Saraki’s gesture on Yekini

SENATE President Bukola Saraki’s gesture towards the family of the late Nigerian striker, Rashidi Yekini, is both commendable and worthy of emulation by other Nigerians of means. Adjudged by most experts as the most clinical finisher in the history of Nigerian football, the physically imposing Yekini died suddenly in May 2012 at the relatively young age of 48.

Now, under the aegis of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) Football Club, Ilorin, the Senate President has taken what we hope are the initial steps towards honouring Yekini’s memory by instituting an Under-13 football tournament to be hosted annually at Ira in Oyun Local Government Area of Kwara State, the late Yekini’s ancestral home. One aim of the tournament, according to the General Manager of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) Football Club, Mr. Alloy Chukwuemeka, is to contribute to the process of unearthing genuine football talents who might otherwise fall through the cracks on account of neglect.

The Senate President did not stop at floating a football tournament. According to reports in the media, not only did he give an undisclosed amount of money to Mrs. Sikirat Yekini, mother of the late goleador, to assist with her everyday needs, Mr. Saraki had also personally funded the renovation of Mrs Yekini’s shops and private residence. One of Yekini’s younger siblings, Hakeem, became the proud recipient of a new ‘NAPEP’ tricycle.

Following Rashidi Yekini’s passing, there were several media reports on the family’s material struggles, and it stands to reason that the Senate President may have been motivated to act by the harrowing nature of some of the reports. Whatever his motivation, his is a commendable and heart-warming act of charity, one that, as we said earlier, ought to be emulated by Nigerians with the resources to do so. That the late Yekini deserves this special honour is beyond question. Over the course of two remarkable decades, Yekini plundered goals for the Super Eagles (37 in 58 appearances), and a succession of clubs here at home, and in Cote d’Ivoire, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. In Dallas on June 21 1994, he scored Nigeria’s first ever FIFA World Cup goal in a 3-0 thumping of Bulgaria. His celebration of that goal would later become one of the most iconic images of the global football fiesta.

Yet, while we commend the Senate President, and while we encourage others to emulate his gesture, we wish to register two important points. The first is to reiterate the importance of institutionalizing acts of philanthropy in order to ensure their longevity. The unique insight from the experience of the economically advanced countries is that charitable giving helps more people and endures over generations when done systematically and within formalized structures. In the case of the Rashidi Yekini U-13 tournament for instance, it could be profitably linked to the far sturdier structures of the Kwara Football Association and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

Second, while every effort should be made to reach out to families of sporting and cultural icons who may have fallen into hard times, it is even more important to educate athletes in the prime of their careers on making sound financial choices and retirement investment strategies. This is one area in which the country’s growing financial sector can make a decisive intervention. The ultimate goal should be a society in which the kind of material intervention that the Senate President has undertaken is few and far between.