Are you paid to train these boys here?
Ever since I left Costain, I have not had any paid employment.
How do you assess boxing in Nigeria?
Boxing died because of lack of support. In the past, things were different. Expatriates supported boxing in those days, while the government did nothing for the sport. I remember that UAC brought in a lot of materials and employed many of our boys. Without promoters, boxing cannot grow.
Did you interact with Hogan Bassey when he was alive?
Of course, he knew me quite well. We grew up from Yaba Boys Club before he left for the United Kingdom in the late 1950s. Nobody knew that he would become a world champion some day, but he was always fearless in the ring. By the time he moved to England, he was said to be faster than boxers who grew up in the UK. He was a short man, but he was very determined and quick to respond to punches.
Nowadays everybody wants to play football because of the big money in it. In your time, what motivated boxers in their chosen career?
It was not money. In those days, boxing was more popular than any other sport. Why would anyone leave boxing and go into football in those days? Football thrived only at the school level, while boxing clubs flourished in Lagos. The achievements of people like Hogan Bassey helped to make the sport very popular in Nigeria. So did Dick Tiger, Segun Ajose and so on. When I heard about the death of the former President of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, Laide Adeboye, I knew boxing in Nigeria would suffer. Ajose knew everybody that mattered. He was the man behind Samuel Peter’s rise in boxing. He had the means and the time to attend all the boxing conferences and he was at the ring side when Peter fought. If he was still alive, a man like Segun Ajose would have become a world champion because he beat the last man in Las Vegas. Adeboye would have arranged another person to fight Ajose when the title holder refused to face him. That is the tragedy of the sport, when the man who knows more about something is not there, the game suffers.
Have you ever been injured as a boxer?
Yes, I was injured in the eye once. By then, if you wanted to go into real boxing, no manager would take you if your cheekbones were too smooth; they must shoot out due to continuous punching. There was no protective head gear then and when you wanted to punch, you punched the face. Before we knew anything about protective gears, it took some time. The lips were taking the punishment and they were broken many times. Many materials for boxing were out of the reach before we began to advance. People who had the knowledge, particularly the Europeans, brought in the materials later. My knuckles were rough until recently when they became smooth. We used gloves then, but they barely covered the hands, unlike the ones that are being used today.
At what point did you begin to think of making money as a boxer?
One thing is that I didn’t do it professionally. Some of the boys that I trained occasionally gave me money after they became champions. But my joy then really was to see them win, even after they might have left me. Some of them would bring drinks and ask me to pray for them.
In what other way has boxing positively impacted on your life?
Boxing taught me self discipline and I owe my good health to the sport. Boxing will teach you to be disciplined when it comes to social activities. You must not drink, smoke or be a womaniser. Girls were all over me because of my popularity, but I knew where I came from. So I didn’t get involved in relationship until I was ready to get married.
When did you start raising a family?
It took me a very long time settle down because I am the kind of person that will not stop something until I see it to the end. At the age of 35, I decided to get married after I was convinced that I would able to cater for a family.
Was the woman you eventually married a boxing fan?
Initially, she didn’t know that I was a boxer. When she eventually found out, she wanted to back out. She was afraid that a boxer would be beating her. One thing that people don’t know is that boxers are the most tolerant people in the world. As a boxer, you are not expected to be seen fighting anywhere. When she was apprehensive, she was persuaded that nothing would happen to her, that boxers were not the dredge of the society. So she calmed down. I thank God that we lived a beautiful family life. No matter what, there is nothing you do to me that will make me angry. Women will be women any day. Except a few times we had disagreement, we never quarrelled. In fact, I never beat her because I understand her perfectly. Because I love the European life, when I tell my wife to sit down here until I come back, she will obey me and remain on that seat. That was how I trained her. That is how we are living as husband and wife. She never gave me any problem and thank God, we are Christians.
Where is your wife now?
She is not that healthy now and she is staying with one of our children. But we are still one.
Did any of your children show interest in boxing?
None of them did. But they are all doing well. My first son would have loved to take after me. But as a young man, he got injured in the eye when one of his school mates threw a stone at him. The injury was treated, but I knew that if he got involved in boxing with such an injured eye, his opponent would capitalise on it and target the spot. That could be dangerous.
When will you retire from boxing?
I will continue to train young men until I can no longer do so. I won’t say I am old because everyone knows that if I stay at home now, I may fall sick. If any of my children feels that I should stay back at home, he or she must be ready to find me something else to do that will take my time. I know that by doing exercises, I have remained very healthy. I wake up every morning by 5 o’clock, take my bath and set out on road work. I will stop when God says it is time for me to stop.