The most worrying case of neglect and dishonour as payment for national service is that of the former goaleador and gangling striker, Rashidi Yekini. Any sensible nation would do anything not only to appreciate Yekini for his past selfless exploits to put Nigeria’s name in gold. But it would also keep him in limelight and in soccer circles. Brazil does that for Pele. Argentina does same for Maradona. Beckam is still idolized in England. Abedi Pele Ayew commands national respect and enjoys goodwill in Ghana. Roger Millar is not out of circulation in Cameroon. Kalusha Bwalya is very close to sports and national circles in Zambia. Dr. Khumalo still has government admiration in South Africa. All these former players are Yekini’s contemporaries. There has been that sense of gratitude from the nation towards these individuals.
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In Nigeria’s case however, it is that of negligence, condemnation, wrong insinuations, and bad press towards the heroes. Rashidi was reported recently to be mad. There cannot be a more malicious and ungrateful way to reward and celebrate a hero whose labour the nation still enjoys. He was the first Nigerian to win the African Player of the Year award. He is one of CAF’s all-time highest goals scorers. He scored crucial goals that earned Nigeria the Nations Cup in 1994, and qualifying Nigeria to its first ever World Cup the same year. Rashidi played for Nigeria from 1982 (when the likes of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu and Felix Owolabi were still playing) to 2003 (when the younger generation whizkids, Okocha, Kanu and Oliseh were already losing steam and retiring).
The NFF has not been able to find a responsible and rewarding position for Yekini. Also, the Nigerian government prefers not to use such people as Goodwill Ambassadors and influence-pullers in FIFA and international diplomacy, but the likes of Amos Adamu. While Yekini is still much respected in FIFA and CAF circles, he is obscure at home. The approach by NFF to call him on phone after almost ten years of contacting him and instructing him to forward his international passport for an “ambassadorial” position at South Africa 2010 was disrespectful. That approach was like they were doing him a favour! Here was a man whose exploits had attracted much monetary allocation for them at the Glass House to steal!! If not for the past successes of these legends, there would not have been a Glass House in the first place. It could have been a wooden house!!!
Rashidi’s riches are his saving grace. Obscurity would have been accompanied by penury. But Rashidi is rich and expects no financial compensation from the government. No wonder he turns down all belated money-spinning invitations from NFF and corporate organizations. One can guess that all he expects and deserves is national respect and accordance of honour.
Rashidi Yekini is not the only one suffering this plight of national neglect. Best Ogedegbe, one of Nigeria’s finest goalkeepers in the 1980s, died almost wretched. He could not afford the cost of treatment of his ailment. As a young university lecturer in Ibadan in the early 2000s, I used to engage Ogedegbe in football discourse at the mechanic workshop we both patronized at Eleyele, from which I could feel his passion for the game and love of Nigeria, despite its letdown towards his generation. A member of the Board of the Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC), Ogedebge (MON) was driving a very old Mercedes Benz 230E. For me, it was a great honour and rare opportunity to meet one of those people we used to idolize when we were boys. It never crossed my imagination that I would encounter such a person. But for him, it was not so. There was no air of importance around him at all. He looked deflated. He was an unsung hero. Sad. Very sad that Nigeria would not have a programme to keep its heroes permanently ennobled as a way of gratitude.
The military is another institution that is a victim of our culture of ignominia. Forty years after the Civil War, many soldiers and officers are dying of lack of care, hunger, and unpaid pension. Some live as amputees, and yet many have one severe ailment or the other that the government does not care about. The business of politics, of planning coups, rigging and winning elections, and the business of sharing stolen money have been too demanding for decades to care about other more pertinent issues. Aside the Civil War “villains” who fought to keep Nigeria one, there have been many military personnel sent to peacekeeping missions who return to be denied honour. Some soldiers who even returned from a mission reportedly protested the lack of payment of their dues; a rightful protest that rather earned them a court-martial, dismissal from the army, and imprisonment.
What about the entertainment world? Celebrated all over the world for his heroic acts of social crusade through music, Fela Kuti was crushed by his own government at home. In the late 1970s, his properties were destroyed and estate confiscated. His mother was killed by faceless soldiers. In the 1990s, his home government incarcerated him and after a short while into his release, he died. No national honour for putting Nigeria in global visibility. Orlando Owoh, a highlife maestro died of illness and we got to know many weeks after. Junior, one of the partners of the Junior and Pretty vernacular hip-hop group (indeed the pioneer of vernacular rap music in Nigeria) was killed in a bike accident in Lagos while trying to avoid the traffic jam. Nico Mbarga of the “Sweet Mother” fame died in similar circumstance on Marian road in Calabar. Others are Yinka Craig, Hubert Ogunde, Ojo Ladipo, Duro Ladipo, J.T. Tom-West, Nnamdi Eze, Olisa Osadebey, et cetera. Some of them were victims of a poor medical system, and years after they were gone, neither the populace nor government felt more than a few days’ pain. What has been done to fulfill their dreams?
The Nigerian attitude of ingratitude is a recipe for national disaster. The ‘beautiful ones’ are no longer willing to make sacrifices for an ungrateful nation. They have lost their sense of patriotism toward a nation that has no respect for it. They mumble that aspect of the anthem, which reads: “To serve with heart and might”, for obvious reasons. The reward system is not there. Neither is there a culture of honour for diligent and selfless service. All is ignominy: use-dump, use-dump, and disdain. Everyone with potentials now keeps it within them or seeks better environments to realize it and be celebrated. Some athletes even adopt other nationality now for the same reason. The conundrum of paucity of human capital escalates because of brain-drain. A civilized system of honouring and rewarding heroes while they are alive, and when they are gone, is sin qua non to remain a great people.
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