Enough of the crocodile tears for Keshi!
As soon as the death of Steve Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi was announced, those same “people” who hated his guts were among the first people who started mourning him, saturating the air with eulogies. Same Nigerians who then had filled the blogosphere and social media with anti-Keshi sentiments; they have been using superlatives to describe him and shedding crocodile tears. They cannot wait to give him a “befitting” burial. They are racking their brains on how to immortalise him. They are now “so” proud of him. They have changed their display pictures on their smartphones to that of Keshi. Such is life!
Keshi may have died of a heart attack as widely reported, which can only be confirmed by an autopsy. But Keshi also died of another heart problem which needs no autopsy: a broken heart.
After the death of his beloved wife, he never recovered from it. But perhaps even more than that of his wife’s, Keshi never also recovered from the way a country he loved treated him.
Love of any type, even the love of country comes from the heart. The heart is never so smart. It is afraid of getting hurt.
The country broke Keshi’s heart first when it wrongly banned him from football in 1984. His heart went on to repair, resulting in an illustrious international career, until wham! the nation broke it again. He had added in age. This time it could not be repaired.
Wasn’t Keshi the same person who was regarded as the “problem” that was holding Nigeria football back that needed to be dispensed with quickly?
Many Nigerians whom Keshi had made happy and proud by winning the coveted AFCON after a 19-year wait, when the going was no longer good shouted “Away with Keshi, away with Keshi!” That was the same way Jesus was treated by his people the Jews. They were hailing him and shouting “Hosanna.” But while Jesus knew that in a few days they will reject him and then kill him, poor Keshi never envisaged being rejected after performing a feat where only he and Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary are the only Africans to have won the Nations Cup as a player and as a coach. If Keshi were a white man am dead sure he would not have been handled that way.
How should we have handled Keshi?
I gave a hint of that in my article
“Keshi: the comeback kid,” published in this newspaper, when after all the time-wasting in the world Keshi was reappointed the coach of the Super Eagles.
As I argued then, Keshi was never the problem of NigeriaN football. Only what Keshi needed from Nigeria were support, patience, and a peaceful football house. But even now the house is at daggers drawn. How could any national team coach have won a match when FIFA’s ban was hanging on his country like the sword of Damocles? How could Keshi have performed well when his working environment was a minefield?
Whenever Keshi won it was luck, whenever he lost it was Keshi’s fault. Now he is dead they are shedding crocodile tears. Enough of the hypocrisy!
How long must we continue to deceive ourselves? How long must we keep prolonging our football travails? It is what we sow that we will reap.
Stephen Keshi was a God-sent to Nigerian football, a true hero, a true legend. Other countries saw him that way. But we did not see him that way.
Mind you, I am talking about a coach who was in 2014 voted the best coach in Africa and ranked 14th in the world. What else could Nigeria have asked for?
Indeed, Nigeria never deserved Keshi!
Keshi was different for football. Off it, on it. Keshi was larger than life in football affairs, that was why his detractors saw him as an obstacle. Nigeria lost the chance to consolidate on the gains of the Nations Cup glory.
When Keshi said “Some day, I will be coach of Nigeria and then they will know they have a coach,” he never reckoned that some day they will forget they had a coach.
If the powers that be in Nigeria football had allowed Keshi to be he would have revolutionised coaching in Nigeria just as he did with Nigerian football.
What’s national talent when not enamoured with your country? Football laurels are not won by superhumans. They are won by a dedicated team that can believe as one, think as one, play as one. Keshi knew this. Given more time Keshi would have given us a long-lasting glory. Yes, along the way there might be bad spells. But it was for the long haul.
We would have patiently tapped into his wisdom. Our young kids would have grown with his philosophy adapted to suit our peculiarity. Nigerian coaches would have understudied Keshi’s football philosophy whose bedrock is the building of a team around the home based players. A formula he had proven. A formula to be deployed by African teams if they ever hope to win the World Cup.
When an ex-international who loved his wife and football loses his wife, he falls back on his other love. But Nigeria denied Keshi the companionship of his country’s football. His late wife was beautiful.
Football too is the beautiful game. The joy of showing young Nigerians the way of football, the joy of working for fatherland.
After Keshi was humiliated out where is Nigerian football today? We didn’t qualify for two Nations Cup in a row. If we cannot qualify for a tournament in Africa that has 16 countries, what hope for qualifying for the World Cup where Africa has only five slots?
Did Nigeria truly love Keshi when he was alive? The answer is a big “No!”
What we had for him was a conditional love, a fair-weather love. That is what a Nigerian hero and an African legend got from us! Keshi might have had this ode for Nigeria from a song by Jim Reeves of blessed memory:
“No need to say you’re sorryNo need to feel ashamedIf I’m not the one you loveDon’t feel you’re to blame.
I don’t deny it hurts meAnd this pain is hard to hideBut at least I lived a little whileBefore I died.”
Nigeria deeply hurt Keshi. But, now he is safe somewhere, and standing tall in the courtyard of history, never to be hurt by Nigeria or anyone, again.
Dr. Odoemena, a medical practitioner, lives in Lagos.