Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interrogating Oliseh's Construction of "The Insane" Narrative

Nigeria's national team coach, Sunday Oliseh, found himself in a seemingly diastrophic situation a few days ago after he reacted angrily to widespread and caustic criticism over Nigeria's failure at the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Rwanda. At the end, he retreated to safety with an apology after appearing ready to go toe-to-toe with those he classified as pushing him off the cliff edge.

To put it mildly, it was stunning to read some critics call for Oliseh's sack after the CHAN loss to Guinea when major qualifiers for the 2017 Nations Cup and 2018 World Cups were just a few months away.To use Oliseh's words, it was an "insane call" and to be serious, it was a ridiculous and an incomprehensible call. But it certainly ruffled Oliseh. He erupted and displayed his worst side, the side that we all anticipated would come unhinged sometime during his tenure and it was what we all feared.

In responding, Oliseh flung one claim after the other and swung at his targets with all he had. However, what really was true, logical, or beyond dispute in his response? Was it effective? Well, let's take a look.

1. Seeking a plebiscite regarding Oliseh's future with the National Team: True, several critics sought for Oliseh's sack. Though Gabon sacked its coach based on a poor CHAN, it makes little sense for Nigeria to do the same considering that it was just one competitive loss and in one competition when the team was in the midst of three competitions.  

2. The reason they are calling for my sack is because I refused to play "their players": This is a rather vacuous claim. While the calls are ridiculous, it is equally ridiculous to claim that the calls are based on the fact that Coach Oliseh failed to play the critics' favorite players. While many coach's have been accused of "pay-to-play" schemes, not all criticisms are based on those issues. Many coaches have been criticized by ex-players in the past and Oliseh has been one of those critics and I bet he would not accept that his criticisms of coaches were based on their refusal to play his preferred players. If there are specific cases that are linked to "pay-to-play" then the onus is on Oliseh to provide the justification for such a claim. Without it, one would simply be pandering to speculation.

3. The reason I have been criticized is because I refused to pay them to write stories on my behalf: See number 2 above. In this case, instead of "pay-to-play," replace it with "pay-to-write" schemes or "brown envelope" journalism well-known in Nigeria. Again, we cannot simply use that knowledge to justify its occurrence with Oliseh. Each case must be justified or else it resides within the space of speculation.

4. Egypt failed to qualify for the CHAN: Oliseh's claim here is false. Egypt has never entered to play in any of the CHAN competitions since inception of CHAN and was never in a position to qualify. Why he chose to mention Egypt is a surprise. Perhaps, he was thinking much of the upcoming contest against Egypt in the Nations Cup qualifier that effectively becomes a referendum on his tenure as national team coach.

5. Alluding to Congo DR doing well in the CHAN because its club (TP Mazembe) dominates the continental club competition: Oliseh uses this to justify Nigeria's disappointing finish since Nigerian clubs have not done much at the continental level. However, Nigeria has finished in third position of this same CHAN. Importantly, Nigeria did not play against Congo DR in the 2016 CHAN but instead lost to Guinea. Guinea's clubs do worse than Nigerian clubs in continental competitions. Thus, this logic is far from compelling.

Was Oliseh's response effective? My answer is no. This is based on (1) adverse public reaction to it,  and (2) Oliseh's recourse to an apology. Therefore, one must recommend that Oliseh should seek services of a professional if he seeks to make another attempt to repair an image which he fears is under attack. But why did his attempt fail? Here, I urge you to review Benoit's theory of image repair (IRT). This theory is widely used for analyzing image repair attempts. Unfortunately, those like Oliseh who choose to attack their accusers, use defeasibility (cite other issues as responsible), and minimizing (reducing importance of act i.e. reducing significance of CHAN) usually fail. Attacking the media is never a good strategy. He simply has begun a fight that he cannot win. There are long memories that now lie in wait. Nevertheless effective image repair requires mortification (accepting responsibility and apologizing e.g for the loss in Rwanda) along with either bolstering (citing good deeds) or corrective action (plans to improve e.g. against Egypt). In Oliseh's case, he had several examples that could have helped with bolstering and corrective action. He chose not to use them.