Doctors said I won’t live beyond 35, but here I am healthy at 70 – Dokpesi

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Raymond Dokpesi

Dr. Raymond Anthony Aleogho Dokpesi is  a Nigerian media entrepreneur and Founder/Chairman Emeritus  Ray Power/ Daar Communications. Ahead of his 70-year anniversary October 25, the trained marine engineer shares the touching story of his life with ABDULRAHMAN A. ABDULRAUF and a few other journalists recently in Abuja.  The media owner who couldn’t speak in the early years of his life was already  ‘sentenced’ to death by doctors who declared he won’t make it beyond 35 years.     

Your lowest and highest moments

I thank you so much for this interaction which is preparatory to my 70th birthday in the next couple of days.  But responding to your question on what has been my lowest and highest moments in my life, my lowest moment in recent time has been my prison arrest, trial and the alleged looting of treasury by this administration that led to my attention in the EFCC  and at Kuje Prison.  I think that has been the most remarkable and the most painful time in recent time.

For the high moment, my best moment, the moment of my joy was December 15, 1993 when Ray Power came on air. But in between , there had been quite some low and high moments, but the highest was during the commencement of test transmission of Ray Power.

You were given  a chance to survive for only three years, but here you are at 70. How would you describe this?

Well, let me say 35 was the benchmark that was given. The very early years I was very sickly. As I was growing up, I do recall very vividly sitting down always by the side of my father in Ibadan. Every evening, he would put his relaxing chair, his friends would come to pay him visits. Then, I was very handicapped because I could not talk from the very beginning of my life and very many people assumed because I could not talk or I could not hear or understand what it was. So, I would normally just watch, look and see things as they happened.

I vividly recall when  one of my father’s very close friends, came to intervene about my schooling and he out rightly condemned  any effort to invest in me. ‘Look at him, he is very sickly. Secondly, he said ‘do you see any child of a northerner succeed, apart from the goro (kolanut) they eat , they are never do- well.  I was handicapped, and that was toughest moment of my life. At that time, I felt highly discriminated against, I felt  I was likely  to be denied the opportunity to live.

 My mother was very helpless at that time, and here I was feeling very sick,  not being able to communicate freely. And my mother too was an illiterate. So,  here I was, I couldn’t talk and even when I attempted to write anything, she could not read what I was writing.  I think it was a lot of God’s intervention  after going through the University College Hospital Ibadan, treatment, diagnosis, operation that I started gradually better and talking.

 And by the time I was getting to about 12, 13, I was terribly sick.  My mother, my father were taking me from hospitals, native doctors , herbalists, looking to churches, praying and looking for  opportunity to survive. And here I was, the doctors, because they couldn’t identify anything. I had to leave seminary for Loyaola College Ibadan. This case was very bad, it’s better he goes back to his parents, he either survives there or dies , but  let him not die here.

So, I went back to Benin, and in Benin too, my parents struggled and struggled, I could see their pains, I could see the struggle of my mother and the determination of my father at that time, I almost started believing it was best for me to die. I saw the pains they were going through, I saw the amount of love and struggle they were putting in to make sure that I was able to survive. And as God would do it,  they  later took me to Agenegbode, I think that was 1965/66 when my father had almost given up hope I was  going to survive. We went through the bank of River Niger which was full at that time. We went into a small village, having travelled almost two and a half hours on the River, they called the village Osuneme. I was not given any injection.  The people just  came up to say I had been poisoned  and  people that committed the atrocity were there present. 

So,  ‘here is water, if you are sure you are not the one responsible for the state of the health of this boy, and say God, you have seen me.’ And one after the other, my father’s eldest sister, my father’s first wife, the lineage coincidentally were involved. I went into feat again where I was rolling and  I vomited out. It was the same water that they were given that was given t me. So I took that same water and vomited quite extensively, different types of items from my abdomen, and that became the beginning of my revival until  I got to Poland again in 1969.

When I got to Poland,  after doing the medical examinations that we’ll get into university. They said I was not going to leave beyond the age of 35.  So, I collected the results and forwarded to my father who kept on telling me I should have faith and confidence. One, it’s God that created me and God has a defined mission for me, and that he was very sure and optimistic that if I went through all those challenges in my early life and I was able to survive and   live up to this time, it’s certain that I would live older than his father, acknowledged  to  be the oldest person in Agengbode, having died at the age of 120 in their estimation.  Whether that is correct, I wouldn’t know. But  I do know he died in 1957, I was still a small kid. He swore I was going to live longer than him( his father) and added the fact that not the doctor nor anybody is my father, he is my father and is comforted that I will live long, and that I should just take care of myself. 

So, as 35 was approaching , I was healthy but something had been planted into my system  that you may be right or wrong, maybe it’s going to be 35 years. From age 30-35, I enjoyed my life maximally, I had no holds barred. I said look, if I do not go beyond this bar, when I get back and God asks me ‘how was it’ I  will say the last five years were very good. But behold, here I am seventy years old and I am strong and  healthy. I thank Almighty God and all Nigerians that have given me support.  I am healthy.

..So you are a covenant child?

Call me anything you want to call me. But let me say here that my eldest sister, Mrs Julian Angbagu, in the course of my battle with life, decided to make a pledge to God that if this boy survives all these,  we will  dedicate him to the service of Almighty God.  That’s why I got to the seminary, because she wanted to show appreciation and gratitude to God.

But my mother, having produced 13 children and I, the only surviving son at that time, in the middle, until we are now seven because some of them died. I am the only surviving child among all the seven of  us.  I am directly in the middle, so I am tied by the cord of those ahead of me and those before me. Say, covenant child, yes I am.

What was running through your mind at that age 35 your life was expected to end?

I counted it as a day when I was to see the end of my life. But I was very happy and joyous that  I crossed the hurdle of this imaginary 35 years I was afraid of. I was Chief of Staff at a PhD. I was a multimillionaire, I was fulfilled, I was happy in life. So,I said, all these things happening were  not happening for no reasons. Possibly, that 35 years was why God so ordered my life as smooth sailing as it was up to that 35 years. But the next 35 years, were even more joyous. I enjoyed my birthday and had all my friends, King Sunny Ade played and everybody celebrated. It was nice.

Could that be the reason you are a polygamist?

No, that’s not the reason.    I am Catholic and  I definitely will  tell you that one of the greatest errors of my life is polygamy.  But it was  not something that I desired or something  I wanted,  but it’s  a situation that developed and I just had no alternative. A lot  of people look at it and say oh, ‘maybe it was wealth that distorted  his behavior.’ But the truth of the matter is that there were internal family challenges  that led to this . I was married to a Polish woman, I wanted to remain with the Polish woman. But  she left Nigeria for reason that she was the only child of her parent also, she had to stay with them. I had to stay here and that there is no leave in marriage.  I shuttled down to Poland over 16 times requesting her to come back to Nigeria and stay. But she needed to, as the only child of her parents, be by them. But my mother was very anxious to have children of my own, that I don’t have to enter place to go and visit. That explains the instability that later affected my life.

Assessing our marine industry and nation’s economy

Let me say that I came back to Nigeria in 1976 December and started work effectively in 1977. I worked first under Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife at the Federal Ministry of Transport. He would attest to the fact that I was full of enthusiasm, full of patriotism, full hopes that Nigeria would become that prosperous and flowing with honey. When I came on a visit to Nigeria in 1975, Nigeria was either at same level  of development with Poland, Sigapore and Taiwan and with  the ports I visited in the course of my maritime training, it was also a beauty coming to Lagos Ports. True,  we had congestion in 1975, true the country was undergoing rapid development-physical and industrial development at that time. But unfortunately, the Gowon era developed first national development plan, second national development plan and third national development plan. They were visions of wise men who wanted and meant well for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But after that, everything derailed!

There was no basis of measuring the standard of people that took over the leadership of Nigeria. I will tell you for sure that I was keeping files of civil servants and ministers  between 1951 and 75 that got burnt in my house. If you see the brilliance , patriotism and commitment, you will want to serve this country for life.  But unfortunately, the federal character laws that came in brought in a lot of inexperienced people, mediocre were brought in and excellence sacrificed. It was sentiment.

At the Federal Ministry of Transport, I can tell you for free of charge that the Nigeria Ports Authority wanted to build an ocean terminal in Lagos towards Badagry and the other end. For political reasons, it was decided that we should on. For political reasons, we decided to build a port in Warri. Chief Obafemi Awolowo promised a port in Warri to satisfy the Itshekiris, Alhaji Sheu Shagari came in  1979 and said we should build a port in Sapele because of Urhobos. There was no economic reason. The ocean terminal that was to be built was looking at the type of vessels that would be in operation at about this time, which were all over the world.  There was transition that time from general cargo movement to containerized cargo. Therefore, we were expecting  development and enhancement in that direction.

Rivers state made it possible for President Sheu Shagari to win the 1979 election-the last votes that came in from the current Rivers and Bayelsa.  So, in other to appreciate them, he shelved the idea of ocean terminal. Today, republic of Benin Port, Ivory Coast Port, all of them are now in better position because  they are directly at the depth end .  The basis of our decision making became emotional. I even hear a naval base is being built in Kano or Kaduna.  Does  that indicate there is unity in the country?  That ‘s how a lot of decisions made nonsense of  our vision. The vision that was expected, we  lost it.

 There’s no clear basis. Just that  I feel that I need to create something for my people.  Nobody  is examining it properly.  There are mineral resources in all parts of this country, so  let us develop these mineral resources to a level that is economically viable. Nobody!  That is what we are suffering.

Way out

It boils down to both  leadership and followership. I believe we have to restructure Nigeria effectively.  You  like it, you hate  the word restructure,  I believe it is the first thing we need to do to move ahead. So, you look for a leader who believes in restructuring and reorganising  Nigeria, in moving Nigeria from oil-based economy to a diversification-based economy.  We need somebody that believes that creating jobs does not mean taking people who have finished schools, whether qualified or unqualified, into the civil service. It is production that can bring about the development of the economy.  There must  be industries. The same people who closed down Ajaokuta rolling Mill are running around borrowing money today to build railway lines. Shagari  saw this problem way back in 1979 and embarked  on the development  of Ajaokuta Steel  Rolling Mill, development of Delta Steel Rolling , development of Katsina Steel Rolling Mill. In practical terms, Ajaokuta remained the only rolling mill which was supposed to remain  the backbone of our industrial development.

And Ajaokuta, by the time it was supposed to start production, was when the 1983 coup took place. Alhaji Mamman Makele  was described as being corrupt and a thief, he ran for his dear life, he ran to the UK, he died in the UK,  having succeeded  not being crated back to Nigeria. In poverty, Mr Paul Unongo who was minister of state,  suffered trauma,went through frustration, interrogation and so on. The easy cliché to destroy anybody in  Nigeria is that he is  corrupt.

For that reason, Ajaokuta that remained $500million  to complete it and start production, all the steel required for our rail lines, standard gauge and so on which had been planned was supposed to cost  the entire  country, to connect every village in the Federal Republic of Nigeria was supposed to cost N30billion. And  Shagari at the Federal Executive Council meeting  said we should fund it from the treasury , we should not go borrowing. We finished Ajaokuta, at that time we were using wood, but it could have also being metal on the ground to put the rail on.

We would have generated employment, created opportunities for Nigerians . No country will come to develop Nigeria. Nigerians must develop Nigeria, Nigerians must be given  the opportunity to partake and participate in formulating policies. We have trained people but we don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t respect ourselves as people.

You were chief of staff in Gongola  state as an indigene of Bendel state .  Why is it not possible today?

Bad leadership, completely bad leadership! When these issues come in, people run away from reality. It is not the Fulani man that is bad. Sheu Shagari was a Fulani man who served Nigeria, in my opinion, very meritoriously, very  conscientiously. We have  had military heads of state that are northerners . But they were visionary, they were ready to accommodate others, they put together the best brains that were available  for development and they gave them opportunities. So, milestones were achieved.

 I remember my uncle, Chief John Imoru who was a mayor in Port Harcourt, from Agenegbode . Even in Lagos and Enugu, there were northerners who contested and Yorubas who contested and won. People were living freely in Kano,  I believe. Bayo Bodunrin(an AIT staff member ) was one of them. When we were growing up, it was unity , it didn’t  matter. The whole idea was that it is a country that was going to be flowing  with milk and honey. But all of a sudden,  when you have religious extremists, people who exploit the very thin lines of unity, then you find yourselves here. That is why I strongly believe there are still Nigerians who believe in one united  Nigeria. There are still Nigerians who appreciate the value of what Nigeria is supposed to be, and those  Nigerians must come out, most of these younger generation people  that I am seeing. People  that are clamoring  for disintegration of the country and so on, I sympathise with them , I am sorry for them. But I feel very strongly that they are in that position because of the injustice that is going on in the country, because of different laws operating for different parts of the country.

A lot of the states are not economically viable, they can’t sustain themselves. For how long can we sustain these unsustainable states?  They need to merge together, and people say no, how will this state go? But you can’t fund it! You can’t sustain it! In very simple terms, the job that used to be done in the northern region,  are being done now by 19  permanent secretaries’ ministry of education both inefficiently  and ineffectively. The jobs that used to be done by just one person in the eastern region( including Rivers and Cross Rivers), is being done by 7 persons with different approaches. It has not helped our development. So, we  must sit down and say if we want to move ahead, we must reduce our administrative and consumption cost, we must give attention to development.   Today, over 70-80% of the monies we have  n our budgets are for recurrent expenditure for payments of  salaries  and all that is required. So, for development, we have less than 30 percent.

So, if we are going to move forward, we must reverse it, we must produce , we must be involved in industrialization, in development in satisfying our needs, and so on. And that way you can create jobs. It’s not by bringing  them to the ministries  and  say, ‘you are given a letter as administrative officer.’ What does he have?  He doesn’t even have a table?  When we finished  school, work was looking for us and not us looking for work. They will come to you and say , ‘Shell is coming to recruit tomorrow, do you want to  go to Shell? Do you want to go the ministry?” but today, you get  Ph.D, you come back and the sole of your shoes will peel.

As a member PDP Board of Trustees, what is your view on your party’s decision on zoning, particularly the presidency?

In 1998, when the People’s Democratic Party was being established, after the G-34 had confronted the military, elder statesmen who believed in one Nigeria and who went through the trauma of military rule. The constitution of the PDP states very clearly that there shall be rotation and zoning of offices, both for the party and political office. And I have remained very consistent in my argument since 1998.

At the G-34 meeting, Alhaji Lawan Keita had moved that Alex Ekwueme should become the president. But Alex Ekwueme said it is a group, not a political party, that when it transforms into a political party, you can canvass whether I can be president or not.

When the party came into being, it was agreed by all, including all the northerners that because of the injustice done to the South West, the Southwest should be given the opportunity to run. It was in Jos, AIT transmitted it  live. That was the first live transmission into the United States of America, that President Bill Clinton, and I am saying it very publicly, called President Obasanjo, PDP candidate at that time, to congratulate him on the floor. And Obasanjo was surprised and asked Clinton how he got  to know, and Clinton told him he was watching him on a Nigerian station, ‘AIT, you call it?

So, because of the necessity, agreement had been reached that there will be zoning and rotation. But where do we start from? We said, let us start from the south, and we pushed the zoning to the south west. Don’t forget that in 1995 draft constitution which Abacha conducted, in the reports and records, they had entrenched this idea of zoning and rotation where it was envisaged that the 6 geo-political zones will have a turn of 5 years each, so that in 30 years, we will end up on  zoning and would have been one united country. From there, we can start exploiting merit.

After deciding on the 4-year rotation, when Obasanjo came in, there was an expanded party caucus where it was canvassed that the military had done a lot of damage, and the  PDP programmes could not be fully implemented within those 3 years, and would be desirable to extend it to as the constitution has provided for them to do eight years.  Again, all the founding fathers, including Alex Ekwueme, Ogbemudia and all the PDP big wigs  were present at the meeting. And again, it was the northern delegates who said we have no objection, we shall  exercise patience. We will allow Obasanjo to have another 4 years, but with a proviso that if you do 8 years, we too will do 8 years. Let it be understood, and that is the foundation and everybody said “yeah” Ogbemudia gave vote of thanks, appreciated northern for their understanding. So, Obasanjo did up to 2007(8 years.).

By that agreement, power was supposed to have rotated back to the north. But I was a member of the S/South Assembly, I led the delegation to say the S/South had not had any opportunity, that the S/South should be given. I travelled round, I did not carry gun, I did not shout, I did not fight. All  I did was that I engaged the Nigerian public. We travelled everywhere to lobby for a South-south president.  By the time we got to the Convention, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said ‘look Dr Peter Odili, you have done very well, if we go into the conventions, you are going to win overwhelmingly, but we have had an understanding with the north, please let the north be the president.

That is how Umaru Yar’Adua came in. Yar’Adua, unfortunately did not live long to see his  8 years. He did only two and half years because in actual fact,  I can tell you for free of charge that  by November 2009, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was not available and therefore the vice president  was the one overseeing things. The argument that he didn’t have executive power, he didn’t have constitutional power, let’s leave that aside. He was the defacto head until Yar’Adua died  May  6, 2010. That was supposed to be the first term.

I agitated at that time that for us not to break the principle already established, let us have the north complete the remaining term of four years, so that we can be done with the northern presidency, so that we can come back to the South. Mr. President as he was at that time, if you want to run, prepare yourself  and you can even be vice president to any of the northerners that you want to choose if you feel you want to be relevant. If you feel you want to leave because you are president (because he was sworn in as president 2006), you  can go on vacation and go and prepare yourself to run at the end of the tenure when you come back. ‘But some people in the S/South said ‘no, it’s not possible. You cannot be so close to power and relinquish it.’ Crisis set in. So, Jonathan did another 4 years.  By 2015, the PDP had done 16 years in power, if you like, 14 years of the south, two years of the north. That is the situation up till today.

Now, you say, you believe in justice, fairness and equity. The north has done 2 years, the South has done 14 years. Is  that balance? The APC came into being in 2014, they don’t have  history. Now, in 2015, when we fielded in PDP, Jonathan, the north had started clamouring and  agitating that it’s their  turn. You have spent 14 years, so allow us to complete our 4 years and we said no we have eaten smateese, we were very smart, and that is what plunged the country into this crisis. That is why we are in problem.

So, I am Peoples Democratic Party, I am guided by the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party  which in its preamble said for unity, for stability, for the growth of this country, we must rotate such that every part of the country will not be neglected. The APC, on its own, came in and also said they were adopting zoning and rotation. And in their own situation, they chose to pick a northern candidate knowing full well the agitation of the north. They fielded a northern candidate against the southerner. I believe everyone here knows my position and what my comments were at that time. At the end of the election, I do not agree, I do not believe Jonathan lost any election. But in any case, he didn’t contest it , even when there  were ample evidences. He has become a statesman. But that has not solved the problem of Nigeria. It has tripled it. So, APC has its own constitution and its own rules.

If in my own party I want to win  election, I cannot win an election when there is injustice, when there is unfairness, when we are not guided by certain rules and regulations. In the PDP, all I am agitating for is that let us be fair and just. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of ourselves. Let us, as one family, as the party started  still remain one. And  in doing so, let us choose a candidate from the north. Some people have come to meet me to say, how can we allow them to do  8 years again? I say, sorry, in 2019, we fielded a northern candidate recommended by Ike  Ekweremadu report. But again, the PDP was outmaneuvered.

I don’t agree that Atiku lost that election. I don’t, I am not convinced, I am not persuaded. But  INEC has said so. I am  a citizen of Nigeria, I must live by the rules. I can only sob in myself but can’t do anything about that. But I cannot as a PDP person go and adopt APC conditions and situations. I am criticising APC for failure, I am criticising APC for making Nigeria the capital of poverty in the whole world.  Are these PDP policies? They are APC policies. So , I cannot be dragged into APC conditions and situation.  So, for me very clearly, I want an undiluted, a properly organised party.

It is the APC policy of lack of adherence to the federal character principles that has brought us to this level of suspicion in the country. And it is because of that lack of respect for the federal character as provided in the constitution that we have a security council being peopled by a side of the country. I see Nigeria progressing, and the PDP principle of giving every part of the country a sense of belonging needs to be brought back. 

And the person that can bring back that principle of fairness, justice is from the north. We, the  Southerners had the opportunity to be in power and we threw it away, so we can not monopolise everything and that is what gave birth to APC. If only we were fair, we were just, we were rational, we won’t have been in this problem. 

On Tinubu

Let me tell you that His Excellency Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu, before he became governor at , when in Mobil, whose headquarters is just directly in front of my house, as young men with Chief Akinyelure, Supo Ade Balogun, Ogungbe- all of us we go to Oniyanrin(entertainment location in Lagos), we drink, we eat, I dare say we womanised together. He became governor , God blessed him. But does that remove the fact that we were good friends as young men? Should I say because he belongs to a political party, he is now my enemy? He is the godfather of my second to my last daughter who has masters’ degree. Bola Ahmed Bola Tinubu is the godfather. He is a Muslim but we were so close. So, if there is an interview and they say, your relationship with this person, I will say I don’t know him because of politics? I don’t believe in that. He is a philanthropist, he is kindhearted, he is supportive of ordinary persons. There is no journalist in Lagos whom Bola has not torched his life one way or the other. I praise him and wish him the very best in whatever he put his hands on. It has nothing to do with politics, but the good relationship we have always had.

On Jonathan and APC ‘move’

He has not told me. President Goodluck Jonathan has not mentioned it to anybody , I am sure. Goodluck Jonathan is a statesman. He sacrificed his ambition and fight after 2015 election because he wants a united Nigeria. Don’t forget that the person we have at the helm of affairs when Africa’s matters are mentioned globally today, is Olusegun Obasanjo. He is aging and very soon and may not be able to move around as he is now. President Jonathan is a younger person, he is able to represent Nigeria, promote Nigeria, attract friends and investors to Nigeria. That role falls on his shoulder very well. I encourage him to be in that position and be Nigeria’s image maker and reference point. He is well-suited for that and I wish him the very best.

What would you devote your remaining years to?

Service to humanity