Think not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country” – J.F Kennedy
“Is Nigeria worth dying for?” asked the moderator at a recent event in Nigeria’s premier University, Ibadan some weeks ago. How apt? In a hall packed with young Nigerians in their early twenties to mid-thirties, not one hand went up in response to this rather innocuous question about sacrifice to father land. Instead a pall of silence suddenly descended on the hall. After a while and when the participants suddenly found their voices. Angry outbursts broke about why this country is not worth dying for. A recurring reason which continued to re-echo now like a déjà vu is the manner that this Nigeria mistreats her heroes. But this was several weeks before the news of the death of Nigeria’s football legend, Rashidi Yekini’s broke; a heartbreaking situation which many Nigerians see as a depressing example of the Nigerian tragedy. But do you blame them? Have they just not been proven right with the death of one of Nigeria’s revered sports heroes; who brought the country global attention but lived like a pauper and was buried unsung last week? A country that does not reward its heroes may truly not be worth dying for. That encounter got me thinking about patriotism and this whole idea of sacrificing for one’s motherland. A fervor that propelled a one time President of the United States to make the statement above which at once provided the tonic that drove America nationalism, inspiring millions of Americans to die in service of their country in all spheres of human endeavor.
Fast forward to Friday 4th May 2012; dawn broke with no inkling of a major happening that was about to shake the entire nation. But like life itself which is unpredictable, the news came like a bombshell. Rashii Yekini, Nigeria’s and Africa’s foremost footballer died in Ibadan. The whole world seemed to stand still. The country was in shock. Then the legendry words of William Shakespeare hits me “when beggars die, there are no comets seen. But the heavens blazes forth at the death of Princes”. My thoughts immediately flashed back to the lecture and the question that was asked about dying for ones country. I was in a daze as the question kept ringing in my subconscious. The voice of the Professor wafted through the hot blazing afternoon, leaving me in a daze. “Is this country truly worth dying for” Well, Rashidi Yekini did last week. He died after years of serving the country. He brought honours to his country; cementing Nigeria’s reputation on the global sports page. Rashidi Yekini’s feat also came at an epoch in Nigeria’s history when the country was a Pariah nation; despised by other nations as a haven of corrupt fraudsters. Yekini profession and the exploits of Super Eagles at that time in our history cast Nigeria in a positive image in the comity of nation. It was also during his time that the country reached an enviable fifth position in FIFA country ranking, ahead of other great football nation in Europe and globally. He was dedicated, focused and determined to bring honour to his fatherland. Perhaps he is one of those patriots that J.F Kennedy was referring to as he made his speech many years ago.
Except that, at this time, a patriot like Yekini died serving a fatherland that holds him in contempt while alive. Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria and global football legend is a classical example of how not to die for ones country. Like many others before him. The footballer died unsung. In life, in spite of his fame, he was depressed, battered and broken. He lived a reclusive life. He lived the life of a pauper. He was never honoured. Reports said he lived a life of penury. He was neglected and dumped by the country he served for so many years. He is not alone in his plight. How many patriotic Nigerians have died unsung? Also in Ibadan, one of Nigerian’s unsung heroes is also dying in installment. Chief Taiwo Akinkumi, the designer of the National Flag which was hoisted at Nigeria’s Independence on October 1 1960, when the country got its independence from Great Britain and the Union Jack was lowered. Several Nigerians that have served this country in their youthful days are left to rot. Promises will be made but not honoured. How many times have footballers who represented Nigeria at international events returned and promised heavens and earth by the government of the day only to be let down? After such exploits, money will be pledged; scholarship will be announced for sportsmen and women but as soon as the klieg lights of meeting a high ranking government official is concluded nothing will be heard of the promises. One President even boasted that a paltry handshake is good enough honour for the men and women that brought honour to our country. What manner of country humiliates its heroes? Nigeria is probably the only country in the world where heroes are treated like lepers; ostracized from the society after their lofty deeds for their society. Examples abound, those young footballers who represented Nigeria in Japan for the Under-17 World Cup never got the scholarship and land promised by the government. The class of 1980, Nation’s Cup Winners is still living with the scars of unfulfilled promises. The Women Champions who represented Nigeria at various events are still smarting from litanies of broken promises. Sunday Oliseh, Rashidi Yekini’s team mate recently revealed that the promise of a house each made to the champions of Tunisia 1994 is yet to be fulfilled!
The disdain this country exhibits towards her hero is seen all areas of life. Nigeria also has an aversion to her past political heroes. The trend is such that no matter the capacity you serve this country, once you are retired, you become forgotten. Why do Nigerians celebrate their heroes’ right after their death? The same phenomenon played out immediately after the death of Yekini hits the airwaves. Reactions came in swiftly. “Oh he is the best Nigerian footballer to have graced the part of the world” More accolades are still pouring in after the death of the great footballer last week. Promises are now being reeled out by governments at all levels. The government that did not care for him while he was alive is now promising to rehabilitee his family after death. Scholarships are being offered to his children. Governors, Local Government Chairmen and even the Presidency are falling head of over heels to praise the legendary roles he played in his active days. But the images of Rashidi Yekini last days, his manner of death and the unsung manner of his burial should shame us all. How could a man who laboured to put Nigeria on the global stage of the most glamorous sporting event suffer so incredibly and almost buried like a dog? His lying in state on a rickety bed in a dilapidated building in his home should haunt the administrators of football and the country in general. The sordid details that have emerged of Yekni’s last days are also sadly instructive. What was our football association’s contribution to his rehabilitation when it was first reported that the legend was in a bad state health-wise? How about the government of Oyo state? Why were efforts not made by stakeholders in sports to rehabilitate him? In other climes legends like Yekini are deified. In England, the bust of Thierry Henry stands at the Emirates. Diego Maradona was rehabilitated by the government when he became a drug addict. He later coached Argentina, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Eric Cantona, Johann Cruyf, Eusebio, Pele, Bobby Charlton are legends of the game respected and honoured by their various countries. In our country, football administrators are only concerned about lining their pockets rather than players’ welfare. Why do we still talk about players’ commitment when young players see how past heroes are treated? Do we still blame players and athletes for ditching the country for ot
her countries? Do we blame player for lack of commitment when representing Nigeria in competitions abroad. How many times have we heard our athletes cry foul of being dumped while injured or cheated by greedy sports administrators? Is a country that rewards corrupt politicians and fraudsters with chieftaincy titles worth dying for? One can imagine how a player like Maradona will be buried when he finally answers Gods call (I am not wishing him dead). But we can be sure the whole of Argentina and the entire world will stand still in honor of him. How should we have treated a man that scored our first World Cup gold? Why do we have to wait till Yekini’s death to honour him? The country cannot demand patriotism from the citizens when the “labour of our heroes past are in vain” The lesson of Yekini’s death for our athletes is to make hay while the sun shines. Adieu, “Gangling Yekini”