BY Muyiwa Adetiba

Playing by your own rules can be fine if it means having your own mind and not following the herd. It can also mean not allowing naysayers to derail you from set goals.

In any case, that is the positive spin those who like to play by their rules place on their iconoclastic attitude; that is what they want others to see.  In their minds, they are the lone rangers who dare where others fear; the brave Cowboy who takes on the Indians.

They tell themselves – and the world – that they are confident and original; that they are not easily swayed by sentiments however popular. In reality, many who play by their own rules walk the thin line between chaos and order; between legality and illegality. They love brinksmanship; they love testing the waters and pushing the limits. And in doing this, they are often motivated more by selfish desires than the public good.

Novak Djokovic is currently the world’s number one Tennis player. He is on course to becoming the greatest tennis player of all time if your yardstick is limited to the laurels garnered on tour. He has more ATP titles than any other player and had he won the Australian Open for which he was a clear favourite, he would have won more Grand Slams than any other player in history. The chances of Nadal and Federer, his two other contenders for the highest number of Grand Slams in tennis history, are withering due to injury and old age.

Besides, Australian Open is his turf just as Roland Garros is to Nadal and Wimbledon to Federer. And should he have played and won in Australia, he would have extended an already enviable record of nine Australian Open titles. A record that would be difficult to replicate. So Djokovic stood more to gain by winning the Australian Open than any other player.

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Meanwhile, everybody knows Australia has been particularly concerned about the pandemic. It has had more stringent lockdowns than any other Western country. It was always on the cards that Australia which closed its doors to the world during the worst period of the pandemic, would issue a vaccine mandate for anybody coming for the Open. So if the Australian Open meant as much to Djokovic as the tennis world expected, then he should have prepared for the inevitable. He should have had his double vaccine jabs. But those who love brinksmanship, those who like to play by their own rules always believe they can play the system somehow.

And Djokovic has always loved to play by his rules. He trains differently, eats differently and thinks differently on many life issues. He also loves to play mind games – off and on the court. He wins many of those mind games by the way, which is a tribute to the superlative power of his mind. But there is a limit. There is always a limit. His random criticisms of the Tennis Association sometimes border on rebellion. He organised a tennis competition during the 2020 lockdown in defiance of the Association. It turned out to be a super spreader as many tennis players including himself became infected. That he chose to rely on a medical exemption to play in a competition that means so much to him is consistent with his character. What if he hadn’t been infected in December? Or was the infection contrived?

 But there is no denying his talent; there is no denying his incredible ability to focus like a laser; there is no denying his sheer inability to accept defeat and has often snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as he once did against Federer in a thrilling five setter at Wimbledon when almost everybody was rooting for Federer. On top of his prodigious talent is his mental prowess and there is no doubt he would overcome this setback if anybody could.

But there is a lesson here that you can’t always have it your own way. As it is, he still has to take the jabs if he doesn’t want his illustrious career to end abruptly. The next Grand Slam which is Roland Garros in Paris is just about four months away. France is already insisting on a vaccine mandate. A Masters tournament is in between in Madrid. Spain is already requesting for a vaccine mandate. Novak has to come down to earth from his entitlement cloud if he wants to prolong his career. He has to realise he is not bigger than the system and rules can only be bent so much for him or his like.

There are many people who play by their own rules in Nigeria. In fact, many more would if they could get away with it. And the higher in the hierarchy you are, the more the likelihood of you drawing up your own set of rules. There is a high level of entitlement among our people that makes them shun rules – be it legal, procedural or even traffic – or have them bent for their convenience. There is the thinking among the rich and powerful that rules are for the poor.

The more powerful they are, the less the general rules apply to them and the more the propensity to play by their own rules – like being escorted by their PA through Immigration and Customs to the departure lounge for an international flight. Or simply ignoring procedures that determine eligibility for an office – like sidestepping INEC forms or Code of Conduct forms. Or simply throwing the rules of checks and balances to the winds because they are deemed restrictive – like having the entire security architecture for the country from a region.

One of such men has lived his political life by his own set of rules. Misdemeanours and infractions that would have caged other people have largely bounced off him. He seems to have mastered the art of walking the thin line between legality and illegality; between order and chaos. He is very visible, yet much of his operations are in the shadows. He thrives in opacity. The more you stare at him, the less you see. He is said to be very wealthy.

But little is known about the source of his wealth just as little is known about many things around his person. Now, he is applying for a job that needs utmost scrutiny. A job for which he is entitled and is probably more competent and knowledgeable than many who have indicated interest. Except that this time, the voters will demand answers to the many things that have been hidden from their view. Like Djokovic, he has to realise that you can’t always get away with playing by your own rules. Djokovic ended his Australian Open campaign in shame. I hope this man will not end his presidential campaign the same way.

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