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Rasheedi Yekini: Still an Unsung Hero, Eight Years After

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Many existed before him. Many have also dominated after him. But none can be compared to him. None has given soccer-crazy Nigerians the kind of spontaneous joy and ecstasy he caused,  the way he did and for as long as he did. None has shown patriotism, immense commitment and put Nigeria first the way he did. Most importantly, none has matched his amazing goal scoring records.

He was the archetypal, old-fashioned,  complete striker. With his gangling, intimidating height, incredible strength, unmatched speed and awesome eye for goal, he was a handful for any defender to handle and unstoppable for even the best of defences world over.

From 5 yards, 10 yards etc, he was the ultimate goal poacher who was comfortable with both feet. From long range, his ‘canon’ shots were so devastating that hardly any defender or goalkeeper could stop them from hitting the target. He was just as incredible in aerial situations. He was also a master of the dead balls as his penalties and long range free-kicks were often unstoppable.

Little wonder one of the greatest defenders to have played the modern game, Rio Ferdinand, once paid tribute to him, saying he was one powerful attacker he loved watching as someone who lived in Peckam, London with many  Nigerians in the 80s and 90s. In his mind, the one-time world’s most expensive defender would be thanking his stars that he never had to play against the Nigerian goal king.

His teammate at Shooting Stars of Ibadan and another legend, Segun Odegbami, described him as “a prodigious goal scorer, a humble servant of the game, and a committed patriot with uncommon love for country, humanity and the less-privileged in society.”

Born in Kaduna to parents from Ira in Kwara state on October 23, 1963, exactly 23 years after the great Pele of Brazil was born, Rasheed Yekini’s greatness should have been noticed early enough. He shared birthday with arguably the all-time greatest footballer and most accomplished goal scorer in history, Edson Arantez Do Nacimentos, aka Pele. If people of that generation were observant enough, they should have known that another great goal scorer was in the making.


From UNTL in Kaduna, Yekini moved to Shooting Stars in Ibadan as a 21-year-old youth prodigy in 1984 where he teamed up with some of the best players of that generation including the ‘mathematical’ Odegbami with whom he formed a devastating strike partnership.

With the disbandedment of the team for losing a continental cup final few years later, Yekini ,who was already a hot cake in African football, began a long oddysey outside the country where he showcased his immense goal scoring kills to the world. The long odyssey took him to Ivory Coast, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Saudi Arabia etc.  He was particularly very successful in two stints  each at Victoria Settubal of Portugal and also at African Sports of Ivory Coast.

Yekini represented Nigeria at all levels for over a decade, playing in two World Cups and several Cups of Nation events. As top scorer and player of the tournament, he won the African Cup of Nations for the country in Tunisia, 1994. Later that year, he led the line for the Super Eagles in USA 1994 World Cup scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal in a 3-0 thrashing of Bulgaria. His unique goal celebration did not only become an iconic picture used in promoting the tournament for years to come, the special image of it will also remain in the hearts of soccer-loving Nigerians forever.

The previous year, he had won the African footballer of the year award, due to his goal scoring exploits for club and country.

Yekini remains the country’s top international scorer with 37 goals from 58 games. No one has been able to get close to that number, though the legendary Odegbami had 23 goals in 46 games.  Yekini was the first Nigerian star to win the prestigious African Footballer of the year.

He was indeed a superstar. He gave the country all he had. He gave back to the society in a lot of ways and helped the downtrodden. He was not only a great player, he was also an excellent human being. After a glorious sojourn abroad, Yekini returned to play for Julius Berger of Lagos and later Gateway Fc of Ota in order to be able to mentor and nurture younger players which he did very well.

According to Odegbami, some of his family members mistook his incredible kindness for insanity and took him to strange places where he met his ‘untimely’ death on May 4, 2012.

Veteran journalist and newspaper columnist, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, who like Yekini hails from Kwara state however lent credence to the ‘insanity’ angle when he wrote agonisingly about how Nigeria has an unfortunate culture of abandoning ex-internationals in their hour of need and also failing to come to the aid of people suffering from all manners of mental challenges.

Yekini was a known loner even in his vibrant days. He kept to himself more than he related with colleagues and teammates. He may have indeed suffered depression in his dying days. While there were stories about him losing huge sum of money to a failed business, his lawyer and friend, Jibril Mohammed, like Odegbami, also indicted some of his family members in the circumstances that led to his death.

As far as sport lovers and analysts are concerned, the Nigerian state failed Yekini in his dying days by failing to investigate his mental state and offering help. Nigeria has also failed him in death by not investigating the circumstances even though his eldest daughter, Yemisi, said she smelt a rat and called for a probe of what killed her daddy.

Now that the football community in Nigeria is marking eight years since his demise, all we have seen from government at all levels and their agencies are the same hypocritical tributes that greeted his tragic death. Many consider it a crying shame that no national monument has been named after him as he is yet to be immortalized. Yemisi once told a story of how she was honoured and celebrated like a queen when she visited Portugal and introduced herself as Yekini’s daughter, lamenting that she is yet to see anything close to that in Nigeria.

Many also see the fact  that his aged mother, Sikirat, lives in penury as a national shame. The Minister of Sports, Sunday  Dare, was however commended for reaching out to her and the mother of another departed hero, Sam Okwaraji, recently with some gifts and the promise of 10,000 naira monthly stipends to the two women.

As all and sundry continue to remember Yekini and pray for his soul, it is hoped that the Nigerian state will take advantage of his eight year remembrance and properly immortalize him so that the younger generation will realise that this country is worth dying for and give their best while serving in any capacity.

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