The gate that leads into Ebenezer Primary School in Egbeda, a Lagos community, is manned by stern-looking, Indian hemp-wielding youth. The weekday bustle of pupils screaming at the top of their voices and teachers struggling to rein them in make way, at after-school hours and on weekends, to a cloud of smoke from cigarettes and cannabis that hangs over the premises.
And on such days, unfamiliar faces are not welcome.
“We don’t know you and the earlier you reveal your mission here the better or else you will leave here with a broken head or nose,” one of the youth barked at this reporter, puffing away from a giant wrap of Indian hemp, while the rest of his crew circles awaiting a chance to pounce.
Champions in the making
But a hundred meters away from the gate is where the real action is happening: a group of youngsters engrossed in a back-breaking training for a chance to become Nigeria’s next generation of world-renowned boxers. About seven tyres and a bamboo tree were quickly converted into a makeshift goal post and each of the boxers took turns to dangle on it in a bid to build shoulder, arm, and chest
Then beer and soft drink bottles were arranged as cones for the youngsters to jog through. This particular task, as remarked in an earlier interview by the West African Boxing Union (WABU) welterweight champion, Rilwan “Baby Face” Babatunde, “helps with the side shuffle, as a boxer you will want an area that’s about 15 feet long. Throwing cones down at each end of the course is a good visual cue for where you will want to start and stop.”
With no training gym in sight, a square of a football pitch is cut out for training, and when it rains, one of the empty classrooms is then converted to a training ring. It amounts to time-wasting if you’re looking forward to seeing a punching bag here, rather the boys whose age ranges between 5-16 depend on Coach Tipo to guide them through the training day.
And that is the reality of grassroots boxing, where aspiring young boxers come every evening to harness their and skill begin the journey unto greatness.
One of the boys is Makinde Israel, 14, in the lightweight category. Like many of the boys around, he wants to become Nigeria’s Floyd Mayweather.
“My love for boxing dates back to six years ago when I watched a fight involving Mayweather on TV. I later told my mummy about my dreams of becoming a boxer,” he says. ” I later saw some of my friends training here at Ebenezer Primary School and quickly informed my mother. She then signed me up with Coach Tipo.”
Makinde believes training to become a professional boxer has in no way hindered his education. ” I usually return from school around 4 p.m. and the first thing I do is to make sure my school assignments are properly done, carry out household chores, then head straight to boxing training, which usually starts at 5 p.m.”
They said it is difficult to stop a man who has a will, and that best describes the passion that runs through the vein of the figure behind this dream.
Braving the odds
Coach Tipo (real name Taiwo Adegbite) cuts the figure of a man determined to carve out a road in the middle of a thick bush.
According to him, he is not the clog but the wheel that is set out to change the face of boxing in Nigeria.
It was the video of 10-year old boxing sensation, Sultan Adekoya, that brought Tipo into the limelight. Tipo confirmed that the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, had stumbled on Adekoya’s video on social media and declared his intention to adopt the kid and help him on his path to becoming boxing greats.
“Yeah, the minister sent people to us that he would like to adopt Sultan and he actually promised to support our project here too. I only pray that he does that by the special grace of God,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
But the roads have been bumpy for Tipo who, despite setting out to give back to the community he had lived for most of his life, is faced with the daunting task of raising funds to purchase boxing gloves and other training equipment.
“There was no money to purchase anything at the start due to lack of financial supports, but the passion kept driving me on. I then approached my younger brother who is good in the furniture business to come up with boxing gloves. Luckily, he came up with one and that was how we started.” Coach Tipo told PREMIUM TIMES
Tears welled up in his eyes as he narrated the ordeals that characterised his boxing career, which was plagued by a reoccurring shoulder injury. His vision then met his match when he was advised to start up a boxing academy.
He said: ” My dad was a boxer and we were based in Ghana at that time. He actually introduced me to boxing after he quit the sport. I was staging my fights in Ghana, but a dislocation around the shoulder is a suicidal mission for any boxer, so I had to quit active boxing. But I still love the sport, I was later advised to start up boxing class for kids and I’ve never looked back since then.”
Need for intervention
With many promises left unfulfilled and boxing in Nigeria gradually losing its popularity in the grassroots, it is pertinent that the sports ministry come up with a well-laid plan to help support Tipo’s visions and dreams for the future of boxing in Nigeria.
Already, many are clamouring for a boxing gym around Egbeda to enable the youngsters train. And it will be the right step in the right direction if the Nigeria Boxing Federation and the Sports ministry can build on the many Coach Tipos scattered across the country.
Tipo, though, isn’t quitting, but he and his boys need lots of encouragement. And for kids who defy the odds to train daily in such a hostile environment, it’s just a matter of time before the delinquents who turn up to watch the boys train daily are won over as Mike Tyson did.