We commend the sports ministry’s kind gestures to the mothers of Sam Okwaraji and Rashidi Yekini
For Janet Okwaraji and Sikiratu Yekini, mothers to two late Nigerian footballers, Samuel Okwaraji and Rashidi Yekini, relief came from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, as the minister, Sunday Dare, sent food items and cash gifts to the two women. He said the government would work out an appropriate remuneration for both matriarchs. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) also promised to support the minister with a monthly stipend of N30,000 to help each of them meet some of their needs.
While Samuel Okwaraji died in active service of alleged heart failure while playing for a World Cup qualifier against Angola on August 12, 1989 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, Yekini died on May 4, 2012 after a protracted illness that was rumoured to be depression and bipolar disorder. Before his death, however, journalists had reported his struggles with finances. In one interview with his mother, she expressed her confusion about his financial status as she said that he usually went to banks to withdraw money and later went ahead to burn the money. That obviously pointed to a very dire need for psychiatric evaluation at the time, but in a country where depression is not taken as a serious health issue, Yekini might have been a victim of an ignored ailment.
On the other hand, Okwaraji’s mother had for long lamented that she was abandoned after all her son sacrificed for the country. We hope that this move by the sports minister would help alleviate the suffering of these two mothers.
While we commend the minister for his laudable move, we want to point out that the ministry must plan for a more comprehensive welfare system for all sportsmen and women, including paralympians.
The ministry can liaise with insurance companies as is done in other climes for insurance policies and the sportsmen and women enlightened on the value of insurance, investment, savings and writing wills when they are still active, seeing that sports are often time-bound because of limited active years. These actions would help to cushion any life eventualities like illnesses and sudden deaths. With money saved through such programmes, dependants like spouses, children and parents would not suffer unnecessarily in times of adversities.
With the gestures to the mothers of these illustrious footballers, the ministry should expect demands from other equally illustrious dead sportsmen and women’s’ relatives. Nigerian sports have produced brilliant and very patriotic individuals with global achievements. It must be noted, however, that football is a team sports and as such, any success is seen as a collective effort. Okwaraji was a mid-fielder while Yekini was a striker; as such they needed other in the team to excel. They both achieved greatness because other players in the team cooperated with them.
Yekini represented the country in five major tournaments, including two World Cups where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition against Bulgaria in the USA ’94 World Cup. He scored 37 goals from 58 matches as a Nigerian international. He was named African Footballer of the Year in 1993.
Okwaraji, on the other hand, was a professional footballer who also played internationally for Nigeria. He played for the Green Eagles in 1988 and scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the competition against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
Yet, singling out the mothers of just two players for recognition and promise of monthly stipend does seem like other greats like Muda Lawal, Haruna Ilerika, Steven Keshi and even some who are still alive but need assistance have no relations to raise a voice of ‘neglect’. No national service, especially in the sports sector, is superior to the other. This action equally goes to affirm the long-held view that footballers receive more attention and recognition to the detriment of other sports like athletics and boxing, which, in most cases, have achieved greater global glory for the country.
We believe that while mothers deserve every care they can get, spouses and the children as well as other dependants also deserve care in the absence of their benefactor sportsmen and women. We acknowledge though that the state cannot handle all these alone. So, the sports ministry can initiate a mutually beneficial partnering with the private sector that often sponsors sports events by probably starting a Sports Foundation that can come in handy to help assuage certain needs of either the sick or dead sports persons. Strict and practical criteria must be adopted by the ministry to ensure that there are no ‘chosen’ few in matters like this because no matter the sports involved, efforts by individuals to excel are often equal and each person must be treated as a valued patriot.
We commend the sports minister for remembering the two mothers. The idea can only be fine-tuned and expanded for better results. Ministers in other ministries should equally impact positively on their sectors in any way they deem fit. If every minister impacts on citizens in one way or the other, the country would be better for it. Future ministers of sports can expand what the present one has done; they should never abandon the initiative. That is how to build institutions.