I had an unusual conversation with Rashidi Yekini last Wednesday in my office in Yaba, Lagos.
Of course, everyone knows that the greatest goal scorer in the history of Nigerian football rests in peace with his Creator. So, the circumstances of our conversation were as strange as they were fascinating.
Thinking back now, I can see very clearly the conspiracy of the elements to make the meeting take place; that the circumstances of the conversation were not accidental; and that the events leading to them could only have been a well scripted divine arrangement.
Last Wednesday I was ‘dragged’ into my dilapidated audio/visual studios in Yaba. The place was littered with obsolete and broken-down video machines and cassettes in various stages of decay and in every conceivable old format – Umatic, Betacam, Hi-8, VHS, DVs, and CDs.
Kunle Oladeinde, my cameraman, partner and friend had brought an old retired engineer he met recently but had known from the past and had lost contact with for many years, to the office to have a look at the ‘dead’ machines and equipment the engineer had assured him he could bring back to life.
Kunle and I had spent the better part of the last seven or more years searching the world, without much success via the internet, for spare parts, or even old machines we could scavenge and use their working parts to fix ours as a last ditch effort to save and digitize my mountain of archival materials, my life’s work in pictures, that were slowly but steadily wasting away in my library with every passing day!
Some years ago, we found very temporary respite when we located the only two working High-band, PAL machines in the world in the garage of a retired engineer in Pakistan. We bought them and brought them to our Lagos studios. One machine never worked. The other one only worked for a few weeks and broke down.
Since then I have lived in a limbo of helplessness, not knowing what to do with my treasure trove of archival materials chronicling the history of Nigeria and Nigerians in various sectors, but mostly sports, through almost two decades, from the mid 1970s to the mid-1990s!
I have been on a forced sabbatical for almost two decades since then, mostly out of frustration unable to keep pace with changing technology in equipment, facilities and personnel!
Despite not doing much since then that line of work has remained my greatest passion!
Last week, my stay in ‘purgatory’ ended.
Let me cut a long story short.
That ‘old’ engineer that Kunle brought to my office, who incidentally comes from my village of Wasimi (how could this be coincidence?) has become the ‘hand of God’ in bringing back to life ‘dead and dry bones’.
In six days the ‘magician’ has revived three of the obsolete machines in my studio, and is in the process of fixing all the other ‘dead’ gadgets that are needed to do any meaningful production.
This last Wednesday, he walked into my office and invited me to come and take a look at what he had done so far.
That’s how I followed him into the studio littered with the carcass of machines, nuts, bolts, cables and wires, and encountered Rashidi Yekini.
He was right there in front of me, with a smile on his face, looking fresh and very young, staring straight at me and talking.
His voice was unmistakable, a rambling staccato of very fluid but good English. It would surprise many that even without formal education beyond elementary school, Rashidi could still communicate flawlessly in English disregarding his occasional mix up of tenses (who does not have that flaw amongst us?).
I was forced to sit down as his monologue progressed. It was like he had been waiting for me to come into the room. For right there and then, he said, ‘…but Big Seg, you brought me to Shooting Stars’.
It was uncanny.
I was peering at the TV screen in front of me in utter disbelief.
For the next 25 minutes or so, I sat transfixed in front of one of the
‘dead’ monitors now showing pictures from one of the revived aged Hi-8 machines that had not worked for over 8 years. It was now working and showing crystal clear pictures of one of the greatest African footballers in a direct conversation with me.
Until that day, I did not recall that those pictures existed. Yes, I had recorded them 25 years ago, but I could not recall ever reviewing them.
Rashidi was looking fresh, radiant, young and very handsome. He was relaxed, calm and very contented with life.
I sat down and watched and listened to him tell his own story.
When the cassette came to an end, I sat mesmerised by it all.
I looked at the time counter on the machine. It read 25 minutes.
Impossible. In all the years that I knew and interacted closely with Rashidi Yekini, if you added up all the interviews he ever granted, their total duration may not add up to 25 minutes! The media was his worst ‘enemy’. He ran from interviews like a plague. He simply did not grant them easily.
So, here I was sitting down and watching 25 minutes of the best interview Rashidi Yekini ever granted in his life. He spoke from the heart and uninterrupted.
I knew I was a part of the conversation only because in the course of his monologue he referred to me and looked in my direction. But my face never appeared, not even once. The few times I asked him a leading question, even my voice was slightly muted.
It was a strange interview. Stranger still because I hardly remember it and may never have used it previously on a television program.
It was like the interview was conducted and was waiting for the right time to be played back!
That time has come.
I arrived home that evening still in thought.
At home, as I sat and picked up my phone to browse through as I usually do, I chose to visit my Facebook page first to find out the latest interesting postings.
The first picture that stared straight at me was that of Rashidi Yekini.
This was now more than a coincidence.
Someone had posted his pictures – that of his unkempt graveside, and his most popular goal scored during the USA ’94 World Cup! The author was lamenting the neglect of Rashidi after his death, and that something should be done to always remember him.
Things were falling into place in my mind. Rashidi was communicating somehow!
The engineer working on my machines had randomly picked the one cassette from a collection of hundreds of unlabeled cassettes. It turned out to be Rashidi’s. Now this.
Rashidi was reaching out to me as the custodian of his story. He trusted me whilst he was alive. He wants to communicate with his fans again. He wants his place in the history of Nigerian football not to be forgotten as has happened with a lot of footballers and other sportsmen and women.
I immediately knew what to do.The elements were leading me. They have provided me with the tools and the platforms to do what Rashidi Yekini wants me to do for him.
That’s what I will do this next week starting with The Sports Parliament, the weekly Thursday Night (with repeats on Friday mornings) LIVE television program on NTA that I present.
I have secured the permission of the management of the station as well as the consent of my fellow parliamentarians to create the space in the program to accommodate the entire 25 minutes’ conversation I had with Rashidi Yekini, the King of goals, 25 years ago.
I am also going to work with young people that understand social media to expand the showing on other platforms to the rest of the world.
I am also converting the voice into an audio format and shall give to any interested radio stations to air.
I shall transcribe our conversation and publish in my columns next Saturday in the Guardian and Weekend Trust, and on Sunday in Complete Sports. Watch out.