Born in Watford, England to a Nigerian mother and a British father of Nigerian and Irish heritage, Joshua spent some time in Nigeria before he returned to Britain at the age of seven.
On Saturday at Wembley, Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round to unify the heavyweight division and effectively become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The British boxer’s win immediately triggered the question of his identity, nationality and how it all relates to his success.
The 27-year-old former Olympic champion was unbeaten in 19 fights when he stepped into Wembley ring in front of 90,000 British fans and millions of Nigerians watching on television around the world. Born in Watford, England to a Nigerian mother and a British father of Nigerian and Irish heritage, Joshua spent some time in Nigeria before he returned to Britain at the age of seven.
His exploits in boxing have always raised the question of how he identifies himself. It reached fever peak with his latest win. In an undated video interview with Nigerian sports journalist, Oma Akatugba, Joshua credited eba and egusi soup as the secret of his boxing success.
Asked in the same interview if he considered himself a Nigerian or British, he said, “I’m a Nigerian man by blood. I have Nigerian blood in me.”
A former Nigerian boxing champion, Jeremiah Okorodudu, told the UK Sun that Joshua came to Nigeria in 2007 to explore the possibility of representing Nigeria at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“He wanted a chance to compete for trials ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifiers, but he was denied and not given a chance,” Okorodudu recalled. “Disappointed, he went back to England to represent Great Britain. He went on to win a gold that could have been a first for Nigeria at the Olympics.”
Okorodudu’s story was collaborated by another Nigerian coach, Adegboyega Adeniji-Adele. Adeniji-Adele remembered the incident this way: “Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is his name and his family come from Ogun State in Nigeria,” he said. “When he visited, his intention was to represent Nigeria at the Olympics but he was denied in the trials. He had no other option than to go to Britain”.
Since his knockout of Wladimir Klitschko, Nigerians have been making claims to him. Senator Ben Murray-Bruce representing Bayelsa East in the Nigerian senate in a tweet suggested that Anthony Joshua should be given a hero’s welcome and invited to Nigeria’s seat of power, Aso Rock, and be made a brand ambassador for Nigeria.
Surprisingly, Nigerians blasted the senator for making such a suggestion. They accused the senator of trying to reap where he did not sow.
“Had the same kid stayed on Naija,” writes 100%Naija, “we would have had to set up a GoFundMe account to ensure he makes it to boxing matches.”
Another Twitter follower, Osasu Obayiuwana, showed a picture of Anthony Joshua holding high the Union Jack and then writes: “This photo is to remind you whom Anthony Joshua is an ambassador for Nigeria should have paid him attention when it had the chance to.”
The best thing to do for our image is to invite Anthony Joshua to Aso Rock for a hero's welcome and make him a brand ambassador for Nigeria!
— Ben Murray-Bruce (@benmurraybruce) May 1, 2017
“Use him to rebrand Nigeria’s image,” Segun Joseph writes, “while you older ones at the red chamber keep embarrassing us with your activities.”
Besides Joe Frazier, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is the only other boxer to win a world heavyweight title at the same time that he is the reigning Olympic champion. In the interview with Oma Akatugba, he was asked why the British consider successful British-Nigerians to be British, while considering British-Nigerians who commit crimes to simply be Nigerian. Joshua’s reacted by saying, “Let’s focus on the success. Let’s stop committing the crime. Let’s focus on the success.”
Joshua, a former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, has had a long list of encounters with the British justice system. In 2009, he was sent to Reading Prison for fighting. In 2011, he was charged with possession of a class B drug when police pulled him over in Colindale, North London, and found 8 ounces of herbal cannabis hidden in his sports bag. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours community service. He was also suspended from his GB boxing squad.
In January 2017, he got bad press and anti-Muslim backlash when he posted a photo of himself praying at a mosque in Dubai. A former bricklayer before he took up boxing, Joshua has been awarded the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his significant achievement for the United Kingdom.
Notwithstanding the criticism that followed Senator Ben Murray-Bruce’s tweet, Nigeria’s minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, in his congratulation message to Anthony Joshua said that the Buhari administration would be interested in hosting the heavyweight champion. The minister specifically hinged his outreach to Joshua on the champion’s pledge in the interview Oma Akatugba to give back to Nigeria.
It is pledge Mohammed and other Nigerians heard loud and clear – even if Nigeria did not give the world heavyweight boxing champion anything other than eba and egusi.