Jennifer Keshi is the daughter of a former coach of the Super Eagles, the late Stephen Keshi. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE about her dad’s family life and concern about Nigerian football
Tell me about yourself.
I attended Sonoma State University and I am a medical records abstractor. I have four younger siblings.
What was it like growing up with your father?
A lot of the time, because of his profession, which included a lot of travelling time, he was often not there. There were months, sometimes, years, when he wasn’t really part of our daily lives and so, there were lots of times he would not come in for weeks or a month. He was a strict parent. There were rules that needed to be followed. There were lots of activities that every sibling was responsible for. He never hesitated to discipline us if he felt it was necessary, especially when we had done something wrong. Also, when it was necessary for him to give us advice or talk to us about how to deal with certain situations, he did so. He never hesitated to sit us down and have a long discussion about what he felt was right.
Was he overprotective of his children?
I would definitely say he was protective of his children. He felt like it was necessary for him to separate us from his world – his work. A lot of times, he would travel to different parts of the world to do what he loved to do and we would stay in the US. That was his way of protecting us from too many outside influences.
How would you describe him?
I would describe him as someone who shone like the sun. He was an incredibly focused, generous and determined person. He always had so many people depending on him. He never hesitated to pursue his dreams. He was a happy person.
As a famous football icon, has his name opened doors for you?
Although my dad was a famous footballer, he encouraged his children to go into fields that had nothing to do with sports. One of my brothers is an entrepreneur. Another one is a dancer. My immediate younger sibling is a project manager for a web design company and my other sister is in the telecommunications industry while I am in the medical IT field. So, his name, as huge as it was never really impacted our world because of the fields that we chose to pursue.
What are the unique fatherly features or habits he displayed at home that many don’t know about?
One of my father’s constant habits was to do exercises whenever he woke up in the morning. Even in his mid-50s, that was something he consistently did. There was not a week that went by that my father did not exercise. He was also a prayerful person; he would pray before going to bed at night. He attended church on Sunday. He was a prayerful and spiritual person.
Did your dad want any of his kids to play football?
Actually, when it came to our career choices, my dad never really said anything. He just wanted us to choose whatever we were happy with. His main concern was for us to go to school, get good grades and graduate. But whatever career we wanted was really up to us; he never pushed anything on us or told us to follow a particular line of work. He left it to us to decide what would make us happy because he decided what would make him happy in his life.
Your dad won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach. As his child, how did you feel?
It’s hard to explain the amount of pride and joy you have for somebody that has achieved such heights in their dreams. When he won the tournament in 2013, it was like a climax in his career. He had strived so consistently all the years as a coach and had been so devoted to football, to his players and his team. He was a devoted person to his players. To see that his dedication and hard work resulted in his winning the tournament brought so much pride and joy for him. It was an amazing moment for him and his family.
What would you describe as the best moment you ever had with your dad?
I wouldn’t say I had a best moment per se. But my dad and I loved action movies, specifically Hong Kong or Chinese movies and, I guess old-school movies starring Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan or Jet Li. He was a huge lover of that genre of movies. Because he was a lover of that genre, I became a lover of that genre and would sit with him. We used to watch the movies together and I enjoyed those really good, quiet bonding times I had with my father.
What advice did he give you that has continued to help you in life?
He advised me never to consider myself as a good person because if I do, then I would start to be self-righteous about what I believe in. He told me never to call myself nice, but to let other people do so because it could lead to being self-righteous.
How concerned was he about the type of friends his children kept?
He was protective of his children. He made sure we did not only do well at school but also had extracurricular activities he felt had positive impacts in our lives. We had limited amount of time to watch TV and spend with our friends. He was very much concerned about making sure there was limited amount of time and space where bad influences could get into our lives. He made sure we did our homework and at the weekends, we were only allowed to see some friends for certain amounts of time. We had to make sure we introduced our friends’ parents to him and he knew who they were.
Did your dad have a sense of humour?
My dad had a great sense of humour. He always made the people around him laugh. He used to tease us and make jokes that got everybody laughing. He was somebody who brightened the mood in the house. When he was at his most jovial (mood), there was nobody who didn’t smile. He was a bright light in our household.
Your dad was arguably handsome. How did he handle the pressure from women who sought his attention?
When it came to women who were supposedly disturbing him for a relationship, my dad was incredibly respectful. I never even heard about type of behaviour. It never even occurred to me because he was so good about being respectful to my mother. He was definitely respectful to my mother. We didn’t hear about such things. He never even discussed it with us. That issue never really came into our lives.
How did he react each time he lost an important match?
When it came to losing important matches, he was very philosophical. He could say, “That it is life; you win some and lose some.” I never really saw it affecting him that much. He tried to learn from what didn’t work in his previous match and tried to change what needed to be changed for the next match. He never really took it hard.
What was your dad’s view about the challenges facing football in Nigeria?
There were so many issues that my dad saw about football in Nigeria. One of the major challenges was the lack of equipment, stadiums and proper fields for football players in Nigeria, and the lack of training opportunities. He was concerned about the way Nigerian players in domestic clubs were valued. He was very much interested in looking at the local talents and seeing what we had at home, not just looking at the players in international clubs. He was concerned about connecting local talents with international clubs, and making sure that the younger generation of players grew through football academies. The last problem that really gave my dad a hard time was the amount of corruption in Nigerian football. There were so many times players weren’t being paid at a time. There were times when he and the players weren’t paid. Players went months at a time without pay.
My dad really fought for the players, the equipment they needed and at the time they needed them to train. There were so many instances where there weren’t even friendly games that were organised for them to get better prepared to enter for a tournament. My dad had to go out of his way and use his connections to get the games necessary or create a camp so that the players could be better trained before a tournament. Something that he continued to struggle with throughout his career was the need to bring in the money and the money wasn’t going where it was supposed to go, and that is a big issue that is facing Nigerian football. He was concerned about the over-valuing of international players over local players. He was a great believer in local talents. He would always search for talents in local clubs that he could bring into the national team. It was not because he didn’t believe in the international talents but because it created a better chemistry within the team and that every player needed to be a superstar.
How did he stay in touch with his children when he coached the national teams of Mali and Togo?
The times he coached Mali and Togo, we often stayed in touch with him on the phone and there was a time my mum and one of my siblings went to Togo to spend some time with him. He used to visit us in the US to spend some time with us.
What were the things your dad disliked?
He was turned off by people who presented themselves in one way and acted in another way; that was one of his turn-offs. He was a very straightforward person – what you saw was what you got. He never tried to be what he was not, so he didn’t like when other people were two-faced in how they dealt with situations or when people were all out for themselves.
What were the values your dad cherished a lot and taught his kids?
Although he advised us, he lived by what he believed in. In whatever my father did, he always gave his best. He never withdrew from whatever needed to be done; he always tried to give the task his best. Another thing I saw in him was how he treated others. He never treated others as lesser than he was. If you came across my father, no matter who you were or where you were from, he would treat you as his equal.
He was never intimidated by people above him and never looked down on anybody below him. That is something I definitely continue to strive for, to make sure that I treat people well, no matter where they come from.
What were his hobbies?
My dad was a big lover of movies, specifically action movies. He also loved music. At times, when he was doing things around the house, he would play music, especially music from his time, like Fela Kuti, Luther Vandross – music from the 80s and 90s. That was how he liked to unwind. He wasn’t big about hobbies because football was everything to him. Sometimes, he would read health books.
How did he like to dress?
My dad was an incredibly stylish man. He never liked formal wear. He didn’t like suits. When he used to play football, I remember how he hated wearing suits; they were not just his thing. But he was a great casual dresser. He always looked for quality products and he always made sure he was dressed neatly. Being simple, clean and sporty was pretty much my dad’s style.
Do you think your dad has received the honour he deserves from the Federal Government?
When it comes to the Federal Government honouring great sport heroes, I think the Federal Government underestimates what it does for the nation. When you don’t honour someone who has devoted themselves to doing what they can for their profession, you are undermining and devaluing the people themselves because it is through great people that we get a sense of nationalistic pride. It is what pushes others to achieve something. It is that celebration of what they have achieved that helps bring in a newer generation of such people and sustain the production of excellent talents. The Federal Government, when it comes to celebrating the people who did well for the country, definitely needs to change because they don’t celebrate our heroes enough.
What were his plans before he passed on?
He was definitely going to continue his coaching career with other teams he was looking to coach, and he was planning on moving his base from America to Nigeria.
Do you know if he had any regrets?
When it comes to regrets, everybody has regrets. Even me, at my age, I have regrets. So, if my dad had regrets, whatever they were, he took them with him when he passed away. He was planning on retiring in Nigeria. He was going to be in his 60s in a few years. My parents had said they were going to retire in Nigeria and see the world.
Source: Sunday PUNCH