The death last week of the former Super Eagles striker, Mr. Rashidi Yekini, aged 48, has continued to elicit shock and sadness across the nation. Although the exact circumstances surrounding his passage are still unclear, the story of how the late footballer was shackled and forcefully taken away from his house in Ibadan by some close relations has become a familiar affair in our country today. But the real tragedy is that depression and other mental health challenges which could be more humanely and successfully managed have in Nigeria become harbingers of death most often by way of their ‘cure’.
It is curious that Yekini’s family would claim, following his death, that he had mental problem when there remains no medical proof to that assertion. In any case, that claim may not stand given new revelations by former national team skipper, Mr. Segun Odegbami, with whom Yekini had been collaborating on a project in the weeks before he was taken away to some unknown destination. We therefore call on the relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances under which Yekini died. This is important because people with mental health issues are usually easy prey for spiritualists who carry out unorthodox and sometimes dehumanizing procedures that border on superstition. It is perhaps within this context that one can situate the fate that ultimately befell Yekini. But there is even a bigger issue here. Mental indisposition is beyond the afflicted yet our society stigmatize and often ostracize victims such that even the little help that could easily have made a difference is sometimes denied them.
Beyond the current season of national lamentation, we must learn the necessary lesson from this tragedy. While it is true that sporting authorities abroad equally do not create special platforms for their own sports men and women to leverage on after they retire, the peculiar nature of our country and the limited exposure of some of our athletes require us to do more for them. The relevant authorities and public-spirited persons in the society should therefore use the death of Yekini to promote the cause of ensuring that those who truly serve this country are not left to their own devices at their hours of need. It is sad that a man who gave so much for his country could die the way Yekini did.
Fondly called ‘gangling’ ostensibly because of his frame (he stood 6ft 3in tall), the late Yekini caught the eye of IICC Shooting Stars scouts while he was playing for Kaduna-based United Nigerian Textiles Limited (UNTL). The prolific striker who played in five African Nations Cup finals would most likely have broken the tournament’s scoring record had the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha not stopped the Super Eagles from defending their African title in South Africa in 1996. Yekini therefore finished his Nations Cup campaigns stuck on 13 goals, although he did secure individual honours as the top scorer at both the 1992 and 1994 editions with four and five goals respectively.
Yekini will, however, forever be remembered for not only scoring the nation’s first ever World Cup goal at USA ’94, but also for the unique way he went on to celebrate it. The first Nigerian to be voted African Footballer of the Year in 1993, Yekini featured at France’98, won 58 caps and scored a record 37 goals during his 14 years with the Super Eagles. After playing for a number of European clubs, Yekini broke with tradition by returning home to play in the domestic league, first with Julius Berger FC and then with Gateway FC of Abeokuta.
It is indeed quite unfortunate the way and manner such an illustrious footballer passed on but his demise should teach the nation not to neglect those who faithfully served her. We commiserate with his immediate and extended family. While Yekini has immortalised himself on the field of play, the relevant authorities must also accord him his due recognition through a posthumous honour. He was indeed a great Nigerian hero.