Former Boxing National Light Heavyweight Champion, Jerry Okorodudu, has revealed why he will never take back his estranged military officer’s wife in spite of entreaties from some friends and associates who are pleading with him to allow the woman return to her matrimonial home.
Speaking with Saturday Sun in Lagos, Okorodudu, a former Olympian who is now the National Boxing Coach accused the woman of not only deserting him when he was out of job, but also committing adultery by dating other men when she packed out of his house.
The ex-pugilist turned coach also talked extensively in this interview about how his dad almost truncated his romance with the game which brought him fame and laurels, his famous encounter with Joe Lasisi, how June 12 crisis scuttled his music career, and how a 94 year old woman bathed him in the market square in his village ughelli, Delta State.
At a time, you were reported to be the National Boxing Coach, but suddenly you disappeared and now you are back on the scene again, what happened?
I was initially appointed the national boxing coach immediately after the Olympics in Los Angeles, United States in 1984. But later I took a sabbatical to travel to the United States to acquire more skills and experience that will enhance my job as the national coach. I was in the United States for about eight years, but later returned to Nigeria in 1992. But between 1992 and 2013 life has been very hellish.
Contrary to the norm, the National Sports Commission failed to reinstate me. After making so much efforts the Commission to reinstate me failed, I dragged the Commission to court, and for over 21 years we were in court, until the new Director-General of National Sports Commission, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, came on board. He looked into my case and discovered that I had been wronged, consequently he ordered my reinstatement. Elegbeleye wiped off my tears. He was a man of principles. I’m also grateful to the present Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Kenneth Minimah, when he was Chairman of Nigeria Boxing Amateur Association, NABA, he also played a role in ensuring my reinstatement. I thank God that we still have such people in Nigeria. Both gentlemen rescued me from the affliction I suffered in my quest to get justice.
While battle lasted, I suffered tremendously. My family was seriously affected as the crisis led to the collapse of my marriage. While the crisis lasted, I was struggling to feed. I was living from hand to mouth.
Why did the NSC refuse to reinstate you since you took an official sabbatical leave to travel to US?
I wouldn’t know, but you know there is a lot of politics in sports. While some sports administrators were sympathetic to my cause, others were hostile. Some past directors-general of the National Sports Commission while confessing to me that I had a genuine case however added that their hands were tied. But all the same, I thank God that everything is history today.
What was the genesis of your romance with boxing, can you recall how the journey started?
When I was very young, I used to admire former World Heavyweight Champion, the legendary Muhammed Ali. He was my source of inspiration. I remembered telling my dad that I wanted to be like Muhammed Ali, that I wanted to box and attain fame like him. But my father told me immediately that if I became a boxer that I would die young as a result of beatings inside the ring. I then told him that I would then like to be a musician. I told him that I admired Fela Anikulapo-Kuti a lot.
But I was shocked by my father’s reply. He told me that it would be over his dead body that I would become either a boxer or a musician. He tongue-lashed me saying how can I say I wanted to be like Fela, or that I wanted to become hemp smoker like Fela. In anger, he drove me away from his presence. He later summoned me and told me he wanted me to become a lawyer or medical doctor. But I still stood my ground that I wanted to be a boxer or a musician, he then became angry, and told me in the presence of his friends and some family friends that he would disown me should I take to music or boxing. But my mother told my father not to harass me that he should allow me to take to any profession of my choice. Eventually, I defied my father as I started sneaking out to take tutorials in boxing in some private gyms in Warri where young talents were being groomed to become good boxers. This was how my talent as a good boxer was discovered.
I later started taking part in some tournaments and winning laurels in the process. From there I started representing the then Bendel State in National Sports Festivals before rising to the national level where I later represented Nigeria at the Olympics. When I came back from the Los Angeles Olympics, my dad who initially opposed my plan to become a boxer was among the crowd that thronged the airport to welcome me as a good ambassador of both Nigeria, and Bendel State.
While shedding tears of joy, my dad said he never knew I would become a star in boxing. He told me that back in Warri that he could hardly walk free on the streets again as people were not only cheering him, but would also call others to come and have a look at Jeremiah Okorodudu’s father. This was when we were fighting at the Olympics, and the tournament was being beamed live all over the world. Then I was just 22 years old.
Shortly after coming back from the Olympics, I released my first album; my father was there at the National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos to offer his support. While speaking to some guests before the programme was aborted, who told them that parents should encourage their children in any chosen career of their choice using my own case as an example. But that launch flopped. It was the day General Ibrahim Babangida annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
The announcement of the cancellation of the poll scattered everything. This was how I lost a lot of money which I had sunk into the project. Not only food and drinks that were to be served guests were wasted as everybody out of fear of what might follow the annulment, hurriedly left the venue. This made me to incur a lot of debts, and not only that, the annulment scuttled my plans to hit limelight as a musician.
Although, I was still active in music after this unfortunate incident, my zeal for music waned, and boxing started occupying more of my time and attention.
So, it is not as if you abandoned music completely?
No, I can’t stop singing. My passion for music is still strong. But who knows, if not for June 12 annulment, I would have been a super star in music. That notwithstanding, I still remain an entertainer. You know I’m also a comedian.
Can you remember your first bout as a boxer?
My first bout was against Folorunso Jacob of Nigerian Army in Benin City. During the encounter, the man beat the hell out of me. He beat me so much that my coach said that I had a lot of courage. He later presented me with a boxing shoe, and a boxing pant. My face was heavily swollen after the fight, and when I got home, my mother said I should not be discouraged.
I met Jacobs again. This was almost a year after our first encounter. We were preparing for the then Bendel State Sports Festival, when he saw me, he said Jerry, you again, but I told him that the story would be different this time around.
When we entered the ring, he was shocked that he was meeting a different Jerry, and I knocked him out in the second round. This was how I was picked to represent Bendel State during the National Sports Festival in 1979. I won a gold medal at the tournament in the light middle weight category. I started boxing in the light weight category.
Was it immediately after that National Sports Festival that you turned pro?
No. After the Oluyole Festival, I took part in the National Sports Festival in Bendel State in 1981, where I won gold in the light middle weight category. From there, I represented Nigeria in the African and World championships. I also represented Nigeria in the Commonwealth Games in 1982, and I won a bronze medal. I also won gold for Nigeria at African Boxing Championship which took place in Burkina Faso in 1983. In 1984, I represented Nigeria at the Los Angeles Olympics. However, I lost in the quarterfinals. In that same year, I won an award as Africa’s Best Boxer of the Year.
But immediately after the Olympics, I turned professional. This was in 1985. During the Olympics, although I lost my fight in the quarterfinals, I was ranked the 5th best boxer in the middle weight category in the world. Boxing has opened a lot of doors for me both in Nigeria, and abroad.
In the United States, I went to a grocery shop, but when the owner of the shop saw me, he recognised me as Jerry Okorodudu, the Olympian, he refused to take money. He said I should take everything free. He said I should just sign in their register that Jerry Okorodudu was here. That was in California.
Talking about your professional bouts, can you recollect some of your memorable fights, and what was your experience like in the ring?
I turned pro in 1985. I won several titles – some of my memorable fights include the one against Joe Lasisi which I lost. I won the national title in the light heavyweight category, and later added the African title when I defeated Pat Coulibaly of Ivory Coast. I was also ranked number 16 in the world in the light heavyweight category.
Which of your bouts would you describe as the toughest, and against who?
I had many fights, and I won’t say this or that one is the most difficult. I won some and lost some. But for most of the fights I lost, I lost under controversial circumstances. I’m not trying to praise myself, but I want to say that I’m a very good boxer, and one person I will remain eternally grateful to is Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, former governor of defunct Bendel State.
He was a sports loving administrator, and he did everything to promote and encourage sports, and this is why in those days during national sports festival, you see Bendel State coming first everytime. He set up a sports school in Afuze, and I was in that school for one year. It was from there I travelled to Germany for further training in boxing.
Ogbemudia helped my career in boxing. He also offered me scholarship. Not only that, he also put me and others on monthly salary. My monthly salary then was N16.
Talking about coaches that trained you, which of them would you describe as having the greatest impact on you?
I can’t forget Davidson Andeh. He was a former world champion. He is now suffering in Benin. He is living from hand to mouth. This is a big shame on Nigeria. Somebody should rescue Andeh. He is living like a destitute in a rented one room apartment. His wife had deserted him. Andeh is dying. His problem started when fire gutted his house, and since then it has been a catalogue of woes for him.
Both Edo State and the Federal Government have not done anything to help the man who had at one time brought glory and honour to Nigeria and Edo State. Andeh, during his active boxing career, won many titles at the national, West Africa, Africa and Commonwealth levels. He also won gold at the World Boxing Championship at Belgrade, Bulgaria. Andeh is everything to me. Most of those things I know in boxing was taught by Andeh.
Although, Isaac Ikhuoria at a time was also my coach. He was a good coach but a bad manager. He wants you to keep on winning in order for him to succeed but he doesn’t fight for the interests of his wards. He would fight for his own promotion, but our own welfare as boxers doesn’t bother him. At a time boxers under his tutelage in the then Bendel State threatened to move to Lagos where better incentives were being given sports people.
There was a time we just returned from a tournament in Germany. Ikhuoria bought land in Benin, but he didn’t advise us to do same. It was about 20 years later when I met him that I told him to his face that it was bad that he never deemed it fit to develop interest in our personal welfare as boxers under his tutelage who had all looked up to him as a father.
I now added that he should have advised us also to buy plots of land in Benin that same year he bought his own, but his reply was that his own coach never advised him to do such, or advise him how to use his money.
For those years that you were waiting to be reinstated, how did you cope with life?
It was a period I would never even wish my enemy to pass through. My marriage collapsed. My wife left me but surprisingly now that I have got back my job she said she wants to come back, but I told her that it is impossible, that I will never take her back.
Why won’t you take her back?
It is against my culture to have her back because she shocked me through her action. But when she pleaded, and sent emissaries to me, I asked her to go back to my people in the village, and perform some rites before I can take her back. But she told me that as a Christian that her religion forbids her from doing fetish things.
What are some of the things she has to do?
You know after she left me, she started dating other men, it is a taboo in my family for other men to sleep with a married woman. Our tradition frowns at it. Unless she goes back to the village, and make an open confession in the palace of the traditional ruler, before then I will take her back. But she must first confess her sins before elders. She left me for about eight years. In spite of the separation I still take care of our children. She bore two girls for me and I’m the one picking their bills.
There was a time she prepared food for me, I almost died, and I didn’t get okay until I went back to my village in Ughelli where a 94 year old woman had to bath for me at the market square, and this was how I was able to escape death. When enquiries were made from our deities, it was revealed that I became sick as a result of my interaction and taking a meal prepared by a woman that had deserted me.
Talking about your fight with Joe Lasisi, you claimed that what you saw inside the ring were eight different men, and that it was not only Lasisi you fought, some people said you were thoroughly beaten, and that was why you were seeing different people, what do you have to say on this?
Whether they believe it or not, I still stand by my earlier claims. It was not only Lasisi I fought. I saw different men inside the ring. I was the person inside the ring fighting and I know what happened – these people saying a lot of things were they the ones fighting? Were they inside the ring? I know what happened to me.
Hunter Clay, one of Nigeria’s finest boxers is late now, may his soul rest in peace. He came to my house to make a confession that he took Lasisi to Isale-Eko where a herbalist prepared the juju Lasisi used in fighting me.
He said that he took Lasisi to the juju man for him to beat me because I was becoming too popular. Clay pleaded that I should forgive him, and right there on the spot, I told him that I have forgiven him. But I know Lasisi would never say the truth. He is not a true Christian. Some Nigerian boxers are not clean. Some of them go to voodoo doctors to give them power to fight.
As a former Olympian and now national boxing coach, what must be done to arrest the declining state of boxing in the country?
A lot of the blame goes to the sports administrators. Unlike in those days when administrators showed commitment to the game by organising regular boxing tournaments, nowadays some officials are just after money they stand to make from allocations to sports.
We need a new attitude and orientation. We need to organise regular tournaments not only to discover new talents, but also to keep boxers in shape. I must however give kudos to those now in charge of boxing administration in the country, they have been doing a yeoman’s job to revive the game.
It is not impossible to bring back the lost golden era of boxing when Nigeria produced world boxing champions like Hogan Kid Bassey, and Dick Ihetu Tiger. What is required of us is commitment from all stakeholders.