On Self-respect And Holding Public Office

On Self-respect And Holding Public Office

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 3:53 pm

By Olufemi Taiwo

In Yorùbá, we pray that we do not become an object lesson for others on how not to conduct oneself in the world. The importance of this prayer has been brought home to me by the recent firing by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, of Stephen Keshi as the Head Coach of Nigeria’s national football team, the Super Eagles. I know that Keshi has denied that he was fired but that is not of moment here. What matters is that he did not leave of his own accord; he was let go.

I would like to argue that Keshi’s firing, however it transpired, is symptomatic of a trend amongst public office-holders in Nigeria regarding how not to become an object lesson in how not to conduct oneself in office. He embodies all that is wrong with the temperament of public office-holders, and their attitude towards the idea of responsibility for both success and failure attached to such offices. That is, Keshi is an embodiment of the good, the bad, and the ugly of public office-holding in our country.

In modern society, the idea is that all offices are open to talent, not state of origin, national and ethnic affiliation, religious adherence, circumstances of birth, and other similar accidents. In other words, the primary qualification for holding office is merit, not ascription. I doubt that many would deny that ours, as at present constituted, is not a modern society. Let me explain.

When Keshi won the job as the head coach, he was picked on merit, I believe. At least, that was the word out on the appointment. Yet, there is little doubt that he came into a milieu in which there is no serious commitment to merit given the shenanigans of NFF officials which could only frustrate the best laid plans of genius coaches. But he soldiered on, almost convinced, I guess, that his results would reinforce his authority and help him build the team that he and we dream of: the best in the world. This was a solid assumption. One cannot, after all, argue with results.

The problem is that in Nigeria, results matter little, the cash-and-carry mentality that dominates our public life means that, as we would say in Yorùbá, we only reckon with what is momentarily between our jaws. Any time his team won, he was the best coach in the world; when they lost, he was the worst coach imaginable. When his team had a slow start to their African Nations Cup campaign in 2013, there were calls for his sack. When he managed to right the ship, he was hailed. The same thing happened when he took the team to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

The problem is that the management of the NFF never thought that he was good enough. All the time he was running the team, his employers were busy undermining him, convinced that, as a Nigerian, he could not do the job without the ‘godly’ hand of a white technical director, given that we are convinced that white people have been anointed by Providence to ‘think’ for the world. Why does all this matter?

Were Keshi possessed of a robust sense of self and enough confidence in his own merit and, therefore, his sellability outside the borders of Nigeria—remember he had been a coach of Togo and Mali—he would have reacted differently to the continuing affront to his professionalism and persistent offence to his personal integrity. How about calling the bluff of both the NFF and Nigerians by resigning? In fact, given his repeated assertion that he was being courted by other countries interested in his services, he ought to have demonstrated his market value by taking one of those offers and forcing Nigeria and its criminally inept football administrators to compete for his services.

No, and this is where having a sense of self becomes important. Someone with a well-formed sense of self does not own its successes and orphan its failures. As much as a self trumpets and expects to be celebrated for its successes, it also takes responsibility and expects to be vilified for its failures. And, on occasion, certain singular failures require the discerning, even proud, self to say, I failed, I do not deserve to continue in this position. This is where the absence of a worthy self becomes noticeable in Keshi’s profile and conduct. It is here that, I submit, Keshi is emblematic of what I take to be the dominant mentality of public office-holders in Nigeria: the refusal to take responsibility for failures and quit.

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