AFCON ’94: Juju Ruined Yekini

Alain Gouamene visited Rashidi Yekini after the Super Eagles defeated Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the semi finals of the Tunisia 1994 African Nations Cup with a clear message : ” Please, go cleanse yourself from what we did to you.”

Yekini was the mega star of African soccer in 1994 having being voted African Footballer of the Year, 1993. In Portugal, he was King of goals, leading the Primeira Liga with 21 hits at the end of the 1993/1994 season. The Nigerian arrived Tunisia as Golden Boot Winner of the last tournament, Senegal ’92.

The Ivorians were in Tunisia as defending champions. Gouamene was the hero of their cup victory in Dakar, after he remained unbeaten during regulation and extra time, in five games spanning 545 minutes. The  goals conceded came only during penalty shoot – out.

Yekini was known and dreaded by the Ivorians. Gouamene got to respect him when the Nigerian spent time playing for Africa Sports, Abidjan while the goalie starred for city rivals, ASEC Mimosas. They became friends even as opponents.

Prior to the games against the Eagles at Tunisia ’94, Yekini had scored five times against the Elephants. He scored in Abidjan, did it again in Bouake, continued at Algiers ’90 and also found the net twice in Lagos. For all these, he was singled out for extra vigilance.

Gouamene told his friend that Ivorian witch doctors were detailed to neutralise him in the game that eventually took Nigeria to the grand finale and later Cup victory in Tunisia. And they did their best but Yekini was lucky to survive the spiritual attack.

It was obvious that something was wrong with Yekini in that match. Just before time, the gangling striker suffered convulsion. He recovered and was fielded but missed many scoring opportunities. That, he found strange.

The Ivorians scored first through Michel Bassole in the 19th minute. Ben Iroha equalised. Bassole struck again, in the 31st. Yekini found the net five minutes to half time. Full time ended 2-2. In the resultant penalty kicks, Nigeria won 4-2.

Yekini and Iroha scored their kicks. Bassole missed. Iroha knew the Ivorians so well at ASEC. His team mates included Bassole, Aka Kouame, Fallet Vilasco, Sam Abouo Dominique, Amani Yao and reserve keeper Loseni Konate.

The Elephants had a powerful strike force of Joel Tiehi, Abdoulaye Traore ( Ben Badi ), Ahmed Ouattara and Bassole. The young Bassole scored two goals at the Canada 1987 FIFA Under 17 Championships. Defender Sam Abouo, from Ogoja, in Cross River State did not feel bad playing against the Eagles.

I was Executive Editor SportsStar, a weekly publication based in Lagos. My colleague, Joseph Omoremi, covered the Tunisia ‘ 94 tournament. As someone very close to Yekini, he returned to Nigeria with a bagful of stories, the good, the bad and the ugly.

From his reports, we got to know that Gouamene pleaded with Yekini not to ignore his warning. The top scorer, a devout Muslim, was advised to go to a powerful church for cleansing to avoid a troubled future after the tournament.

“I have never experienced convulsion in my life. It is strange. Even our victory over Cote d’Ivoire is God’s victory. A victory over Satan”, Yekini told Omoremi. I would not know if the deliverance was ever carried out.

In 2002, ten years after Senegal ’92 cup victory, the Ivorian government was said to have made peace with the witch doctors who claimed they pushed the Elephants to win in Dakar. I remember the red card issued to Ghana’s Abedi Pele in the semi finals against Nigeria which ruled him out of the grand finale against Cote d’Ivoire.

Gouamene knew the power of Ivorian witch doctors. After Senegal ’92, there were rumours of his death. The tale was that the woman who prepared charms for him did it. Tiehi once confirmed the power of juju claiming that players underwent rituals. He named one of his sons, Christ.

Former Ivorian international, Gilles Yapi Yapo, was deceived by a witch doctor into parting with 200,000 pounds after animals were used for sacrifice. What turned the player off was when the head of his son was demanded for more rituals.

This is Cote d’Ivoire, home of Basilique Notre – Dame de la Paix ( Basilica of the Lady of Peace ) Yamoussoukro, once touted as the largest church in the world, constructed by French giants, Dumez, during the Felix Houphouet – Boigny era, and consecrated in 1990, by Pope John Paul 11.

Yekini never recovered from the juju attack of 1994. From Vitoria Setubal, he became a global wanderer. Olympiacos, Greece today, Sporting Gijon, Spain tomorrow, back to Setubal and much later, Africa Sports. The goal king moved to Bizerte, Tunisia, Al – Shaban, Saudi Arabia, before heading back home to join Julius Berger and ended up at Gateway

From there, no one seemed to understand what was happening. Some claimed he was busy giving out his wealth to people, known and unknown. Yekini returned to Ibadan living like a recluse. However, genuine friends like Chief Segun Odegbami and David Aigbovo believed all was well.

Yekini lost all his Life Savings to fraudsters who came as friends. In 2012, some members of his family appeared from Ira, Kwara State and bundled the big man to the village for spiritual attention. And the man died. Pierre Alain Gouamene Guiahouli, born in Gagnoa, is coach of the Ivorian Under 23 team.

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