Rashidi Yekini – who died 10 years ago – was a man who “gave his all” to Nigeria but was quickly forgotten by his country, according to former international team-mates Sunday Oliseh and Victor Ikpeba.
Yekini, 48, was reportedly kidnapped shortly before he passed away, but the cause of his death is still unclear ten years later.
Police in Oyo State, where the striker was living when he died, told the BBC shortly after his death that no investigation was opened.
A decade on, there is pride in the achievements of the 1993 African Footballer of the Year yet sadness at his death and anger at the way he had been treated by the government and football authorities.
“What I find very sad is not just that there’s no closure about his passing, but that for all the man did for our country he deserves to always be remembered,” fellow Super Eagles star Oliseh told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s not encouraging because one of the most interesting things about people who served their nations is that one wants to be remembered for the sacrifices you’ve made. That is why I find it very unfortunate that priority is not given to remember Yekini, who gave his all to our country.”
The prolific striker played a key role in some of his country’s greatest moments on the pitch, ending top scorer at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations as Nigeria won their second continental crown.
Yekini is still the Super Eagles’ all-time leading scorer with 37 goals and is third on the list of Nations Cup scorers, wit his tally of 13 strikes at the finals only bettered by Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o (18) and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Pokou (14).
He also scored his country’s first ever World Cup goal in 1994, against Bulgaria, famously celebrating with his clenched fists punched through the net in exultation, which became an iconic image of both the tournament and of the man.
Ikpeba, who was also in Nigeria’s 1994 Nations Cup-winning team, is still upset there was no full investigation into Yekini’s death.
“A lot of things could have been done to give closure to his family, fans and the country,” the 1997 African Footballer of the Year, 48, told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s shocking because it’s 10 years and nobody knows how he died. So who do we blame – the police, his state government or the federal government? These are the questions I ask myself.
“I know he was a Muslim and was buried within 24 hours as practiced in his religion, but an autopsy could have been carried out to tell us what happened to him. Sadly, we failed him when he was alive and in death. That is not how a legend like Yekini should be remembered.”
His international career aside, Yekini was also prolific at club level – seeing huge success with Shooting Stars of Nigeria, Ivory Coast’s Africa Sport and Vitoria Setubal of Portugal, amongst others.
He helped Shooting Stars reach the final of the African Champions Cup (forerunner of the African Champions League) in 1984 and made his debut for Nigeria the same year.
His final international outings came at the 1998 World Cup, and he once confronted a club coach who had questioned his frequent trips to represent the West African nation.
“There was a time I learnt that my (club) coach was complaining in the press that I went too often to play for Nigeria and that it affected his plans,” Yekini once said.
“I told him nobody can stop me from playing for my fatherland. This is where my people love me – not only because I score goals, but because I am their son. Even if Nigeria has a fixture against ants and cockroaches and I am invited, I will go and play.”
Yekini lived a reclusive life after he quit football for good in 2005 following a spell back in the Nigerian league.
He aggressively shunned the media limelight and turned down several offers to be part of the country’s football in other capacities, rejecting the chance to be a Nigerian football ambassador to the 2010 World Cup – a move which was never explained.
However, Oliseh and Ikpeba, who both won Olympic football gold with Nigeria in 1996, said Yekini was given no support by Nigeria’s football establishment when he needed it most.
“He always kept to himself but came alive during training sessions and matches for his country. A wonderful human and team-mate. Somewhat withdrawn, but that was his nature,” recalled Ikpeba.
“He was not one to dwell on negative things around the team but just happy to play for the national team instead. Yekini needed help, but the entire football community failed him.
“I’m glad there was a posthumous recognition given to him by the Confederation of African Football, thanks to Anthony Baffoe, which Yekini’s daughter attended. But here in Nigeria, we have nothing to remember him by at state or federal level, I am deeply sad.”
Former captain Oliseh, 47, echoes Ikpeba’s sentiments, adding: “What have we done to honour him? Do kids growing up know anything about the man or his incredible achievements?
“He’s the best striker Nigeria ever had, and he proved it in so many ways. For that reason, I feel extremely sad there is no proper commemoration to honour him.
“As a team-mate I will always remember and cherish him for everything he did. But I believe a lot more could have been done for the man.”
Apart from a recognition award given to the Class of 1994 by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in 2019, with the striker’s daughter picking up his plaque, there has been no commemoration of Yekini by the organisation.
A top official of the NFF declined to comment on the subject, while the body’s outgoing President Amaju Pinnick was not available for comment.