Since the sad news of the untimely passing of the former Nigerian Super Eagles player, Rashidi Yekini, hit the airwaves some few weeks ago, a familiar pattern of reactions seemed to have emerged once again in the manner of tributes being paid to the late footballer. While some people have gushed at his wonderful personality; that is, how he was always full of smile and jovial at all times; others have on the other hand, simply chosen to extol his football qualities which unarguably made him the best striker the country has ever produced to date – a point simply undeniable considering the record number of international goals scored by the great man while on national duty. However, while it is incontrovertible that this may be the least of the honours that the late footballer deserves as a national hero, the reports that he spent his last days on earth a dejected and lonely man afflicted with an undisclosed mental illness seems to cast a cloud of sycophancies on this circus of eulogies and sad emotions that have so far assailed his death.
Without any shadow of doubt, the touching anecdotes depicting the sad end to Yekini’s life are bound to melt any heart of stone, anytime. His was simply the story of a man who sacrificed a lot to bring smiles on the faces of his kinsmen only to be abandoned at his direst time of needs. Without writing off the possibility that some of the narratives heard so far may have been embellished to heighten their emotional valence, but the nub of it all is that this was a man whose life might have been prolonged with just little help from his environment. Environment in this instance will entail his immediate communities – which may be represented by those who claimed to have had up close and personal encounters with him while ‘he was roaming the streets’ ‘crying for help’ as well as the larger society that simply confined his memory to oblivion immediately after he retired from the public view.
Interestingly though, the first major fallout of the reported circumstances preceding Yekini’s death is that it calls to question certain established beliefs surrounding conceptualizations of interrelationships in our societies. For instance, due to the structures and nature of the social relationships that inhere in African societies, sociologists and psychologists often classify the peoples as being collectivist. A corollary of this therefore is that, there is high level of dependence amongst the peoples on each other. This according to the protagonists of collectivism constitutes as one of the cultures that help them to navigate through their complex social lives successfully. The antithesis of the collectivist system is of course, the individualistic version inherent in the Western world where people totally keep to themselves and almost subsist as a single entity.
The foregoing therefore explains why certain practices considered abhorrent in the Western world easily find traction in Africa or some otherThird Worldcountries today. For example, in Nigeria, it is common practice for a ‘Mama Ngozi’ to unceremoniously knock on a ‘Mama Kayode’s’ door for a pinch of salt or a cube of sugar and vice versa; obviously this is something you’ll never find in the individualistic setting of the West.
An important knock-on effect of this symbiotic materialistic supports however, is that people also unwittingly act as their brothers’ keepers - as they monitor each others’ welfare in the process. This partly explains why a ghastly incident such as that of the British spy Gareth Williams who was found dead in his apartment in a holdall bag after seven days may possibly be a no-no situation in a place likeAfrica. Which then brings us to one salient, probably inevitable question, why was there no shoulder for the late footballer to lean on when he was falling apart?
The above happened to be my question to a fellow Nigerian; and I must say his riposte was interesting, to say the least. According to this gentleman, Yekini was just unlucky to be a footballer in throes at this time in Nigerian football history. Surely this call for further elucidation, isn’t it? His position is that Nigerian football doesn’t exist anymore in the psyche of Nigerians. The new dynamics competing with the love for our own football is the numerous foreign leagues inEurope– particularly the English Premier League. Every Nigerian today irrespective of their place of abode has undergone a mental naturalization whereby the club of their allegiance take precedence over any other loyalty. Do you think he was lying?
Today when Nigerians talk about these foreign teams, it is in the collective pronoun context of ‘we’, ‘our’ and so on and so forth. How then do you expect them to care about Rashidi Yekini when all they are preoccupied with is an undying obsession for Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona, Chelsea or Arsenal to mention but a few. When Stephen Keshi (the present coach of our national team) lamented sometime last year about the diminished image of the Super Eagles in the eyes of Nigerians, he was stating the obvious which is most Nigerians don’t give a toss about their national team anymore. We even now go as far as killing each other anytime our respective teams of allegiance lose to one another. Unfortunately, this constitute as a new form of neo-colonialism where we help to propagate the imperious relationships with the developed world and undermine our own interests. The truth is the only, truly ‘ours’ or ‘we’ in the world of football today is the Nigerian Super Eagles – whether they’re pathetic or not; as well as other teams bearing the national flag of the country.
On the other hand, to cut the Nigerian public a bit of slack, responsibilities for Yekini’s post-football years should without mincing words be that of his primary constituency which is all the bodies concerned with managing the game in the country. This is the practice in other places – particularly European nations which serve as models for our football management and organizations. This explains why today, the bulk of the panel of analysts for major competitions or the various seasonal sports leagues or tournaments on popular sports television stations such as Sky Sports and other British media today happen to be made up of retired sportsmen, ex-England internationals and former English Premier League players. Those who are not cut out for punditry also have a system in place which encourages them to go into management or other aspects of the game such as being top executives in their former clubs like in the case of Booby Charlton of Manchester United. This way, they not only remain relevant to the game but also get rehabilitated in their post-football years.
Unfortunately, the reverse tends to be the case on our own shore. Not only would the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) not be able to account for ex national players who in some cases may be having it rough but they even shirk their responsibilities to these players during their playing careers. For example, ask any member of the association today about the whereabouts of somebody like Humphrey Edobor who only featured for the national team in the 80s and you’ll surely be chasing shadows as all you’ll probably get will be a deathly silence. Also, just aftermath Yekini’s passing, the first thing Sunday Oliseh who played alongside him regretted is that the federal government never fulfilled their promise of 1994 to him after the national team’s triumph at the African Cup of Nations that was held in Tunisia. And to make matters worse, hope that this situation may ameliorate very soon quickly flitter away with statements such as the one below credited to the President of our so-called number one football body (NFF). In his reaction to the accusation of neglect of Yekini, Aminu Maigari was reported to have said and I quote ‘it is incorrect to say that the NFF abandoned the late football hero. We made several efforts to reach him, and even announced it in the media sometimes last year that we were looking for him. We went beyond that to send several persons to Yekini but he just didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody, apparently’ end quote. Who is this man? Is he really a Nigerian? Looking for Yekini, inNigeria!
It then follows that for those who have been looking for reasons behind the disparities in performances of the present crop of our foreign-based players when they don the country’s jerseys as compared to when they appear for their respective clubs, there may be no need here to look further. In all candidness, it remains to be seen how the extant nonchalant attitudes of these footballers can change for the better in the face of this conspicuous evidence of neglect and abandonment from a national body that should supposedly protect their interests and welfare. Put differently, seeing that the system in place doesn’t guarantee any form of support in their non-active years which in every sense of it hang precariously in the balance as this is a profession highly susceptible to sudden injuries, it is then unfathomable why any right thinking person should expect anything different from the shoddy and shabby level of commitment that we have frequently accused these players of.
What may intrigue any critical mind more at this juncture is why it always takes death to nudge us into reality as regard the abandonment of these men and women who have sacrificed their time and comfort for the collective glory of the country. Though this culture of neglect seems to permeate our social fabric or system in general but there seems to be enough evidence to show that it is something very rife with our sportsmen and sportswomen today. To say the truth, the idea of consigning these men and women into oblivion only to start shedding crocodile tears on the news of their demise is not only tantamount to hypocrisy of the highest order but also capable of discouraging or killing any spirit of nationalism and patriotism that we may expect from them.
As is the practice, Yekini’s death has once again precipitated another clamour for honours and immortalization by almost all and sundry. In the same vein, both Oyo and Kwara state governments have shelled out large amounts of money to his family - with more to come in the nearest future according to reports. While appreciating the spirit of generosity being displayed here it is however worth reaffirming that this is one act that would have been more useful or beneficial to the man while alive. It then follows that what we’re witnessing here at the moment may be a case of art imitating life as Yekini’s story resonates with an old movie revolving round a man who ‘lived and died wretched but was buried in a multi-million naira casket’. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Well it was the title of a Nollywood movie produced in the 90s. Maybe it’s time for a sequel. This time as a Biopic, it’s bound to be a classic!