One neighbour spoke of his losing life savings to a sham investment, and another recalled seeing him frequently around women selling Bóle (roasted plantain); and on two occasions, he answered nature’s call by a roadside in Ibadan where he lived away his final days.
Then, a former teammate conjectured how a disheartening jeering from fans during a crucial match that turned out his last international showing, haunted him to a bitter end.
Those who met Rashidi Yekini within the last one year say at least one of those episodes played a role in his unexpected death last week.
“I guess he died of depression,” one neighbour said.
But after agonizing years in his own world, only in death would the former striker, who almost singlehandedly served Nigeria vital football wins, evoke such complex tales that offer a glimpse into a personal struggle with insecurity and despair, again pointing out the question of whether the authorities or even friends could have been helpful in saving the former superstar.
A day after his funeral in his Irra town in Offa, Kwara state, the talk in this local community remained the sad exit of one of their prominent sons whose achievements as Nigeria’s most prolific scorer has not been equalled yet.
“We tried all that we can do in our own capacity but the cruel hands of death still took him away from us. We only hope and pray for eternal rest for his soul,” said Mohamodu Mudasiru Adetunji ( the Esa of Irra), who was also Mr. Yekini’s uncle.
For much of his playing days, dating back to an active international career in which he netted 37 goals in 58 matches, Yekini worked hard to stay off the prying eyes of the media.
The line, “his games spoke for him”, came true.
But that seemingly evasiveness would eventually help conceal a fatal and terminal trouble that afflicted Yekini for more than five years, those who were close to him said.
“We all loved him but for reasons I can’t explain he did not want to socialize with people a reason I feel had effects on him on the long run,” said Dimeji Lawal, a former youth international who lives in Ibadan, and knew Yekini for many years.
“We would have loved to help Yekini in our little way but until his last days, he wasn’t really accessible.” Mr. Lawal described Yekini as a philanthropist who did all in his power to help the course of others.
After retiring from international and club football, Yekini led a low profile life in Ibadan, living in a four bedroom apartment on Ring road, reports say, away from his family who stayed in his hometown in Kwara state.
Accounts from neighbours and associates paint a picture of a man who struggled with serious mental and delusional disorder after losing life savings to a bungled investment.
One neigbour, who claimed to have known the ex-international well over a decade, traced the problems to a deal between Yekini and a confidant known only as Ibraheem.
“He has always been a quiet person who does not want attention on him,” the neighbour, who refused to be named, said.
“But for me, Yekini started losing his mind and began behaving erratically due to his loss of huge sum of money to the death of his only confidant and business partner, Ibraheem, who ran a bureau de change in Sabo Area of Ibadan.”
According to the neighbour, Mr. Yekini liquidated all his savings and turned them to cash which he transferred to Ibraheem for his foreign exchange and jewelry trade.
Ibraheem was gunned down by armed robbers after receiving a tip-off that he was to transact a huge amount that day and the robbers made away with the bulk of the capital which belonged to Yekini.
Barely without any savings left, that incident would prove a turning point in the former soccer star’s life, and would eventually lead him through a bitter struggle that ended in death last week, the neighbour said. For Yekini, the experience added boost to his decision to lead an isolated life.
“He preferred to be on his own, believing Ibraheem’s death was the handiwork of wicked rivals,” the neighbour said.
Before his death, all his automobiles were in a state of disrepair and many times he was seen trekking in shorts in different parts of the city.
Many of such outings, another former neighbour, Mukaila Babalola said, led Yekini to stalls where women sold roasted plantains(bole) on Onireke road near Multichoice office in Ibadan.
“Always in short but not sport trousers,” said Babalola, who claimed to have seen Yekini regularly the past two to three years. “I remember reversing my car upon sighting him soliloquizing along Golf club area last year. I greeted him but he answered reluctantly.”
But that was not all. Twice, Babalola who described the locations he often sighted Yekini as “pathetic”, saw the former Super Eagles striker emerging from road side bush, with left over paper squeezed in his palm, after easing his bowels around Sabo and Aleshinloye Market in Ibadan.
A pathetic story it appears for this legendary striker. But other tales by colleagues and those Yekini thrilled with his superlative skills underlined a glorious reign of a man that proved one of the best in football, winning accolades home and away.
On his website, former teammate and defensive midfielder, Sunday Oliseh, called Yekini “one of the best African players and legends to ever walk this earth.”
But Oliseh reckoned that somehow a world cup match in which Yekini featured and was booed by fans as he was nearing retirement played a devastating role in the former striker’s end.
“Yekini felt betrayed and this haunted him till his death,” Oliseh wrote. “How could one give so much and receive so little in return from your own kind?” he asked.
More than that possibly haunted Yekini. Oliseh recalls the Super Eagles’ African nations’ cup triumph of 1994 in which Yekini played a key role, and winning the vital matches for Nigeria.
“Almost 20 years after this major conquest, Yekini is yet to receive the house the Nigerian government promised him,” Oliseh said.
“In other words, he died not being rewarded for his efforts to make Nigeria great.”