OPINION: Weep not for Yekini. By Suraj Oyewale

Date: 2012-05-08

By Suraj Oyewale

Since the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua exactly two years ago, no other death of a Nigerian has generated so much publicity and discussion than that of the gangling former Super Eagles striker, Rashidi Yekini. Such is the love Nigerians have for football and any player that serves them good menu of it. What started like a rumour in the social media was finally confirmed before Friday, May 4, 2012 came to an end. Indeed, it was the end of an era.

Much has been written in the formal and informal media about the late African football legend's career exploits that it doesn't need rehashing here. Is it his 37 goals haul in Super Eagles colours that make him the highest goal scorer in the national team history with 37 goals in 58 matches, a record that doesn't seem possible to match if the commitment and ability of current and upcoming crops of strikers is anything to go by?

As has become traditional in Nigeria, condolences and tributes have been pouring in since the sad news was announced. So also are discussions around his playing days as well as his final years. Yekini, like many of his teammates, demonstrated discipline and dedication to his fatherland that are lacking in the current set of players for the Super Eagles. To this extent, I agree with many analysts and commentators.

However, the familiar line that Nigeria abandons its heroes, as Yekini's death has triggered again, to me, appears overstretched. I had argued in different forums in the past that it is not the duty of the government to support a hero for life, especially with financial gains, as many people are quick to say. Inasmuch as a national hero is adequately compensated while his heroics for the country last, it is not the duty of the government to render life financial support to the hero. Rather, the hero should be advised to invest his rewards wisely so that he can continue to reap the benefits in time past. Yekini did not die in penury as our commentators would have us believe, but if we assume he did, then I don't think government is to blame. If everybody that has donned Nigeria's national jerseys since the country started playing competitive football more than six decades ago were put on the country's payroll, I wonder how much will be left to develop our sports. Rather than crash the roof on government for not assisting ( in monetary terms) our football heroes past, what should be done is to call on government to immortalise departed or living heroes by naming facilities after them, especially those that were very outstanding like Yekini. This is why I think naming a sporting edifice like National Stadium, Surulere, after the late goals king will not be a bad idea. So, is the Kwara State Government considering naming the state's stadium complex after him? This way, generations to come will not only know about their exploits but also strive to emulate them. After all, I was prompted to read about ex-footballer Dan Anyiam out of curiosity to know who a stadium was named after. This is a better treatment to these people than financial hand-outs as many Nigerians are canvassing. Of course, it doesn't preclude government from rendering financial assistance to any hero in special need like battling ailment. But definitely, Yekini never needed any specially.

This brings me to the talk that Yekini went insane and was walking the streets of Ibadan bare-footed in his last years on earth. I did not see Yekini physically, neither did I speak with him directly, but from my research, the story was concocted. One of Nigeria's leading sports dailies, Soccer Star, went to Ibadan to confirm the story and its reporter was able to speak with people close to the late soccer legend. Below are some of the statements of some of the people around Yekini interviewed by the reporter as published in its December 20, 2010 edition:

Dimeji Lawal (also an ex-international and Ibadan-based like Yekini): "Let me put the records straight, Yekini is not mad, everybody has his peculiar ways of doing things. Yet it will be wrong for people to say he is having mental problems. On a daily basis, he drives himself from his house at Ring Road to the stadium and after his exercise he drives home all alone. It is only on Fridays that he does not come to the stadium for training but he does not miss his Friday prayers. He goes to Ansarud Deen mosque at Ososami for Jumat prayers except when he is not in town.

"So many people inside the stadium complex can testify to his humanitarian gestures. I know some footballers who he sent to various schools…it is obvious that he doesn't place high premium on wealth and the little God has given him, he wants to share it with people…he is so contented with what he is that he is not angling to anybody for anything. Some few years back, Taribo West called from Lagos , asking me to inform Yekini that he had won the sum of N2m as he was named among Guinness' All Time Best 11 Nigerian players. I doubt if Yekini ever collected that money"

Another person in the stadium, a woman, popularly called Mama Uzor, was said to have referred to Yekini as Baba Alanu (the benevolent man) and said this about him: " He comes here every day but since that publication (that he is mad) we have not been seeing him again. He is my late husband's friend and he used to come here and chat with us. Since my husband died in 2003, he has not abandoned us; he used to help to pay my children's school fees as well as pay money for upkeep….

A disabled athlete interviewed at the stadium also said: "I must confess I am also a beneficiary of Baba's kind gestures. I think people are trying to be mischievous by misinterpreting his kind gesture to mean insanity. From my few interactions with him, I think Baba has a large heart , willingly giving to the less privileged…I know of a disabled athlete that Baba gave almost N100,000 to start a business.

According to one Bayo Oyejola, another trader around the stadium said to be the closest to Yekini, as reported by Soccer Star said, "There is no iota of truth in that madness report. In fact, his lawyer and I advised him to go to court over the report but he declined, saying he doesn't want the reporter to lose his job…unknown to many people, Yekini was a practising Muslim and he believes in giving so much in charity (Zakat). I know about three persons who he had given some of his used cars. Despite the recent negative reports in the media, he still gave out 15 bags of rice to Muslim clerics in Ibadan recently. That is the one I know."

I quoted this 2010 Soccer Star report extensively to give a detailed picture of what has been termed insane behaviour by the master striker. In a country where a helping spirit is rare and where high society life is the order of the day for famous people, I am not surprised that one that chose to live a low life of mixing with ordinary folks on the streets and cheerfully giving will be deemed mad. My own conviction is Yekini was never mad but chose to live a life of association with the less privileged. Of course, his poor family life, obviously caused by failed marriages and a life of loneliness, is not an enviable model of family set-up and may have had its toll on him as he was reported to have died of a stress related illness, which I guess would have been more easily taken care of if he had a settled family life with people living around him.

Notwithstanding those personal deficiencies, Yekini has lived a fulfilled life. Success in life is not measured by the number of jets you bought or night clubs you built but by how much you touched people's lives. While abundant wealth made legitimately is good, it can only add value to people's lives when you help others. Add humility to that, Yekini is heads and shoulders above many Nigerian celebrities. That is why I believe we need not cry for the goals-smith.

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