FEATURE: Naming Kwara Stadium after late Rashidi Yekini: To be or not to be

FEATURE: Naming Kwara Stadium after late Rashidi Yekini: To be or not to be

Kwara football enthusiasts have been given something to chew, as they debate the proposed plans by the Kwara state government to immortalize late Super Eagles striker, Rashidi Yekini, who hails from Irra, Oyun Local Government Area of Kwara state.

Kwara State Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq said his administration would hold consultations with various stakeholders in the state, especially in the sports industry as the state is poised to rename a major monument after the late football legend.

The Governor said the consultations would be followed by him forwarding a bill to the Kwara State House of Assembly to rename a major sports facility, possibly the Kwara State Stadium Complex or its Main-Bowl, after Yekini, who scored Nigeria’s first World Cup goal in US ‘94.

He said the state is also considering renaming some monument after the late George Agbazika Innih, a former Governor of the state who built the Kwara State Stadium Complex, among other major facilities in the state.

The Governor made the comments during a visit to the Minister of Youths and Sports Development Sunday Dare in Abuja sometimes ago, during which he re-assured sports lovers of the readiness of the administration to immortalize the late football star.

The Sports Ministry had repeatedly requested successive Kwara State governments to immortalize Yekini, a request Governor AbdulRazaq told the Minister, is now being considered to properly accord the late footballer his right of place in the history of his own native state.

Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had earlier appealed to the state government to consider naming the Kwara State Stadium Complex after Yekini.

Speaking during the commissioning of the Kwara Football House in Ilorin in August, the President of the body, Pinnick Amaju said that some state Governors have done same, by naming their sports infrastructures after their football heroes.

According to him, ‘Delta named Asaba stadium after late Stephen Keshi, another named after Austin Jay-Jay Okocha in the state, and in Bayelsa, a stadium was named after Samson Siasia, our passionate plea was to have the Kwara stadium named after late Yekini’, he had said.

Far back in 2016, May 10th to be exact, the Kwara State House of Assembly urged the state government to immortalise Yekini, in view of his contributions to sport development in the country. The House made the call in its resolution after adopting a call to that effect by the former House Leader, Hassan Oyeleke.

The former House Leader, who represented Eesa/Shawo/Igboidun Constituence at the House of Assemblt spoke under matters of urgent public importance, said the invaluable contributions of late Yekini deserved recognition and compensation.

Even though all the members of the House then unanimously in their contributions said the late soccer legend deserved to be immortalized. They said the deceased had placed Kwara on the global map with his brilliant performances in his soccer profession, but there was never a follow up to the debate.

Former Coach of Kwara United FC, Coach Tunde Sanni, who is currently theChairman, State chapter of the Nigeria Football Coaches Association (NFCA), who played alongside the late goal poacher between 1985 and 1986 was of the opinion that the Irra-born striker need to be immortalized by the state government, in a special way

Naming Kwara State Stadium Complex after late Rashidi Yekini will be a very good gesture, if the state government can take that bold step. This is because, so many of us have played and contributed immensely to football development in the state, but none of us is closer to the records and achievements of late Yekini’, he began.

‘Well, some saying that because he did not play for Kwara state, yes, and that was because of where he started his football, especially as the parents did not reside here. Like me, my own parents reside here in Ilorin, and that makes it possible for me to start playing here and also played for Kwara state. Late Yekini was born in Kaduna state’.

‘Even as at that time, he cannot play for the state owing to the fact that he was one of the luckiest players who had an accelerated rise from lower Division to the top level of the league, to the national team and to professional football abroad.

‘Then, there was no way he could come to any Kwara team because of the level we were. The level of Shooting Stars Sports Club then was far higher than that of any Kwara team. It’s now that we are at the same level. Then, Shooting Stars Sports Club was one of the famous teams in Nigeria.

‘Some of us in Kwara, including me, also left Kwara sometimes to go and play for other teams in other states. I also played for Shooting Stars Sports Club together with late Yekini in 1985 to 1986.

‘It will be a good development if the Kwara State Stadium Complex is named after late Yekini because of the popularity it will give to the state. That name will bring so many good things to the state. His former Club in Portugal, Victoria Setubal can also use that opportunity to invest here. They are the only ones that are truly immortalizing late Yekini since his demise.

‘So many of us served the state but we cannot compare his achievements with that of any of us. He scored the first World Cup goal, and was Highest Goal Scorer ever’, he concluded.

But another former Squash National Coach, Coach Bola Magaji would not buy that idea.

According to the former Technical Director of the Nigeria Squash Racket Association said that the call for the State Stadium Complex to be named after late Yekini was a big joke.

‘As far as I am concerned, it’s a big joke. Yes, he was a fantastic footballer and a legend, but he did not play for Kwara state.

‘He played in Oyo and in Ogun states, for Shooting Stars Sports Club and Gateway Football Club.

He had no single contribution to the state either in playing or supporting sports through donations or sponsorship or whatever. The Stadium Complex is too big a place to be named after late Yekini. Maybe a street inside the Complex can be named after him.

‘If we are in support of this, then, what do we do to immortalize the person that defiled all odds to build the stadium? Late George Agbazika Innih, when he was the Military Administrator of the state, despite heavy criticisms, went ahead to deliver what is today the Kwara State Stadium Complex.

‘We also have great men like Abubakar Sadauki, also known as Mark ‘One-One’, we had Alhaji Yusuf Salami, who was then the Proprietor of Alyuf Salam Rocks, who spent his personal money on a club that took Kwara to limelight. We also had players and athletes too numerous to mention, that had made the state proud.

‘Late Yekini didn’t associate with us when he was playing. He made no mark or footprint in sports in the state to merit that.

Also on this line of thought was the former Chairman of Kwara FA, Mallam Busari Ishola.

‘I will look at it from all angles. Does he worth to be honoured or not? Again, does he merit being honoured in the state? Does he also merit been immortalized in any part of the country?

‘The call by the NFF to me is just an opinion. But I wouldn’t blame anybody. He should be honoured somewhere else. Why not?

‘But the message is, you can only honour somebody who has done something through his contributions to that place. For example, the Kwara Football House was named after Alhaji Usman Mustapha because he merits it. He was the architect of football development in the state, and when his name was mentioned, there was no opposition at all. We cannot say that of late Yekini.

‘Even some of us who started in the state as footballers and rose to the position of coach and administrators, we didn’t see him physically because he doesn’t come here. Then, why not immortalize him somewhere else?

‘Adokie Amiesimaka rose to stardom through his own state, Rivers, and today, a Stadium Complex was named after him. Same as late Muda Lawal, Stephen Keshi, Samson Siasia and some others, they rose through their states, and that’s why nobody will say they should not be honoured that way.

‘He should be honoured where he was known. I am not against anybody, I am only saying it the way it should be, without sentiment. It’s better if we have a national monument named after him’, the first Football Coach in Kwara State added.

Another sports enthusiast and Analyst, Professor AbdulGafar Ijaiya of the Department of Economics, at the University of Ilorin was also of the same school of thought.

‘To me, well, may his soul rest in peace.

‘But sincerely, I don’t see the reason why the State Stadium Complex should be named after him. He was a great player, a national team player, but he did not play for any club in this state. ‘He didn’t also contribute to football in this state, even when he had the opportunity to come to Kwara.

‘I think the Federal Government, through the NFF, should look for something at the national level to immortalize him. Yes, he hailed from Irra, in Oyun Local Government of Kwara state, but sentiment apart, what has he contributed to the state? If they want to immortalize him, it’s not an edifice like the Stadium Complex. Maybe a street.

‘We also have others in and outside football, like in squash, table tennis and other sports, who brought honour to the state, and who also need to be honoured. Like I said, the Federal Government, through the NFF needs to honour him nationally, that will be much better. He was an international player, and should be honoured nationally’, he said.

Professor Ijaiya is currently the Chairman, University of Ilorin Sports Council.

Mallam Mohammed Jimoh Daudu is the Chairman of Kwara Ladies Football Club.

He believed that it’s a good thing to honor past heroes and legend, because of their legacies. He added that the gesture will encourage the upcoming athletes to put in their best and also refresh their memories through history

‘Late Yekinni was a golden star, an Icon, a legend and hero, who has made the country proud. No doubt about it, but my questions is simple. What are his contributions towards sports development in Kwara state? Did Yekinni associate himself with kwara? Did he give back to the society to deserve the honor?  All these questions are critical, and needs urgent answers.

‘Mind you, the Kwara State Stadium Complex houses facilities for other sports too, not football alone. Therefore, let us go back to memory lane. Think about the people like late Alhaji Yusuf Abdulsalam, the founder of Alyuf Salam Rocks, late George Agbazika innih, former Military Administrator, who constructed the edifice and host of other athletes who had also won lots of laurels for the state and the country, who also deserved to be honour.

‘Thank God we have Kwara Football Academy (KFA). Government can erect his statue in front of the KFA, just like that of late Sam Okwaraji at Owerri Stadium. They can also institute an annual football competition in his name.

Alloy Chukwuemeka is the Director of Football, Abubakar Bukola Saraki Football Club. He described late Yekini as a national hero.

‘Undoubtedly, late Yekini was the best striker in Nigeria during his time.

‘Anything done by either Kwara state or Nigeria to immortalize him will not be too much. The the request to name the Kwara State Stadium Complex after him is not a bad idea but I would have suggested that a national edifice be named after him while the Kwara state government builds a mini stadium in Irra, his country home, and name it after him.

‘The mini stadium will be a readymade facility to fish out more talented players like Yekini from his community’, he added.

Chukwuemeka is also the Secretary, Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Club Owners Association of Nigeria.

The Chairman of the football controlling body in Kwara state, the Kwara FA, Alhaji Idris Abdullahi Musa, popularly known as Thuraya said that at their level, They are planning to partner the state government, NFF, players union and other stakeholders to build a mini stadium in Irra, and also name it after late Yekini.

‘At our level in the FA, we are planning to partner the state government, NFF, players union and other stakeholders to build a mini stadium in Irra, and also name it after late Yekini. With that, the youths in Irra and his people will feel his impact more.

‘When I came in as the Chairman of Kwara FA, I made a move to immortalize him with a football competition. Agitations were much on the issue of having the Stadium Complex named after him because some people did not really know the value of his achievements. It’s also on record that nobody in football in Kwara state has the pedigree of late Yekini. But we need to approach the issue by looking at using that opportunity to add value to his immediate community, Irra’, he averred.

Late Rashidi Yekini was born 23rd October 1963, and died 4th May 2012. His professional career, which spanned more than two decades, was mainly associated with Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal, but he also played in six other countries besides his own.

Yekini scored 37 goals as a Nigerian international, and represented the nation in five major tournaments, including two World Cups, where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition. He was also named the African Footballer of the Year in 1993.

Yekini was born in Kaduna. After starting his professional career in the Nigerian league, with UNTL, Kaduna (1981–1982), Shooting Stars Sports Club (1982–1984) and Abiola Babes (1984–1987), he moved to Côte d’Ivoire to play for Africa Sports National, and from there he went to Portugal and Vitória de Setúbal where he experienced his most memorable years, eventually becoming the Primeira Liga’s top scorer in the 1993–94 season after scoring 21 goals; the previous campaign he had netted a career-best 34 in 32 games to help the Sadinos promote from the second division, and those performances earned him the title of African Footballer of the Year once, the first ever for the nation.

In the summer of 1994, Yekini was bought by Olympiacos FC, but did not get along with teammates and left soon after. His career never really got back on track, not even upon a return to Setúbal which happened after another unassuming spell, in La Liga with Sporting de Gijón; he successively played with FC Zürich, Club Athlétique Bizertin and Al-Shabab Riyadh, before rejoining Africa Sports. In 2003, aged 39, he returned to the Nigerian championship with Julius Berger FC.

In April 2005, 41-year-old Yekini made a short comeback, moving alongside former national teammate Mobi Oparaku to Gateway United FC.

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