Boxing is not new in Nigeria, but female boxers have only recently started commanding the respect they deserve in and out of the ring. They still earn less than their male counterparts, though.
Aishat Oriyomi, a 23-year-old amateur boxer from Nigeria, is kicking her feet in the air in short sharp thrusts. She is standing in the middle of a circle of fellow boxers who are all copying her. She counts the kicks and the boxers, 10 men and 10 women, repeat it. The short dreads on Oriyomi’s head bob ferociously up and down to the rhythm of her movements. Her small, sinewy body moves with alacrity. Sweat drips down her face, but she doesn’t falter. She keeps moving at an insane speed. And that was just the warm-up.
Oriyomi is kicking the air with purpose and precision late afternoon on a humid day at the Brai Ayonote boxing gym at the National Stadium in Lagos. She is part of a team of 20 young men and women who have been selected for National Camp, a boxing retreat in the beautifully dilapidated gymnasium. Their training regime is strict: no smoking or drinking and no sex.
Four hours every day, from 7am to 9am and 4pm to 6pm, the aspiring boxers work out; they shadow-box, skip, run and spar. The young men and women are training for the All Africa Games that take place in Morocco from 20 to 29 August. Only 10 athletes will be selected to attend the games, the others will go back home.
One of the rules of the camp is that no media are allowed, head coach Anthony Konyegwachi tells me after Oriyomi and her colleagues have finished the warm-up. The reason I could just amble into the training camp and observe the boxers working out is standing next to me. James Emeka Ike is my long-time boxing coach, he trained me for seven years at the Hillbrow Boxing Club in Johannesburg. He moved back to his hometown eight months ago and continues to train boxers at National Stadium, his old stomping ground.
“Okay, you can stay, but no photos,” says Konyegwachi after we have thrust all our charm on him.
This article was initially published at NewFrame