Successive administrations of Nigerian football heeded my advice, alongside the desires of many others, I’m sure, and tried to connect with Rashidi Yekini.
Each time they sent emissaries to Rashidi with an invitation to attend one thing or other, they always came back with the same result. He was not interested.
On 4 May 2012, exactly four years ago to the day, we got the news that Rashidi Yekini had passed on. At that time, I felt physically sick – and somewhat guilt-ridden, that we probably did not do enough for him.
Rashidi Yekini was prolific. He was a raw talent that I got to know in my youth days at the then IICC Shooting Stars FC (now Shooting Stars Sports Club) in Ibadan, Nigeria. Rashidi came in, brought in by the then General Manager of the club, Segun Odegbami. This was in 1983, shortly after Chief Odegbami was made GM.
He was a prized asset even then, and was one of the very first ever players to be given, upon arrival, a brand new Peugeot sedan to help him settle in! That was big deal to all us youngsters who always flocked around him, and who had access to him.
Rashidi was a raw talent. A great fearless striker, whose very frame could make any defender quake in his boots. He scored some magnificent goals for club and country. To me, he was just the best.
Rashidi Yekini’s records as a player, his prowess in front of goal, does need to be over-stressed here. The world knows already.
But we pay a tribute today, in memory of a player who gave everything to play for his country. He was quoted once as saying “I will play for Nigeria even if I find that it was chickens and dogs that were selected to play alongside me”. His first goal; Nigeria’s first goal at a World Cup, in 1994 in the US still makes headlines as his celebration (grabbing the net and giving it a really wild shake) is in many pictures worldwide till this day.
But, as I said earlier, I reflect soberly as well, feeling that the football fraternity perhaps might have done more for this enigmatic character, and maybe, just maybe he might still have been alive till now, if we had been more alert to his issues.
As a tribute to Yekini, we continue to call on the authorities to join up, and allow us look out for our heroes in Africa. Let us show more of an interest in them after they finish playing football.
They have sacrificed a lot to put a smile on millions of faces through their goals and their performances. They sacrificed their health; their legs and bodies degenerate rapidly after playing because of the harsh use to which they have been put in playing days.
Let us look out for our heroes in Africa. Let us celebrate them while still alive, and immortalise them meaningfully when they are gone.
Let us immortalise the memory of Rashidi Yekini, by offering hope to all players, and ensuring that they don’t suffer in their post-playing days, but also that their families do not suffer ever, after they leave us.
The memory of Rashidi Yekini lives on inside many of us. May his soul continue to rest in peace – a true legend of Nigerian football.