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Nick Abaka: Boxing saved me from crime and city’s dreaded gangs

Sunday January 5 2020

Former Kenya International boxer Nick Abaka trains Kochtag Academy boxer Willis Odera on November 9, 2019 in Korogocho, Nairobi. Abaka has established training centres at Our Lady of Fatima Secondary, Damascus Primary School in Korogocho, Kariobangi North Social Hall and Inspiration Centre Church, Mathare. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Former Kenya International boxer Nick Abaka trains Kochtag Academy boxer Willis Odera on November 9, 2019 in Korogocho, Nairobi. Abaka has established training centres at Our Lady of Fatima Secondary, Damascus Primary School in Korogocho, Kariobangi North Social Hall and Inspiration Centre Church, Mathare. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

AYUMBA AYODI
By AYUMBA AYODI
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A mention of these deadly gangs would send chills down someone’s spine. No one would dare talk ill about them, lest he or she attracts their wrath, or an invitation to an early grave.

They would strike hard and with impunity. That no law enforcers would dare cross their line went without saying. Killing wasn’t anything major and for them, it was like striking a housefly.

One of Kenya’s finest boxers, who was at the centre of the dreaded Kamjesh for five years, counts himself lucky and glad to be alive.

As a budding, bubbly and strong boxer, his services were direly needed by Kamjesh and Taliban that had for some time engaged the equally dreaded Mungiki in vicious battle over the control of the Kariobangi matatu route.

These gangs that comprised mostly the youth, got their livelihood by extorting money from public vehicles and private businesses in the Eastlands area.

Who would have doubted the capability of a boxer, who had passed through the fine hands of legendary boxing coaches like the late Eddie Papa Musi, Patrick “Mad” Okoth, Valdez Ochieng, Steve Gacheru and Musa Benjamin? None!

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Sergeant at the KDF

It was the year 1998. He had just joined form one at Our Lady of Fatma, Huruma, having forced his way back to Nairobi, having sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education at Mahero Primary School and passed.

Initially, Nickson Abaka, now a sergeant at the Kenya Defence Forces, had attended Valley Bridge Primary School where he completed his KCPE in 1995 but didn’t perform so well.

His parents would take him upcountry after they feared that he would join bad groups.

Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka
Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka show off jabbing skills on November 9, 2019, during a boxing training session at Kariobangi Social Hall. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Abaka stayed upcountry for two years where his parents, Thomas and Wilfrida Abaka, challenged him to not only go back to class eight, but also get good grades that would give him a place in secondary school if he wanted to return to Nairobi.

“I took the first bus to Nairobi and upon landing I told my mother that I had accomplished their mission. They didn’t believe me,” said Abaka, who donned back his boxing gloves as he joined Our Lady of Fatima in 1998.

However, promises of good life and money swayed him to join the Kamjesh/ Taliban towards the end of 1998.

“They knew I was a good boxer and they saw someone credible, ruthless and fearless in me to defend their matatu territory from Munguki,” said Abaka.

“I combined school, boxing and route management without my parents knowing.”

Picture this: Abaka, who embraced boxing at the age of 11, a year after his father retired from Kenya Police Service in 1990, was already fighting in the Inter Cities competition in 1998.

Zambia's Mbachi Kaonga (in red) lands a jab
Zambia's Mbachi Kaonga (in red) lands a jab against Kenya's Nick Abaka during their 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Oxenford Studios venue in Gold Coast on April 9, 2018. PHOTO | NORMAN KATENDE |

He briefly boxed for Nairobi County, formerly Nairobi City Council (NCC), before joining Posta where he met Valdez, Gacheru and Benjamin, who would pick up form where legendary Musi left.

Abaka was an instant hit in the flyweight category when he stunned the likes of Isaac Sentamu and Tibazalwa Zadat from Uganda to win the inter city in 1988, 1999 and 2000. “I was handed the nickname King Abaka when I beat the Ugandans,” said Abaka.

In fact, he won is maiden national flyweight title in 2000 with Telkom, having beaten the likes of Peter Kusimba and the late Collins Bulinda.

That is when it dawned on Abaka that he was actually a good boxer as he went on to feature in the clash between Kenya and Denmark in 2001.

These are traits that endeared him to Kamjesh’s top hierarchy to cement his place in the gang, and Ben Ado and Dalmas Otieno had to move fast and save this budding and promising boxer from the terrible gang.

Nickson Abaka (in red) of Kenya Defence Forces
Nickson Abaka (in red) of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) throws a jab at Kennedy Ogutu of Thika Boxing Club in the 81kgs light heavyweight category during the third leg of the National Boxing League at Uwanja wa Mbuzi Grounds in Mombasa on October 18, 2018. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT |

Interestingly, Abaka’s parents were not aware that their son had joined Kamjesh and only knew about it when he had quit the group, thanks to the good guidance from the late coach Ado and his trainer, Otieno.

“There is a time my father got me with an expensive phone but I managed to convince him that I bought it with price money from boxing events which wasn’t the case,” Abaka, who almost lost his life one day in Kariobangi when Mungiki struck, explains.

“I am lucky to be alive today and I thank God for giving me a second chance.”

Ado and Otieno stepped in and advised Abaka to change or perish.

“They really pleaded with me to pursue my boxing dream and make my dad who was a former boxer proud. It hit me and I had to change,” said Abaka.

President Mwai Kibaki’s government would later conduct a major crackdown on these dreaded gangs especially Mungiki, who had killed hundreds of people. Human rights group estimated that over 15,000 Mungiki adherence, Kamjesh/Taliban and were executed by Police.

Within four years after quitting the dreaded gang, Abaka had scaled the ladder and would win the Africa Zone Five Championships held at Kasarani in 2005 where he was declared the best boxer.

“I had joined good company of boxers who were dedicated to training and many of my old pals in Kamjesh really wanted to quit drinking and smoking,” said Abaka, who is glad not to have committed any murder.

Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka
Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka reacts during the interview onNovember 9, 2019 at Kariobangi Social Hall. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

That is the championships that opened Abaka’s international career as he would get select for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. However, Abaka missed the Games after he opted to join the military.

“I choose employment first since I was still young with a bright future ahead in boxing,” said Abaka adding that things proved challenging on return from military training but he managed to make the national team and up for the Africa qualifiers for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Namibia.

Abaka pounded his way to welterweight final, a feat that saw him qualify for the Summer Games despite losing to home boxer Mujandjae Kasuto.

Abaka qualified alongside Nick Okoth, who won his featherweight bout with Bernard Ngumba (fly) and Aziz Ali (light heavyweight), who settled for silvers.

Unfortunately, Abaka would fail to make his maiden appearance at the Olympics after he broke his jaw in one of the military tournaments.

The injury locked out Abaka for one year only to make a return in 2010 with the inter services and brigade championships proving a good return launch pad and right on time for the 2011 World Military Games in Brazil where he secured bronze, atoning for his failure in 2007.

Abaka would captain the national boxing team, “the Hit Squad” for the first time for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a position he held until last year.

Abaka, who also competed at the 2014 World Championship, was lucky to be among three Kenyan boxers picked for the inaugural AIBA professional ranks alongside Rayton Okwiri and Benson Gicharu.

Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka
Former Kenya international boxer Nick Abaka explains a point during the interview onNovember 9, 2019 at Kariobangi Social Hall. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

In honour of his coaches who rescued him from a bad gang, and his parents, Abaka, who hanged his gloves after winning bronze in light heavyweight at the Africa Military Boxing Championship last year, wants to give back to the society through the formation of King Abaka Foundation.

Abaka want to focus his energies in training children from less privileged areas like Kariobangi, Korogocho, Dandora and Mathare.

“I had mentored many boxers like Edwin Okong’o and I thought it wise not to start competing against them.

“I moved from middleweight to light heavy for the African evet but decided to hang up the gloves once and for all,” said Abaka, who was in October honoured by the Chief of Defence Forces, Major General Samson Mwathethe, for his exemplary service and achievements.

Abaka won 420 bouts out of 480 that included national titles in welterweight (2007-2008, middleweight (2013- 2016) and light heavyweight (2017-2018).

“These children aged between nine and 18 are always left alone after school especially after 4pm during the weekdays and at the weekend. That is the time most of their parents are not home hence idle,” said Abaka adding that the Foundation isn’t about himself but for boxers whom he wants to take over from him.

50 boys and girls

Abaka, the father of three, has already established training centres at Our Lady of Fatima Secondary, Damascus Primary School in Korogocho, Kariobangi North Social Hall and Inspiration Centre Church, Mathare.

“I am dealing with close to 50 boys and girls aged between nine and 18 and its amazing within this short time,” said Abaka, who is targeting to open more centres in at Huruma Primary School and Dandora Phase Two Social Hall.

“Tentatively, I train these kids over the weekend and holidays and I am lucky to get some equipment from friends.

I also want to thank these kids’ parents for their valuable support,” said Abaka adding it was his dream to form a foundation, give his children good education and his family shelter and a place to call home, was his dream.

“I am glad I have achieved this,” said Abaka. Interestingly, Abaka didn’t learn his boxing skills from his middleweight boxer father, who represented Kenya Police Boxing team fondly known as “Chafua Chafua.”

“I never accompanied my father to his boxing matches or training,” said Abaka. “It’s when he retired in 1990 and moved to Kariobangi that I took up boxing.”

Abaka’s mother resisted him taking boxing because she as “tired” of having all boxers in her house. “My late brother Benson and Gabriel were boxers and mum didn’t like it,” said Abaka.

“My son Floyd is gladly following into my footsteps.”

Abaka, who was born in 1980 at General Service Unit headquarters, Ruaraka, said bullying by hardened Kariobangi Estate kids forced him to take up boxing.

Abaka explained that they were considered rich, having come from GSU after his father retired.

“We had Game and Watch gadgets that was popular with kids and these Kariobangi kids forcefully took them from us,” said Abaka.

“One day when I was from school, I decided to peep through a window at the Kariobangi Social Hall where boxing training was going on. I had the idea of embracing boxing so as to stop these bullies came through.”

It shocked Abaka that he would come face-to-face with people who knew his father - coach Musi, Steve Moi and Steve Mwema - at the hall. “Musi, who gave me my first boxing lessons, was amazed with my natural boxing talent and at one time he remarked that I boxed like my father... that is how my boxing journey started,” said Abaka.

“They told me how my dad was a dedicated boxer, who was disciplined but ferocious in the ring.”

Abaka is married to Veronica Nyawira and has a son Joe Floyd (12) and two daughters Raya Marie (seven) and Rael Wilfrie (one).

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