Yekini – One More Unsung Hero
On May 9, 2012

DEBATES will continue about the treatment of our heroes following the death of Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria’s iconic footballer and scorer of Nigeria’s first World Cup goal in 1994. The circumstances of his death and the panegyrics that have been pouring since then are typically Nigerian.

We shun heroes. We fail to appreciate the consequences of the likes of Yekini dying as destitute from treatable medical conditions. The hypocrisy of lamenting Yekini’s end when millions of Nigerian pensioners, heroes in their own right, die in abject poverty because people have stolen their dues, is evident.

Born in Kaduna, he began his career with United Nigerian Textile Limited, UNTL. He played in Cote d’ Ivoire, Portugal, where he became the third African to win the league’s highest goal scorer after the legend Eusebio,  and fellow Nigeria Richard Owubokiri. He also played in Greece, Spain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

“Yekini used to pay surprise visits to fans at their homes even at nights and ate with the poor,” Serge Kouame, a 56-year-old secondary school teacher said in Abidjan where Yekini played for African Sports 19 years ago. “I can still see his goals in my spirit. No other player has been so close and so good to us.”

He is mostly remembered for his celebration after scoring Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup goal against Bulgaria. Incidentally it was his only World Cup goal though he played in other matches including the 1998 World Cup.

Yekini used a Finidi George cross to score the first ever goal for Nigeria at the World Cup, but more striking was the celebration he brought to it, grabbing the net, and shaking it, while screaming. Nothing could have captured the exhilaration better.

In 1993, he became the first Nigerian to win the African Player of the Year award.

A year after he helped Nigeria to win the Africa Cup of Nations and was also the tournament’s top scorer with five goals, becoming the only player to have won the title as a reigning African Player of the Year ever since.

Yekini scored 37 international goals for Nigeria in 58 appearances and also played in the Nations Cup in 1988, 1990, 1992. He scored Nigeria’s only goal in the 3-1 loss to Yugoslavia at the 1988 Olympics.

CAF President and FIFA Vice-president Issa Hayatou’s tribute stated, “I remember him well – he was a solid attacker. It was so difficult to take the ball from him.”

A country that remarkably maltreats its people cannot bother about them, whether they are kings or commoners. Yekini’s death is another call for us to care for our people instead of wasting words when they die.

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