A David-and-Goliath-epic battle between Naomi Osaka, the 20-year-old Japanese girl winning her first Grand Slam.
It happens frequently in journalism. As a columnist, you have chosen a topic for your column. Then all of a sudden, another weighty newsworthy item breaks, requiring your attention. You don’t want to drop one for another. So you merge the two — depending on your artistry or creativity in finding a common theme between the various topics competing for your attention.
Such was the dilemma I found myself this week as I was preparing to write this column. I had settled on writing on Sharon Ikeazor, the mother hen or the Mother Theresa of pensions, the woman heading the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) who has brought about a whole lot of reforms into this agency established in August 2013 to bring sanity into the corruption and malpractices that had long afflicted the pension scheme. When you mention pensioners, what it conjures is the pathetic pictures of old men and women struggling, collapsing or even dying in long queues all in the name of collecting their pensions. But now, there seems to be a new order, a changing order that has brought in digitization, biometric capturing, verifications brought to the doorsteps of pensioners, BVNs and all the modern instruments that have weeded out the discrepancies and brought some sort of relief to pensioners even though there is more room for improvement.
Leading this change is Sharon Ikeazor, the lawyer and a woman party leader who has brought in private sector mindset to the public sector. I was exploring her thoughts on leadership and she told me: “It’s been a whole new world in public service for me. Whoever said leadership is not a popularity contest is spot on. But we have to trudge on.”
She was in Lagos on August 30, for a stakeholders’ forum where there was an interactive session with pensioners first.” With the success achieved in Lagos, the Executive Secretary Ikeazor announced that the forum will be taken to the six geopolitical zones. “The purpose of the stakeholders’ forum series is to provide updates on the activities of PTAD and interact directly with its pensioners in order to obtain objective feedbacks from them in an interpersonal manner,” Ikeazor said. She continued: “In the 10 months since the first forum in October 2017, the Directorate has recorded many milestone achievements based on the positive feedbacks we got from pensioners and other stakeholders. The successes attained over this period, and indeed during the past two years, couldn’t have been possible without the visionary and dynamic leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“I am glad of the unique opportunity the President has given to me to implement his policy of ensuring that the Labour of our Heroes Past Shall Never be in vain. I share in the President’s vision that the level of dignity and honour with which we treat the hundreds of thousands of men and women, who had given and sacrificed their lifetimes to the service of this great country, will impact directly on how present and future generations of government officials comport themselves in the course of public service. I cannot think of a better tool for uprooting the menace of corruption from our great society than through a guaranteed life of dignity in the aftermath of public service through an effective and efficient pension system.”
Sharon Ikeazor’s leadership style and philosophy is a story for another day. Fade in the picture of leadership from the tennis court. A David-and-Goliath-epic battle between Naomi Osaka, the 20-year-old Japanese girl winning her first Grand Slam. She versus Serena Williams, a veteran of Grand Slams who was out to win her 24th Grand Slam and match the all-time Grand Slam record of Margaret Court. Naomi Osaka, the little girl who not only realized her childhood dream of playing at the topmost level of tennis but beat her childhood hero in a not-too-pleasant circumstance.
Leadership is not a popularity contest as Sharon Ikeazor says. If it were, the most popular person expected to win was Serena Williams. The majority of tennis fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York were rooting for Serena. They were hoping that she would come back from the pangs of childbirth, surgery and motherhood to the glory of making tennis history by wearing the record-tying 24th slam single crown. But it was not to be. The wind of change blew her off. It blew in favour of the young, innocent Japanese girl who could be mistaken for one of those ball girls hurriedly picking tennis balls and handing towels to the tennis gladiators.
Until she defeated her childhood hero and triggering one of the most dramatic outbursts ever exhibited by a female tennis player, I had not heard of Naomi Osaka. By the time Serena won her first Grand Slam, Naomi was just being born. At age 5, she watched Serena Williams play and ever since she had been dreaming to face her childhood idol in a Grand Slam final. Dreams do come true. God answered her far beyond her dreams, beating Serena and pocketing $3.8million dollars.
It all ended in tears. Tears for Serena whose coach tried to cheat by secretly coaching Serena—something considered an offence. In football, a coach can coach from the sidelines but in tennis, you dare not. It was the coach’s fault and he admitted. But it was Serena who bore the brunt. For being punished, Serena exploded.
She abused Carlos Ramos, the umpire, calling him a “liar” and a “thief” and demanded apology. “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life, I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her.”
She smashed her racket and again had marks deducted. She kept raging. Not since Mike Tyson chopped off Evander Holyfield’s ear have I seen such thuggery in sports. She played the gender card, saying men tennis players did worst things and were not punished. From a tennis legend, Serena suddenly metamorphosed into a virago whose actions put many off. But still, we must forgive her. Passion and madness go hand in hand. There is a thin line between being passionate and being crazy. In the moment of madness, the winning spirit departed from her as she suffered 6-2, 6-4 beating in the hand of little Naomi. In her victory, the poor girl was all tears saying: “I know everyone was cheering for her and I am sorry it had to end like this. It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals. When I step into the court, I feel like a different person. IamnotaSerenafan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.”
In the end, sanity returned and Serena became the Serena that we know, consoling Naomi, whispering words of encouragement and telling the crowd: “Let’s make this the best moment we can…Let’s not boo anymore.” That’s the way it should be. Tennis is a game of heroism, decorum and not hooliganism. Openly calling an umpire a “liar” and a “thief” in the eyes of the world, with his wife and children watching is not the best of behavior. A leader and a sportsman should have self-restraint. Serena simply lost her cool, lost her respect, lost the trophy, lost $3.8 million, lost the US Opens. But she won in the end, with her arms around the little girl who conquered her.