Dr. Abdulrafiu Ladipo, president of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control (NBB of C) and president general, Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSC), speaks candidly on the state of boxing and the emergence of several supporters’ club in the country.
Taiwo Alimi and Adeyinka Akintunde conducted the interview.
What would you make of the state of boxing in Nigeria?
It was boxing that first put Nigeria in the world of sport with the like of Hogan Kid Bassey, Dick Tiger, and Mojeed Maiyegun who won the bronze medal at the 1963 Olympics. We had Obisia Nwakpa, Dele Jonathan, Joe Lasisi, and Samuel Peters who made us proud in world boxing.
Unfortunately, in the last fifteen years, boxing has not done well and that calls for concern. Since I became President of NBB of C, we have done like four World Championships of which Nigeria has won three.
Right now we have our own Anthony Joshua who is in possession of four titles. He is a unified champion. We also have Efe Ajagba who has won all his 13 fights.
In the lightweight category, we have good boxers even at home. What baffles me is how much attention and support the country is giving to our sportsmen; in football, track and field, boxing and others. It is when our sportsmen go out that they become stars. Even Joshua did not get his chance in Nigeria, till he got to Britain. It is not right. We must encourage and celebrate our sportsmen and women. The problem with Nigeria is that we don’t appreciate our talent.
Take a cue from the Nigeria Supporters’ Club of which I am the head. No government support us.
When we support, we are not just clapping, we are ambassadors of Nigeria. What keeps us is our love for the country. I don’t make money from the supporters clubs or boxing. I have my school, hotels and business and that is where I make my money.
In 1994 and 1998, supporters club was adjudged to be the best in the world by FIFA. It takes one’s initiative, wisdom, and commitment to do all these.
How do you think that Nigeria’s sport glory can be regained?
Our government should change, and appreciate those giving us good name and image. If we want our sports to continue to rise, we must encourage our sportsmen.
We must go back to our grassroots and concentrates on the youth. We must think of how to encourage our sports men and women.
If we want our boxing to improve, we must look at the young ones like Rilwan ‘Real One’ Oladosu, Ridwan ‘Scorpion’ Oyekola and Oto ‘Joe Boy’ Joseph. They need encouragement. Government should look beyond the amateurs who fight in Olympics and Commonwealth games for only three minutes.
Our boxers must be encouraged to turn pro early so that they become world champions.
What do you think keep Nigerian boxers going in spite of the lack of encouragement from government?
What keeps them going is the spirit of Nigeria. You see, the Nigeria man never say die because he doesn’t believe in losing. They themselves are determined and this leads to success. Where are the modern day facilities, we don’t have it. I’ve been to several countries of the world where you see three to seven storey buildings housing gym equipments to train boxers and sportsmen. Tell me, how many standard gyms can you find in Nigeria?
How about good trainers for the boxers, do we have them?
We have average trainers because they still must go abroad to learn the new tricks in boxing. Boxing is a scientific, dynamic sport that doesn’t stay in one place. One must be open to new experience in order to understand the game.
If you were a sportsman, what would have chosen; boxing of football?
I did both but I stopped playing football when I had injury in my ankle. During our time, football was not as lucrative as it is today. Take Segun Odegbami for example, as brilliant as he was in his days, much money wasn’t there compared to what the young boys of today earn. They control millions of dollars. But thank God, I have my good means of living and I support football but don’t play it again.
What do you think about the multiple supporters’ clubs springing up?
When you are venturing into something that nobody gave a chance, they see you as a fool but the moment you start achieving success they want to start making money like you but unfortunately, supporters club don’t get money except you want to dupe and end up in jail. Some of them used to be our members; they misbehaved, and were dismissed. They want to get rich quick. I was the nation flag bearer for 13 years. It is only telling people that what I did is good enough for people to emulate.
How is the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) reacting to this?
I don’t want to blame the NFF because they are also ignorant of the problem and this has destroyed the unity or oneness in the supporters club. I have worked with various FA boards. Instead of the supporters club to go and cheer the players, they went to the World Cup in Russia to fight themselves and this demoralized the players from giving their best. If Ghana could have 72 various supporters club, and I went there to plead with them and the government put all of them under one umbrella, what stops Nigeria? For me, I have made my mark. I have done what none of them can, and will ever do. I moved the supporters club all over the world. That record cannot be beaten. I was the nation’s flag bearer for 13 years from the 1970s.
What is your opinion on the coming of GOtv into Nigerian boxing?
We must be grateful to GOtv for bringing sanity to the game. In the last three years, they have spent millions of naira not only in organizing tournaments, advertising but giving best boxers awards.
The NextGen idea is the most interesting thing they have done by showcasing upcoming talented boxers, getting them identified and paying for their license.
We’ve discovered over 100 young boxers through their programme. This outfit should be appreciated. God continue to bless them. If we have more of them, Nigeria will be better
The minister of sports, Sunday Dare, in galvanizing athletes, do you think he is on the right track?
He is doing well for now. Perhaps he has seen what previous ministers did not see and he is encouraging athletes of yesteryears. He is supporting and encouraging old and young athletes. He is focused.
I am aware that he is even trying to look into the supporters’ club. What happened to us against Argentina in Russia was that we were scattered, if we had been together, that penalty we did not get, and maybe we would have gotten it. Supporters’ club play behind-the-scene politics in a game.
I am happy with the minister so far, I pray he continues to speak with athletes. I advise him to go to the archives in his office. There have been many suggestions on how to improve our sports. He should read them, take the good and remove the bad ones.