It still does not make sense: why would an accomplished, respected former footballer and national team coach enmesh himself in an agreement to collect bribes? By his reputation over decades, Samson Siasia should be remembered for good reasons in Nigerian football. But for one diminutive Argentine intervening at crucial moments, Siasia should be ranked alongside Stephen Keshi and Clemens Westerhof on the roll of this country’s greatest football managers. In other words, an icon of the beautiful game this side of the Niger.
Some will argue he retains his glory, the recent disgrace notwithstanding. He denies any wrongdoing and vows to clear his name. The revelations of other Nigerians under investigation for fraud have diverted attention away from his travails. One case in particular has generated the most buzz.
Judging by that impressively put-together FBI affidavit, Obinwanne Okeke is in big trouble. A meticulous investigation by a special agent of the US anti-fraud agency details email exchanges, social media posts and other records implicating the 31-year old in conspiracies to commit fraud to the tune of at least $11 million. In the last three years, Okeke has done the rounds as a motivational speaker of sorts, landing features on Forbes, CNBC and the BBC as a young African leading the Afrocapitalism narrative. At his TEDx talk in Yaba last November, yours truly marveled at his command and ease: he was a mild-mannered Harvey Specter in debonair blue Senator wear, asserting that a day did not pass without him closing a deal. Something about that claim was off, but it was a TEDx: exuding confidence at the risk of affectation was par for the course. It’s the platform for glass-ceiling breakers and avant-gardism. Who, then, is surprised when the FBI reveals the email he allegedly used in his operations is firstname.lastname@example.org?
Much is now being said about young people needing to take it easy with motivational speakers and the presentation of entrepreneurship as a zero-sum enterprise. We are reminded of the virtue of taking one’s time to work hard, defer gratification and let the natural course of building a viable product run. Okeke’s erstwhile widely-shared quotes about, among other things, starting his first business at 14, are now being deconstructed. He is no longer a Bellanaija Man Crush Monday. But Okeke’s confidence game is more common than we are willing to admit. Whatever becomes of him – he faces up to 30 years in jail – what he is accused of isn’t likely to become past tense thanks to the demands of our thriving but flawed digitally-driven culture.
The Icon Game
Okeke’s motivation for allegedly enriching himself fraudulently could have been to achieve thought leadership status, creating a feedback loop for his legitimate(?) businesses interests. The scramble for clout on social media platforms wherein influence is within reach if you can play well, features every ingredient that ends up producing questionable models. What currently obtains on Twitter, for instance, where false pretenses and outlandish commentary are used by many to build audiences for the purpose of convincing advertisers, essentially draws on similar impulses and strategies. In both scenarios, each party wishes to short-circuit the hustle cycle by projecting something they are not in order to achieve an embellished status they probably would not obtain laying their cards bare.
We would brand these scrambles the imitation game; imitation, because frauds do want to be like real people who earn accolades the right way. As there are true entrepreneurs, so are there true digital influencers producing substantial value-adding online activities. But Okeke’s ordeal should alert us to the perverse nature of the present strand of the imitation game – the Icon Game. While this imitation plays out on digital systems, those engaged therein are no Alan Turing. As the saying goes, the hood does not make the monk. Okeke has academic qualifications in cyber technology; he was trapped by connections made between his social media posts and email communications; he is under computer fraud investigations. The irony.
Be Sufficiently Skeptical
Turing faced taunts of being a con when he was, in fact, a genius. We are now, irreversibly, nomads of the digital world he helped create. To make the best of it, we should default to a cultured skepticism of overnight success stories. When there is a compulsion to construe them connoisseurs of competence as they project consciously constructed personas, consult and contrast reasonably. Separating signal from noise, we might learn that they are not what they say they are – icons – but we may glean what they do: “I con“.
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Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform