Rashidi Yekini was a true superstar and a Nigerian hero! As the man who captured the imagination of a united Nigeria at a time when our Super Eagles were the toast of the world, news of his death devastated millions of us who adored and appreciated him. Rashidi Yekini was arguably the greatest footballer this nation has ever seen and one of the greatest African footballers of all time. Naturally athletic, disciplined, strong, assertive and blessed with pure talent, his career was one of the brightest stars of its generation. His gift was legendary. Yekini boasted the ideal image for the burly, energetic African athlete; a man gifted with the genius to play ball. He stood up and fought for his country on the football pitch in a manner that forced the world to take notice of Nigeria’s football prowess.
Born in Kaduna on October 23, 1963, Rashidi Yekini started his professional career in the Nigerian league before going to play in Cote d’Ivoire. From 1993 to 1994, he found himself playing in Portugal and it was there he was to excel in his career by emerging as the top scorer of the Portuguese first division. The brilliant achievement of scoring 34 goals in 32 matches earned Yekini the title of African Footballer of the Year in 1993. He was instrumental in helping the Super Eagles win the 1994 African Cup of Nations where he topped the goal charts and continued to impress as part of the Nigerian team at Olympic level in Seoul.
For any of us who remember that time, it was a time of pride for Nigeria, a time when Nigerian athletes stood up to be counted amongst the best in the world. When Yekini played, he outshone everyone else on the pitch. His mazy runs, powerfully precise kicks and spellbinding dribbles helped many of the victories that the Super Eagles recorded during that peak.
In 1994, when he stepped onto the pitch during Nigeria’s debut in the World Cup stage, it took just moments for the determined Yekini to make a goal scoring impact when he netted Nigeria’s first ever goal in the tournament against Bulgaria. He was back for the 1998 FIFA World Cup and even though he didn’t score, his attempt of a brilliant scissor kick that resulted in a very narrow miss of the goal mesmerised the world. Had he scored that goal, there is no doubt that it would have been one of the best goals of all time.
If anyone had any doubt of the brilliance of Yekini’s achievements, the thought of him scoring 37 goals for Nigeria in 58 appearances should dispel it. As the national record goal scorer, Yekini had certainly arrived, and the world could clearly see that he was something very special.
After some stints in several foreign clubs, Rashidi Yekini came back home. After a short comeback in 2005, he withdrew from the public and the sport that he lived for. Amid reports of ill health, it is believed that Yekini’s life deteriorated. Reports of his struggle with depression and financial hardship are truly heartbreaking. Tragically for all his admirers, Rashidi Yekini died in Ibadan on the 4th May 2012 amidst the most deplorable of circumstances. Nigeria, Africa and the whole world mourn the death of this superstar and one of the best African players to have ever lived.
When I reflect on the story of Rashidi Yekini, I feel a combination of sadness and anger. I am angry because it is a crying shame that the life of a Nigerian hero, who gave so much for this country, could be allowed to deteriorate in the manner reported without the government intervening to provide him with a descent standard of life. As time goes on, it seems Nigeria is getting deeper and deeper into the business of abandoning and disposing its true heroes. It’s all very reminiscent of the death of the highly talented musician, Tyna Onwudiwe (the African Oyinbo) in 2001 who suffered from terminal cancer but couldn’t pay her hospital bills. While undergoing treatment in South Africa, to the embarrassment of the government, it took a group of friends in the Music industry to launch a Save-Tyna-Appeal Fund.
It really is tragic that our nation has risen to the majestic height of honouring and catering for only the affluent and the corrupt rulers of yester-year but at the same time fallen to the passionless dept of disposing and not honouring those who have sincerely and individually dedicated themselves for the benefit of this country. When we look at our archives and consider Nigerian heroes like Gani Fawehinmi, Mallam Aminu Kano, Agbani Darego, Mary Onyali and so many more, one wonders in what state their families have been left in.
One would be hard pressed to find another nation that disposes its heroes in the way Nigeria does. There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance and neglect. And if we continue failing to take care of our heroes; in that invisible book one day it will be written that our great nation perished because it failed to appreciate the works of its heroes. It is trite but urgently true that a nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth striving for. It’s no wonder that few have the pure intention of serving Nigeria sincerely. Go to any civilized country in the world and see how they have cherished and honoured the national heroes who, through some painstaking commitment and selfless dedication, have contributed immensely to their nation and giving it some of its proudest moments. But when we cast our eyes to our national scene, the picture is tragically pathetic.
Our rich history and achievements will continue to be washed away by the rushing tide of western indoctrination if we fail to provide subsequent generations with true Nigerian heroes to learn from. To them, their heroes and mentors will be the Snoop Dog’s instead of the Fela Kuti’s, the J.K Rowling’s instead of the Chinua Achebe’s, the George Clooney’s instead of the Samanja’s (Usman Baba Pategi) and the Lionel Messi’s instead of the Rashidi Yekini’s.
For all the goals, daring dribbles, wonderful memories and gift of pride that Rashidi Yekini gave to us, his legion of fans worldwide will always be grateful. He left his mark in the world of football. And although many of us will miss him and regret the manner in which our nation abandoned this hero, his spirit and his talent will live on forever.
The circumstances that he survived in the later part of his life leave many of us with a sense of anger and his death leaves us with a deep sense of loss. And as we pray for him, I urge the Federal government, the Kaduna, Oyo and Kwara state governments to honour this illustrious son in the manner befitting of a national hero by naming stadiums after him and setting up a national football academy in his name to train our young sporting talent in the skills that came so naturally to him. In addition, the government should take the initiative of providing a decent life for his children, his mother and all those he looked after.
I have many people that make me proud; many idols and icons that I look up to… Rashidi Yekini just happened to be one of them!
“O Allaah, forgive and have mercy upon Rashidi Yekini, excuse him and pardon him, and make honourable his reception. Expand his entry, and cleanse him with water, snow, and ice, and purify him of sin as a white robe is purified of filth. Exchange his home for a better home… Admit him into the Garden.’ -Amin.