When I heard the news last Monday of the passing of Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, I remembered an occasion in 1996 when he paid a courtesy call at the New Nigerian Newspapers’ head office in Kaduna. I was Deputy Editor of New Nigerian then and our managing director, Dr. Abubakar Rasheed, received him. Dokpesi was then best known as the proprietor of Raypower FM and had just acquired the license to start African Independent Television, AIT. He told us how he hit on the Raypower idea when he visited Stevie Wonder’s radio station in Los Angeles. He asked how much it would cost to set up the station and was given an estimate of $1.5million, which he said his wife immediately wired to him.
Dokpesi told us the story of his background and childhood. His father was from Agenebode in present day Edo State but his mother was from the present-day Adamawa State. His father had many wives and many children, he said, and when it came time to go to school, Dokpesi said his father decided not to send him to school since his mother was a Northerner and “Northerners have no aptitude for education.” However, he said, his mother sent him to school and paid his way through petty trading.
When he completed secondary school, Dokpesi said he saw an advert in the newspaper, where the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) was looking for school leavers to be given scholarships to train abroad. He applied, was successful and was sent to Poland. When he finished his studies many years later, he could not get a ticket to fly back home despite many trips to the Nigerian Embassy in Warsaw. He therefore took up a teaching job at a Polish university.
The story now got more interesting. In 1977 when military Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo visited Poland, the Poles included Dokpesi in their delegation that held talks with the visiting Nigerians on mutual cooperation. Dokpesi said throughout the meeting, Obasanjo kept glancing at him and during the tea break, he went close to him and said, “I didn’t know they have blacks in Poland.” Dokpesi said he replied, “I am a Nigerian.” “What!?” Obasanjo asked. When he heard the full story, he ordered the embassy to provide him with a return ticket to Nigeria and that he should come and see him on getting back home.
But once back home, Dokpesi couldn’t get to see the military ruler. He went to the gates of Dodan Barracks but soldiers drove him away. He finally hit on an idea. He sat down and wrote a letter to Obasanjo, went to the Post Office and posted it. Lo and behold, Obasanjo got the letter and sent Dokpesi to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, managing director of Nigeria Ports Authority, whose special assistant he became.
Raymond Dokpesi’s name however hit the headlines in 1983 when he became Director General of Bamanga Tukur’s BMT (Bamanga Mohammed Tukur) organization, which carried out a ruthless campaign that won for him the NPN’s gubernatorial nomination for old Gongola State and subsequently, the election. Dokpesi became Governor Tukur’s Chief of Staff. It was explained at the time that he was a Gongola State indigene because his mother was from the state. As fate would have it, they ruled for only three months before the Second Republic was overthrown. Dokpesi told us another story, that on the day he heard the coup announcement on December 31, 1983, he was so traumatized that he drove out of the Government House in Yola but could not find his way to the guest house where he stayed even though it was a short distance away!
In March 1993, I was a reporter for Citizen magazine at the National Republican Convention’s (NRC) convention in Port Harcourt. Dokpesi arrived with a colourful dancing troupe in tow; he was the Edo State NRC’s “favourite son” presidential candidate under the Option A4 scheme. He lost to Alhaji Bashir Tofa at that convention.
In later years, the rise of AIT at one time to a leading position in the private broadcast industry made Dokpesi an increasingly important person in Nigeria, in addition to his prominent roles in politics, plus not a few scandals. May his very enterprising soul rest in peace.