By Ikenga Chronicles June 8, 2016


  • The other side of STEPHEN KESHI AKA ‘’Big Boss’’ I was privileged to know.

I just heard the sad and painful news of the demise of a great friend, brother and former colleague who just lost his dear wife only in December 2015 and yet to get over it. I am so saddened and very emotional and decided to write this tribute about this humble great man and patriot.
Stephen Keshi and I first met in the late 70s in our high school days when St Finbarr’s College Akoka came to our school way back then to play a friendly match which they won. Our paths again crossed in the late 80s through Peter Duke who then worked with Dongote Group at a hang out on Akerele Road in Surulere, Lagos where the best of the best like Samson Siasia, Augustin Eguavon, Franklin Howard and Stephen Keshi who had represented Nigeria in various soccer outings used to hang out. Stephen then left Nigeria for Europe to play professional Soccer and we lost touch. All I heard about his achievements was in the media.

I also left for the US in the early 90s. While in the US, I worked in various fields and later became a Certified Financial planner and worked at various times with American Income life Insurance Coy, F & G Life Insurance Coy, Mutual of Omaha and finally Affiliated Mortgage Insurance LLC becoming an Agency Manager in 2001. My Agency became the top producing Agency in Annualized Premiums (ALPs) in the whole of North East America for 2 consecutive years in a roll so my then boss the State General Agent, Mr. Atta Tarren now wanted me to expand the Agency to Northern California with a mandate to recruit Agents in Northern California and setup an office there. The company then put up adverts on all the recruitment sites like Monster, Career Builder and the rest and we had tons of responses through emails. I was then saddled with the responsibility to screen through the resumes and send emails to shortlisted candidates for interviews and hire the right fits for the job.

While screening through the resumes to shortlist candidates, I stumbled on one email from a guy called STEFAN KESH. That name stood out so I went on to read the resume. Half way through, I was convinced this was STEPHEN OKECHUKWU KESHI the Nigerian who had played for Nigeria and went on to play international soccer because some of his past experiences had been coaching high school soccer but with no previous financial planning experience. But I went against the guidelines given to me by my boss to only shortlist those with previous financial planning experience. I went on to send him an email with our template which started with ‘’Congratulations you have been shortlisted for a phone interview with Affiliated Mortgage Insurance LLC as a first step towards being hired….and the interview date and time is blah blah…Please endeavour to be by your phone at the said date and time and if you have any questions or would not be able to honour the interview date and time, send back an email with a convenient date and time.‘’

On the said date, I called the number on the Resume with my best American Accent and asked to speak to STEFAN KESH. The person on the other side picked up the phone. I introduced myself as Manny Agency Manager with Affiliated Mortgage Insurance LLC and congratulated him on scaling the first huddle of the interview process. I could immediately hear the Nigerian Accent though he tried so hard to cover it up. I told him to tell me about himself and his previous work experience and why he thinks he will be a good fit for the job. After all the rambling, I told him but sir you don’t even have a Financial Planner experience.

His response was ‘’sir, I really want this job. I have studied so hard to pass the state exam to get the license. I have been a high school soccer coach but that job is not paying much and I have a family to feed please consider me for this job. I promise to put in my best.’’ Right after his response, I found myself laughing so hard and uncontrollable. At that point he kept asking why I was laughing. I guess thinking he had failed the interview. I immediately asked if he was the same STEPHEN KESHI that played soccer for Nigeria. He was so shocked and surprised; I could tell from his voice. He said yes and went on to ask how I knew and decoded him? So I switched to broken English and told him to relax that I was a Nigerian too. His reply was ‘’Oga na wa for you o. Thank God we be brothers.’’I then took him back to memory lane on whom I am and how we met years back and told him I was the Emma Osifo he knew but now Manny too. For me the interview had ended but he wanted to start pleading for him to be considered for the job. I had to stop him and let him know I got his back and would definitely bring him on board but with one promise that he would not let me down because I was staking my career for him and would do all I can to personally train him to succeed.

During my review session with my boss for those shortlisted we intended to bring on board, my boss asked me why I wanted to hire someone who had no financial planning experience. My response was this one I can vouch for. He is matured and desperately wants the job and I will personally train him. STEFAN KESH as we all called him eventually came on board with others to start the Hayward office in Northern California. After training; he became a rock star and the one to look out for on my team. He was the top producer in the Hayward office week in week out turning in Annualized Premiums of up to $20k weekly making him the top producer in the Agency for up to 2 years and making very good money before he finally left to answer the call to become Togo’s national coach in 2004. STEFAN indeed made me and the Agency proud. He was not only a great soccer player like we all already know, he was also a great Certified Financial Planner. Because of him, my former boss not only respected us but trusted my sense of judgement when it came to recruitment and I was later made to head the recruitment/training team for the Agency and because of his production again, I got promoted twice. We were both referred to as the Nigerian American rock stars in the company as we were the only Africans on my team of about 60 producers. He was committed and dedicated to anything he set out to do and he did it well.

Our last meet was in Abuja on one of my trips to Nigeria when he became the Coach of the Nigerian National team. I called him up to let him know I was in Nigeria and he requested we meet at his hotel in Abuja. I honored the invitation. When I got to his hotel room, behold there was this crowd in the room, STEFAN told everybody to leave the room that he wanted to meet with his Oga. All eyes turned at me and I heard someone say ‘’Big Boss’’ you get Oga? His reply was yes o this na my Oga from America which I then replied ‘’No o don’t mind him o, He is our Oga.’’ We had a good laugh after everyone left the room. We talked about our days at Affiliated Mortgage Insurance and how they miss us because I told him I had left too and moved on. I also told him how our former boss had been following his coaching activities and how he misses him and had no idea all this while he had a world renowned international soccer player/coach working for him.

Only last week I ran into our former boss and he asked after STEFAN KESH and said he was not happy how the Nigerian Government treated him and how he was owed his salary. I was surprised he was still actually following news about STEFAN KESH. I told him we spoke a while ago on the phone when I called to console him about the demise of his beloved wife late last year and I guess he should be back to his base in Hayward. He collected his phone number in Hayward and promised to call him to console him too.

Waking up to the painful news of your sudden demise on the day you were to travel back to your base in the US, knowing we will never see again and I will never hear your voice again, makes my heart bleed with tears in my eyes. I am so glad our paths crossed and honored to know the real you most people didn’t know. I will take solace in the memories we both shared. You not only made Nigeria proud during your lifetime though short, you also made me proud and contributed to my career growth. You were indeed a born star. I know Kate’s death was a big blow to you knowing how you both were. Now she is waiting on the other side with open arms to receive you. I can only feel for the lovely children you both left behind; but I know God will watch over them. I will surely miss you my brother. May your gentle soul find eternal rest in our Lord’s bosom and may He give your children, family and those of us left to mourn you the fortitude to bear this great loss, Amen. Good night SIR STEPHEN OKECHUKWU KESHI C.O.N AKA ‘’BIG BOSS’’ AKA ”SKIPPO” AKA ”CHAIRMAN” AKA ‘’STEFAN KESH.’’

Manny Osifo
Los Angeles, California
June 2016.

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