Stephen Keshi and Law 47

“There is no better time to stop and walk away than after a victory. Keep going and you risk lessening the effect, even ending up defeated.” – Robert Greene

It is obvious that Stephen Keshi has been reading the wrong book. If he had taken time to read Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power”, life might have turned out differently for him, and perhaps Nigeria, than it did in the last few months. In less than two years, he has gone full circle – from hero to zero. Knowing the right time to walk away never comes easy for anyone.

For Stephen Keshi, with the intrigues and shenanigans that attended his first stint as Chief Coach, even after he won the Nations Cup, to have opted to stay on is a study in naivety. But then, he is not the first to make such a mistake. Vincente del Bosque immediately comes to mind. He too fell for it, even though his circumstances differ. Finally, he can see that the signs are not good. He has smelt the coffee. He has announced his plan to quit as Spanish Football Manager after Euro 2014 – many years late, if you ask me. But he has luck on his side – his destiny still lies in his hands. Not many are that fortunate to have the privilege of leisure to decide on when to quit, when the results no longer go in tandem with expectations. Knowing when to quit has never been the strength of many African leaders.

Ibrahim Babangida did not see to stepping aside, until he had personally buried his own goodwill in a bid to rewrite history. Rather than fly away on the wings of June 12, he clipped the wings of a free and fair election and buried himself in the rubble, as his plans came crashing, as if a plane from the synagogue hovered around it. He frittered away the chance fate had bestowed upon him for a rebirth. Twenty-one years after, he is still struggling to explain himself. He seeks, in vain, to re-enact the magic he lost in 1993. There is a fable by Leo Tolstoy in Greene’s book – “Two cockerels fought on a dungheap. One cockerel was the stronger; he vanquished the other and drove him from the dungheap. All the hens gathered around the cockerel, and began to laud him. The cockerel wanted his strength and glory to be known in the next yard. He flew on top of the barn, flapped his wings, and crowed in a loud voice : ‘Look at me, all of you. I am a victorious cockerel. No other cockerel in the world has such strength as I.’ The cockerel had not finished, when an eagle killed him, seized him in his claws, and carried him to his nest.” Stephen Keshi has been very fortunate as a football player and Coach. He is a Leader one can easily follow to battle, blind-folded. He has proven himself on and off the field.

In fact, there are many things about the Keshi model that can positively impact the governance methodology that has run Nigeria aground. He came to the job prepared. He was able to stand his ground and build from the ground up, even in the face of cynicism. Indeed, Nigeria needs a leader like Keshi, one with a road-map detailing where he wants to take the country. One who is ready to stick with it, and see his vision through, irrespective of criticism from those who do not know and do not know that they do not know. Nigeria is in dire need of a Keshi – a man not afraid to work with strong lieutenants. A man not intimidated by paper tigers mouthing jaded jargons borrowed from templates handed down by Bretton Woods institutions, but one who can see original thought and locally-grown solutions for what they are. A man ready to push on a track he designed, irrespective of cynicism and sabotage by detractors.

Nigeria needs a Keshi – a man ready to lose it all on the strength of his conviction. A man who will be ready to lay down his life so Nigeria can have hers. Yet the Keshi leadership model has its limitations. Stephen Keshi himself obviously has a few more things to learn. His strategy and tactics, sprinkled with a dose of good luck might have won Nigeria the Nation’s Cup, but good luck can only take one so far, especially when in violation of Robert Greene’s Law 47. Instructively, he argues that “…good luck is more dangerous than bad luck. Bad luck teaches valuable lessons about patience, timing, and the need to be prepared for the worst; good luck deludes you into the opposite lesson, making you think your brilliance will carry you through.”

The moment one chooses to quit is of great importance, Greene tells us. To keep going after a victory puts one at risk of lessening the effect of the accomplishment, with the possibility of defeat looming large. He reminds us that “the moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat.” Stephen Keshi missed the plot. He failed to seize the right moment to walk away. Law 47 enjoins one to “Always stop with a victory”. Keshi violated it. He is paying dearly for it.