I was in total bewilderment last Friday evening when news broke of the tragic death of former national football star, Rashidi Yekini.
I had spoken about him the night before to a group of friends and a modest effort we discussed with Segun Odegbami, before I traveled out of Nigeria, over a month ago.
It seemed absolutely surreal that the man died that day! Then the story of the killing of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, Deputy General Secretary of the NLC, who was assassinated in Benin City; he was born in Ilorin, and it was in my hometown, that our paths tangentially crossed. But more about that later, in this narrative.
I never met Rashidi Yekini in his lifetime, but like every sports-loving Nigerian, I never forgot his exploits in the national team, during the most successful phase in Nigerian football history. Yekini brought joy to Nigerians, helping the national spirit in the unique manner that football does, in our often, fractious country. A few months ago, I heard or read somewhere, that RashidiYekini, one of the few stars who made good in the European league but returned home to feature again in our national league, was ‘going mad’ in Ibadan. The story went that he would go to the bank, collect money and distribute to people on the streets of the city; he would go around in the same dress for days wearing bathroom slippers, etc.! I called Segun Odegbami to confirm the veracity of the salacious story; he had also heard that something was amiss.
It was in the course of our discussion, that an outline of an idea came to my mind. I thought we should not allow RashidiYekini to become a ‘mad man’ roaming Nigerian streets.
He contributed his quota to national development in sports and besides we must never vacate that most human quality, compassion, whenever another human being was in distress. Didn’t the poet, John Donne, say we are involved in mankind?
There was an interesting combination of factors that we could take advantage of in my view, as I told Segun: Bolaji Abdullahi is the acting Sports Minister and he is from Kwara and the governor of the state, Abdulfateh Ahmed, is someone I have known from when we were young boys.
I will arrange to meet the governor, tell him what I heard about Rashidi Yekini; urge that he helps in his rehabilitation, collaborating with the sports minister, to make it the national issue it really was! We must for once, show responsibility and compassion; factors that seemed to have eroded from our social space in recent years.
Odegbami readily agreed to be part of the effort. He also felt some amount of guilt, recalling how Yekini met him at the IICC Shooting Stars in Ibadan. He was a very shy young man, but were drawn to each other, because both spoke Hausa fluently. Rashidi grew up in Kaduna, while Odegbami was a Jos boy!
My political relationship with the PDP government in Kwara is an uneasy one, especially since I wrote what they considered a devastating critique of Bukola Saraki’s regime, towards its end in May 2011. In response, they bought pages in several Nigerian newspapers to ‘expose’ what in their view were the ‘personal’ reasons, which made me analyse Bukolas’s eight-year tenure.
Knowing that any request to see the governor might be misconstrued to be an ‘appeal’ for personal favours gave me the pause, but I then consulted a couple of people in the state, stated my intention, before finally calling the governor a couple of times.
When I did not get to speak with him, I called his Chief Press Secretary, stating that I wanted to discuss ‘something very important’, which might even enhance the governor’s political position; I assured it was not ‘personal’, but I was only willing to divulge the matter to the governor himself.
I was assured that I would see the governor ‘when next’ they were in Abuja. It went on for a while, but unfortunately, we never met before I travelled out of Nigeria, for a month, since Easter Sunday. The denouement was RashidiYekini’s tragic passing last week!
Segun Odegbami went a step further, after our discussion; he went to Ibadan and met Rashidi, and that formed the basis of a column he did about five weeks ago “The return of Rashidi Yekini”. He narrated how he eventually tracked the man down. Rasidi had always been a very shy, almost reclusive, person. For Odegbami, it was deeply cultural, because Rashidi was thoroughly ‘Northern’, with Hausa language being his first and was challenged in the use of English, but spoke excellent Portugese, having played for Victoria Settubal in the Portugese League, for many years. He had once tried to do an interview in the English and became the butt of insensitive jokes, which apparently hurt his sensitivities further.
Odegbami told me that Rashidi invested money with a Bureau De Change operator, who then lost money and life to robbers! He located the crisis in some of these issues and then outlined steps being planned to assist his rehabilitation. These also came to naught with his death.
The tragic twist to the story came in the past few days, from his lawyer, who said some people came to chain Rashidi Yekini, and he was bloodied, as he was forced away from his residence; he did not return alive!
In a more rational society, an inquiry would be organised to uncover all the issues around the alleged ‘mental sickness’ which afflicted Rashidi Yekini, not just because he was a national sports star, but because he was simply a citizen!
The fact that he might have needed some expert assistance for a long time, and was probably not forthcoming, spoke volumes about the utter irresponsibility of the Nigerian State and the steep erosion of compassion in our communities. I think mental problems remain badly understood in our societies; even in the more advanced climes, psychiatry and psychological issues are fields of unending controversy!
As a child growing up in the sixties, it seemed the norm was to see ‘mad people’ or those suffering personality disorders as some form of exotica: children taunted them; the elderly enjoyed the fun and very few people had any sensitivity about their sufferings.
There were ‘traditional psychiatrists’ alright, but they seemed to specialise more in chaining and beating their ‘patients’ while there were numerous mentally-challenged women who ended up pregnant in the residences of those quacks!
Country a suffocation ground
It is tragic that in the 21st Century, we have not advanced any meaningfully in this, as in other areas of our national life. In fact, we have regressed! The norm now is to take people to pastors, prayer warriors and malams!
The country is a suffocation ground of mysticism; mind-bending mumbo-jumbo and irrationality.
Social problems dominate existential life and in turn, people retreat into ecstatic religious exorcism; live in paralysis and fear of the unknown, reflecting in their minds the terror of the insecure lives they live; as they withdraw more and more into irrationality.
Those who rule and preside over the ruination of our country are also entrapped in these delusions and each try to outsmart the other to be seen as ‘devout’ and ‘religious’.
The rationality which governance needs has long been vacated in the Nigerian public space and it not uncommon for top government officials to even choose colours of dress to wear, at the behest of their Malams or Pastors. They are regularly drinking portions given to ward off all manners of evil, enemies and as the fundamentalist Christian elements say, ‘principalities’!
This is the irrational setting against which Rashidi Yekini’s tragic death and the hypocritical outpouring of ‘tributes’ must be understood. We failed our basic humanity watching the man suffer, despite his contributions to our happiness on the soccer pitch.
But even if he never kicked a ball once in his lifetime, our society owed him care and compassion, as a citizen. It is the absence of societal compassion that has deepened despair in our country and has become largely responsible for the anti-state uprisings all around us!
I personally feel sorry that my modest initiative for Rasidi Yekini floundered and do feel angry that a citizen and a sports star lost his life the way he did. “Every man’s death diminishes me/ For I am involved in mankind/So ask not for whom the bell tolls/ It tolls for thee”- John Donne
Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde: Even death won’t defeat you
I WAS close to OlaitanOyerinde; but a few years ago, I think in 2007, the NLC set up a national committee to examine the labour movement against the backdrop of the developments since the emergence of the NLC. I was a member along with comrades from all over Nigeria.
It was at one of the sittings that he told me about his birth and upbringing in Ilorin. He then reminded me of his mother and that brought it all together! She ran a kiosk by the old Midland Stores, the huge government-owned supermarket, now defunct.
It was from her that I used to purchase magazines: WEST AFRICA; Ralph Uwechue’s AFRICA; AFRIQUE-ASIE; AFRICA BUSINESS; MIDDLE EAST and so many music magazines. I was an announcer on radio,but growing intoconsciousness in the context of the developments in the world of the 1970s. She readily allowed me to pick the magazines and then pay by month’s end. She was absolutely trusting and had a word of encouragement for me.
I read somewhere that Olaitan was survived by his family and an aged mother; that wonderful woman who assisted my love of reading three decades ago! She must be in deep sorrow with her son’s tragic death. May God comfort her and thefamily.
Olaitan played an active role in the Nigerian students’ movement and made the natural progression into the labour movement. He represented the very best of the young people of our country, the type which must eventually liberate Nigeria!