went for an international outing and from there, we had problem. We cannot replace such promising boxers overnight. It has to pass through another process.
“What I’m trying to say is that the Sports Ministry is not doing enough to encourage and keep the talents in Nigeria. Nobody cares if you are training to win laurels for the country. There is fundamental issues at stake to be resolved. They hired incompetent coaches for boxing. They thought I was not good enough and brought Tony Konyegwachi and Jeremiah Okorodudu. These coaches never knew that there are 27 potential powers to be developed in boxers. They did not also know that there are different styles in boxing.”
Obisia said there was no training for the coaches to keep abreast of modern techniques in boxing, adding that the result would be evident on the boxers they manage.
“The Sports Ministry turned deaf ears to all our advice and they got what they deserved. The countries which were at the forefront at the last Olympics invested billions of dollars in their athletes to stay afloat. We can’t eat our cake and have it. It is impossible.
“Therefore, there should be new awakening and focus. Sports authorities should put on their thinking cap and plan ahead. There is no short cut to success in life. We have the potentials in this country,” he added.
Jeremiah Okorodudu, one of the boxing coaches who led Ajagba to Rio Olympics is of the same opinion.
He argued that more attention should be extended to the development of amateur boxing.
Okorodudu said, “Nigeria went to the last Olympic Games in Rio and came back without a medal in boxing; it was a bad omen and a regrettable outing for Nigeria. “The dwindling fortunes of Nigerian boxing may continue unless drastic measures are taken to bring back the country’s glorious days.
“The government has neglected boxing in Nigeria. The sport has always been a source of medals for the country. In fact, the first three Olympic medals ever won by Nigeria came from boxing. But one cannot imagine why the sport appears to have been abandoned.”
He therefore advised that steady sponsorship of competitions would strengthen many youths in the country, noting that this would engage them productively.
“To raise world class boxers, Nigeria needs to stage more competitions annually. Aside from that, motivation is key to get the best out of the boxers. As at now, boxers are poorly motivated in this country, and this is discouraging many talents from coming into the sport,” he said.
Americans called on their boxing legends to a round table to find a way out of the country’s dwindling state of boxing before they later found their bearing and returned to the top of the game in international competitions. Nigeria could also invite her former boxing internationals together to deliberate on the way forward for amateur boxing.
According to Nwakpa, “Former boxers like Joe Mensah, Isaac Ikhuoria and Konyegwachi and others are still alive. They will come if Nigeria invites them to serve. We need experienced administrators to move Nigerian sports forward.
“Our coaches need enabling environment to train boxers. We need to feed them with good diet and give them enough motivation. We need to provide first class training programme with quality training facilities.
“Above all, there should be enough resources to take them out on international competitions. The boxers need exposure to excel at a global stage.”