*I am sad boxing will not be part of Nigeria contingents to this year’s Olympics, he laments

Kingsley Abavo, Benin

Azania Omo-Agege is a member, Nigeria Boxing Board (NBB). In this exclusive interview with Spy News in Benin-City, Edo State Capital, at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, venue of the boxing event at the recently concluded National Sports Festival, he bared his thoughts on the organization, welfare and its general outcome; particularly as it affects boxing.

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Mr Azania Omo-Agege, member Nigeria Boxing Board.

Sir, as the National Sports Festival ends tomorrow, (14 April, 2021), what is your impression about the quality of organization, welfare, and general outcome?

As an overview, the welfare has not been very encouraging, even as I speak to you, the officials don’t have a place to stay today, though I spoke to the deputy Governor last night, he actually promised and assured us that things will get much more better, and that he will handle the situation. If not for the crisis, we would have finished today but we had to extend it one more day. But so far so good, we are not really complaining, we have to take it the way we see it. And my general impression in terms of preparedness; don’t forget we have been training for this game since, even when it has suffered series of postponement; the athletes have been active, the boxers have been there, all prepared, I think we did well; that is why boxing is good, all the champions we had been thinking are our number one, right there we had a lot of upsets, so we are grooming more people, getting more persons to come to the fold and I think boxing will progress from here too.

Thank God that you are in the boxing board. We just observed that in terms of training of our referees; some of them are far behind knowing modern rules of the game, and display of questionable integrity. Your take on that Sir?

That is not true, one thing about the Boxing Federation, we don’t focus strictly on the boxers, but the coaches, referees and judges; they are at par with everything: International standard, they know the rules, they go for refresher courses; they just returned from Cameroun, 16 of them, they went for coaching course. All the referees, coaches you see here are ranked; they have stars with IBA, one star, two stars or three stars. So they are very up to date with the modern rules. Don’t forget we are under IBA and it is the IBA rules we follow we are very current, we are not lagging behind and in terms of integrity, they wouldn’t have been here if they don’t have integrity. They are doing well and so far, I am impressed with their decision and all. It is just that people should learn to respect their decisions as no one can win always. If you lose, take it in good faith; that is sportsmanship.

So what is IBA?

IBA is our international body that controls the main boxing Federation itself just like you have FIFA to NFF. They are all hooked up with the IAC that goes for the Olympics.

We witnessed here particularly on Friday; (9 April, 2021) the base of the boxing ring canvas was repeatedly breaking apart and officials had to do emergency repairs, to allow the game continue but no success, and proceedings had to be stopped till the following day: Saturday (10 April, 2021). Most fans were not happy, holding the opinion that the materials were inferior. What is your impression about that Sir?

I choose not to comment on that, please let us leave it at that, and spare me that if you don’t mind

All right, from the outcome of this competition, what do you think is the future of the game of boxing in Nigeria?

Like I said, we have just noticed some new talents coming up. For me personally, I am very impressed because we have about two University graduates that took part in this year’s games and if we have graduates taking part like that, the perception about boxing that it is a game for thugs, school drop-off, and never do well, would change in no distant time; for example, we have a series like the boxing league; it is called the Nigeria Boxing Series, we fight every year like for six weeks, every two weeks, we tried our first edition in Lagos, we are going to be starting the second one in June, we are trying to bring in all these boxers, and we are considering taking the game of boxing to the Universities, we have talked to NUGA, and they have agreed to bring in boxing. When boxing goes to the Universities, we are going to be having the students interested and from there, the new crops of boxers that we would be having will be graduates, they would be easier to teach, and the perception of boxing would be positively different and we will take it from there. But so far boxing is growing and thank God, the likes we have before, are no more there, we are still grooming new ones; we have big boxers too, are you aware of Efe Ajagba? He is one of us, he just left here about four years ago, look at him today, he is ranked number 10 in WBC, he is doing extremely well, we have Evelyn Akpochi the same thing, we are grooming, we will definitely get there and boxing will come back to where it was before but I am saddened, that for the first time ever, in this year’s Olympics, boxing will not be going. In the entire history of Nigeria, this is the first time boxing will not be featured.

So what happened?

I don’t want to comment on that. Let’s leave that at that but we will resolve all these things later but I am pained, really pained!

Most of the coaches and boxers lament the poor level of sponsorship which of course, negatively impacts the quality of the game in Nigeria.

I agree with you and I am not happy with that either, that is why we started the boxing league to see how we could drag sponsors in. Let me take you back to what I was telling you about the Universities, and the league. When we have crop of boxers from the Universities, there is possibility that when sponsors see this, they will be more interested. But you see, our hands are tied; don’t forget we are under the Sports Ministry and to be very honest with you, I won’t shy away from this, we have not been treated fairly, because we are not registered with CAC hence we can’t go out to seek funding from sponsors. We are under the sponsorship of the Sports Ministry itself and any time we want to go for events, you know the normal syndrome; no money so where does that leave us? And any time we want to go get our money, it is a problem. We have a boxing hostel in Lagos where we generate little money from, a hostel that we built from the scratch; the General Kenneth Minimah led Board, and the Lagos State Government gave us the land. We generate income for our activities. Unfortunately, now the Sports Ministry wants to concession that hostel why? I don’t know! Funding for all the events we do is from there and now concession it to who? We are not happy about it; I must be very honest with you. That is boxing home and if that is taken away from us, where do we go? They just want to kill the sport. 

Now, in all of these, what is your Board doing about it?

We are working on it; it is not something I can discuss with you here now

Okay, but don’t you look at the future when you will have big sponsors in the mould of the communication giants similar to what the NFF is doing for football?

If we are on our own; yes we will! Don’t you see how Football had to fight to get away from the Sports Ministry, that is why they are excelling but all other sports are tied to the Sports Ministry. We can’t go seek funding outside, it is very difficult, and they won’t let us register with the CAC. If we are Independent which we are supposed to be, once we do that we are fine.

Suppose your Board or subsequent Boards keep pushing, do you foresee this aspiration coming to actuality in the future?

Obviously, it can’t continue like this, definitely it will come to actuality if they want boxing sport to progress.

All right, now your message to subsequent National Sports Festival: Government and athletes as Edo is drawing the curtain

Yes, Edo is drawing the curtain but I am not happy either and this is particularly to boxing. I would advise, since you say you are here, it will be very good for you to talk to your sports people here, and actually talk to your Edo boxing people. You see, we all have own States and next time, another State will host. We might go to Oyo or Delta States for the next Festival; they are bidding. Don’t forget, the boxers will also leave here and go there to participate. So will it be okay to beat or fight them just as they are doing here? It is not proper! So, they should stop all these thuggery and violence, it is not right. Some of my coaches had broken head from the violence they unleashed on everybody. Of course when I leave here now, I will be going to the UBTH to pick up the bill of one of my boxers. This is not fair! We have a standing process in boxing: if you are not satisfied with the outcome of any fight, you complain, you go for appeal.

Finally, as a Deltan your rating of the Delta State athletes and funding to this Sports Festival?

(Bubbling with obvious enthusiasm) How can you ask me such question when we are number one on the medals’ table? You should trust my Governor, we are sports loving State, and we don’t joke with sports. We defeated every other State; thank God and Governor Okowa for what we have achieved. Not only that, I represent the South-South. So I am happy that my South-South people did very well. At least after Delta, Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross-Rivers so, we did very well. So I am going home with my head high, happy that the South-South is still holding sway just like when we were Bendel, at least you can’t take sports from us but Delta still remains number one and all thanks to my Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa (Ekueme)!

Congratulations!

Thank you for having me