This is one of the most difficult articles I have ever written.
I now believe that the universe sought me out some months ago for an assignment, to bear witness and to testify in the unfolding events surrounding the life and death of Rashidi Yekini! But why me?
Within the football circle I believe I am one of a very few persons that Rashidi Yekini was comfortable with. Secondly, in the past three months I have had the closest interaction with the man up till the time I received the shocking information that he had died. I could not relate the news with the circumstances of his life during this period. Some things simply did not fit the picture being painted. And someone needed to testify, clarify and debunk the ugly and false stories being peddled around to justify Rashidi’s death.
Since I received a call from him three months ago, I have learnt a great deal more about him, the things that happened to him, why he lived his life the way he did, that he was not physically or mentally unstable, that he ran into some misfortune and that he needed support and help to get back on his feet. I have known Rashidi since our days together in the Shooting Stars FC team in Ibadan, when as twin strikers in the 1984 African Club championship we had terrorised defenders all over Africa, freely banging in goals on our way to that year’s finals where we lost! That was to be my last year with Shooting Stars and indeed with football. It was his first year!
Beyond that we had kept a good relationship from a distance. Through the years I had tried to understand his choices of the kind of life he lived without criticising or even counselling him. His decision to join Abiola Babes FC of Abeokuta, his choice of going to play in Cote D’Ivoire, moving to Europe, making the Chairman of Africa Sports FC of Abidjan, an Ivorien, his agent and manager throughout his career, all were totally of his own independent making. This clearly defined his character, that in spite of his obvious limitation in terms of academic capacity from the onset, he left no one in doubt that he was his own man and would choose his own path. He was very fiercely independent minded, never getting involved in the agitations, the politics, the power-play and the intrigues between officials and players, and even amongst the players themselves. All he cared about was to get on the field where he was extremely competitive and play football. He loved scoring goals and hardly ever exuberantly celebrated his goals. That’s why his first goal in the World Cup of 1994, against Bulgaria, and the manner he celebrated it remained the most memorable picture of that years’ championship.
As a player Rashidi was as reclusive as could possibly be. In camp players, that players had to share rooms in pairs, was the reason he lived with anyone. He was that kind of person. He would have preferred to be alone and enjoyed the solitude of his chosen way of life. Football gave him the only outlet to the rest of the world. Otherwise, you would find him sleeping, or saying his prayers, or playing pranks and cracking jokes with the players that visited his room.
Beyond football, Rashidi did not want anyone coming too close to him, to know too much and to meddle in his business. He kept his activities very close to his chest. So, even as we interacted as often as certain events brought us together I noticed his cautiousness. He was a very sensitive person. he tried never to hurt anyone, preferring to cut off any relationships that threatened his regimented sequestered lifestyle. One thing I was very sure of about him was that he never asked anything from anyone, and never wanted to depend on anyone for anything.
Football for him had provided all his needs. In short, for Rashidi Yekini, football was everything and the only thing in his life. It offered him the opportunity to escape from the pangs of poverty and he decided that the safest and best way to secure his future was not to fall victim to any smart Alecs, or scammers, or fraudsters, or business persons with sweet tongues that could talk him into parting with his hard-earned money. He did not want to be used or confused. So he built an impregnable wall around his existence, trusting only very few (he felt safer amongst the Hausa community, and did most of his very few business dealings with them). His worst fear was to lose his money. That’s why his celebrated one and only marriage crumbled after 3 months. He did not trust the motive of his wife for marrying him. So, he left the marriage before it even started. The same attitude underlined his relationship even with his family members. He took care of them, and provided for them, but from a safe distance.
It was a dangerous mixture – to be rich and famous and to be reclusive. Stories were bound to regale such an existence and with Rashidi they came in torrents. Yet, I fully I respected his choice of life and how he chose to live it, even though my every instinct wanted to support and guide him through the turbulences that I knew he would have to face managing unprecedented fame and fortune for a young man coming from his background.
No one knew this whole scenario would become the apparatus for his tragic end.
Rashidi’s death now raises many questions with no answers. The stories about his state of mind have clouded the circumstances of his death that should have been thoroughly investigated to show how, where, why he died the way he did.
I know a mad man when I see one. I can testify unequivocally along with some others that knew Rashidi from close-up that there was nothing wrong with him at the time he was abducted and died. Indeed, he was hale and hearty. Rashidi was not ill. He was fit and sound of mind and body. He even trained on the day he was forcefully taken away by people that have not come out to tell the world why they took him, where they took him, what happened there, who treated him for what ailment, what he died of, and so on. I can also testify that it was the misfortune that befell him a few years ago, that caused him great distress to the extent that he almost lost his life and his mind when his partner was killed and he lost most of his investment in their joint venture. That period was what some of his family members are saying to justify their wicked action in forcefully leading him to his death.
Rashidi was very so much into himself. He had very few close friends and kept even them in the dark about his plight and pains, preferring to deal with the issues himself. So, he did some ‘irrational’ things. So what?. Who would not do irrational things if they lost almost their entire fortune in one fell swoop? It took Rashidi a while to get over it (some two years or so). Playing his football daily, watching movies at his closest friend’s video shop, seeking some spiritual help, avoiding the public and public places, and bearing his own grief alone gradually eased the pain.
Thats where his life was when from out of the blues he rang me up. Rashidi had never done that in all our relationship. I was the one who always did the initial contacting. But some three months ago, he called me himself, and so started a new relationship that was going to bring Rashidi Yekini back to the game he loved with uncommon passion. I had assured him, after he had assured me he would fully cooperate, that he would never be far away from the game again. I assured him that the game could still help restore his lost fortunes. That he had to play it differently this time with kids as his instruments of change. He would help to nurture them, by showing and teaching them how to do the things he did best – position himself at the right place at the right time, evade tackles, and shoot accurately and powerfully with both feet, and score goals on the field of play. He was excited and raring to go. We had started discussing with companies and organisations in Lagos that would provide funds and logistical support.
Then everything came to a shuddering halt. The light of our great dreams was extinguished last week. The news came that a hale and hearty Rashidi, who finished training one evening, and had driven himself home, had been abducted by some family members, taken to an unknown destination for medical purposes, kept there for weeks without anyone’s knowledge but the perpetrators of the act, had died under circumstances that no one has been able to explain to the public.
Again let me emphasise: Rashidi was not sick at the time he was abducted. Rashidi was never mad. He could have had periods of some depression but those were in the distant past. The Rashidi that I saw, drove in his car, sat with for over one hour planning for the future, that called me up several times after that, that met with my emissaries after that, that kept in touch even with my office, that I wrote about in my column some 5 weeks ago, was not sick, or ill, or suffering illusions, or delusions, or hallucinations.
I am here testifying that Rashidi must have been ‘killed’ either ignorantly, deliberately or even inadvertently by those that did not understand what was going on with him, that had their own motivation for doing what they did by forcefully taking him away to an unknown destination for some kind of unclear, unauthorised spiritual or medical intervention that eventually killed him. That neighbours even witnessed the abduction and described it in gory detail requires that the law enforcement agencies should take up the matter immediately, to investigate what exactly happened and why Nigeria’s national hero and treasure, an African football legend in the true sense, should die the way he did.
Rashidi will not rest properly until justice is done.
Rashidi’s death must not be swept under the carpet. He died under circumstances that reek of conspiracy.