2023: Zoning key to PDP reclaiming presidency –Dokpesi – The Sun Nigeria – Daily Sun
From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
High Chief Raymond Dokpesi is a media mogul, Marine expert, politician, investor and many other things rolled into one.
Speaking ahead of his 70th birthday this week, he went memory lane on his childhood health challenges, his deepest regret in life, his romantic life, his three hours journey on River Niger to receive his healing, his insistence on Northern president in 2023 and why he embarked on maximum enjoyment between age 30 to 35 years and many more.
What have been your low and your high moments?
My lowest moment I think in recent times has been my arrest, trial and the alleged looting of treasury by this administration that led to my detention in the EFCC and at Kuje Prisons. I think that has been the most remarkable and the most painful time recently.
My best moment, the moment of my joy, the moment of fulfillment was December 15, 1993 when RayPower came on air. It was when I thought I crossed the hurdle to do what I was very much afraid Nigeria was not prepared to do. In between, there has been quite a lot of other low and high moments, but my highest and happiest moment was definitely during that commencement of broadcast or the test transmission of RayPower in 1993 and definitely the recent trial by the EFCC.
You were predicted to die at 35, how do you feel getting to this age?
Well, let me confirm that 35 was the bench mark that was given to me because at very early years, I was very sickly. However, as I was growing up, I do recall very clearly sitting down always by the side of my father in Ibadan every evening. He would put his relaxing chair, his friends will come to pay him visit and they were talking about village stories and so on.
Then I was fairly handicapped because I could not talk from the very beginning of my life, but very many people assumed that because I could not talk that I could not hear or I could not understand what it was. So, I would normally just look and see, watch things as they happen.
I vividly recall when one of my father’s very close friends came to intervene over my schooling and he outrightly condemned any effort to invest in me because I was very sickly and secondly he has never seen any child of a Northerner succeed, go beyond kolanut that they eat and they play around with; they are never do wells.
I was handicapped and that was the toughest moment in my life at that stage and at that time, I felt highly discriminated against; I felt that I was likely to be denied the opportunity to live. My mother was very helpless at that time and there I was feeling very ill, very sick, not being able to communicate freely and my mother too was an illiterate; so since I could not talk and even if I attempted to write anything, she could not read what it was I was writing.
I think that it was a lot of God’s intervention, after going through the university college hospital in Ibadan, treatment, diagnosis, operation that I started gradually picking words and talking. By the time I was getting to about 12 to 13 years, I was terribly sick, my mother and father were taking me from one hospital to another, to native doctors, to herbalists, to churches praying and then looking for opportunity for me to survive.
The doctors that couldn’t identify really what was wrong with me gave up. I had to leave the seminary to Loyola College Ibadan, from Loyola college they felt that this case was very bad, it is better he goes back to his parents and he either survives there or dies but let him not die in the campus.
I went back to Benin, in Benin too my parents struggled, I could see their pains, I honestly saw the struggle of my mother, the determination of my father at that time, I almost started believing that 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 I was able to survive.
As God will do it, they later took me down to Agenebode; I think that was sometime in 1965, 1966 when my father had almost given up that I was going to survive. We went through the banks of River Niger as it was; River Niger was quite full at the time and we went into a small village, having travelled almost two and half hours on the River Niger, they call the place Osunene and so.
I was not given any injection, they came up to say that I have been poisoned and the people that committed the atrocity were there present and they will be able to… so here is water, if you are sure that you are not the one responsible for this boy’s state of health, take this water and say God you are seeing me, my heart is clean. One after the other, my father’s eldest sister, my father’s first wife, a lineage coincidentally were involved and I went into coma where I was rolling and I vomited out the poison because the same water they were given was given to me to also drink.
I took that same water and vomited quite extensively different type of items, issues, forms from my abdomen and that became the beginning of my revival.
When I got to Poland again in 1969, after doing the medical examination to get into the university, they felt that I was not going to leave beyond the age of 35 years.
I collected the result and forwarded to my father but he kept on telling me that I should have faith and confidence. He said that God created me and has His defined mission for me. That he was very sure and optimistic that if I went through all these challenges in my early life and was able to survive and got to this level, he was very certain I would live older than his father who was acknowledged to be the oldest person in Agenebode then, having died at the age of 120 years in their estimate, whether that is correct or not. I know that he died in 1956 or 1957, I was still a small kid when I attended his burial.
He added the fact that not a doctor, not anyone, he is my father and he is sure I am going to live very long and he is comforted by the fact that I should take care of myself.
I kept on and when 35 was approaching, I was healthy but something had been planted into my system, my thinking that you may be right, you may be wrong, maybe it is going to be 35 years you are going to live.
So from age 30 to 35, I enjoyed my life maximally, I had no holds back. I said look if I do not go beyond 35 years, when I get back and God ask me, how was it and I will say that last five years was very good, I enjoyed it fully.
Behold here I am 70 years old, all those challenges put behind, I am strong, I am healthy and I thanked Almighty God and all Nigerians that have given me support all through to be able to reach this year.
Are you a covenant child?
Call me anything that you want to call me, let me say that my eldest sister, Mrs Juliana Agbani in the course of my struggles and battle with life, decided to make a pledge to God and said look if this boy survives all these, we will dedicate him to the service of Almighty God, and that was how I got into the seminary. So 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, still I am the only surviving child amongst all seven of us, I am directly in the middle. I am tied by the cords of those that are ahead of me and by those one. So if you say covenant child, yes I am.
October 25 1986 you were 35 years, that very day what went through your mind?
I counted it as the day when I was actually supposed to see the end of my life, but I was very happy, I was very joyous that I crossed the rubicon. I said this 35 years, this imaginary 35 years I was afraid of, I have been chief of staff, I have had my PhD, I had been a multi millionaire, I was fulfilled, I was happy in life; so I said all these things that were happening, were not happening for no reason.
I said possibly the 35 years was why God so ordered my life to be as smooth sailing as it was up to that 35 years but the next 35 years possibly was even more joyous than those 35 years. I enjoyed that my birthday, all my friends came, King Sunny Ade played, and it was nice.
Was it the 35 years that encouraged you to be polygamous?
No, that is not the reason. I am a catholic and I definitely will tell you that one of the greatest errors of my life is polygamy but it is not something that I desired or something that I wanted. It was a situation that developed, I just had no alternative.
Lots of people looked at it that maybe it was wealth that distorted my behaviour, but the truth of the matter is that there were internal family challenges that led to the fact that, I was married to a Polish woman. I wanted to remain with the Polish woman, I still desired it in my old age, but she left Nigeria for reasons that she was the only child of her parents and so she had to stay with her parents and I had to stay here and there is no leave in marriage.
I shuttled down to Poland over 16 times requesting her to come back to Nigeria and stay but as the only child, she wanted to be by them and then I also told myself, my mother was very anxious that I should have the children that are my own, the children that I don’t have to enter plane to go and visit and bring and that whole thing caused the destability that later affected my life.
As a marine expert, a business mogul, owner of media conglomerate and your experience, investments, why is it difficult to bring home the same idea to turn around the Nigerian economy?
Let me say that I came back to Nigeria in 1976 December and started work effectively in 1977. I worked first immediately under Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife in the Federal Ministry of Transport and he would attest to the fact that I came full of patriotism, enthusiasm, hope that Nigeria will be that prosperous land flowing with milk.
I was ever clear that when I came back to Nigeria on a visit in 1975 that Nigeria was either as the same level of development with Poland, Singapore, Taiwan and the ports that I visited during the course of my maritime training was always a beauty coming to Lagos port.
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, the first national development plan, the second national development plan, the third national development plan, were vision of wise men, who wanted and meant well for Nigeria but after that we derailed.
There was no basis of measuring of standard of men and quality of people that took over the leadership of Nigeria. I will tell you for sure, I was keeping a file of civil servants, of ministers between 1951 and 1975 that got burnt in my house; the federal ministry of transport and if you see the brilliance, the patriotism, the commitment, you will want to serve this country forever.
But unfortunately, the federal character clause that came in brought in a lot of inexperienced people; mediocre people were brought in and excellence was sacrificed in the altar of this thing, so there was no basis any more, it was sentiment.
In the federal ministry of transport, I can tell you for free of charge, that the Nigerian Ports Authority wanted to build an Ocean Terminal in Lagos towards Badagry, towards the other end and for political reasons it was decided that it should go to Warri.
So now Chief Obafemi Awolowo promised a port in Warri to satisfy the Itsekiri. Shehu Shagari came in 1979 and said we should build a port in Sapele because of the Urhobos; there was no economic reason.
The ocean terminal that was supposed to, looking at the size of vessels that will be in operation at about this time which we have seen all over the world, there was transition already at that time from general cargo movement to containerized cargo; therefore you are expecting development and enhancement in that direction.
River State made it possible for President Shehu Shagari to win that 1979 election with the last votes that came in from the current Rivers and Bayelsa. So, in other to appreciate them, he shelved the idea of the ocean terminal but today it is haunting us.
The Republic of Benin port, Ivory Coast, all of them are now in better positions because they are directly at the depth end. The basis of our decision making became emotional.
I even heard today that a naval base is being built in Kano. Does that indicate that there is unity in the country; no and that is how a lot of the decisions that made nonsense of the vision that was expected, we lost it. There is no clear basis; it is I feel I need to create something for my people but nobody is going to be able to examine properly what is it that I need to do.
There are mineral resources in all parts of the country, so let us develop these mineral resources to the level that it will be economically viable, nobody and that is what we are suffering.
How do we get out of these situations?
It boils down to both leadership and followership. I believe that we need to restructure Nigeria effectively. You like it, you hate the word restructure, it is just the foundation and most, it is the first thing we must do in moving ahead.
So, you need to look for a leader who believes in restructuring and reorganizing Nigeria, in moving Nigeria from oil based economy to a diversified base. We need somebody that believes that creating jobs does not mean taking people who have finished school, whether qualified or unqualified into the civil service. It is production that will bring about the growth of the economy. So there must be industry.
The same people who closed down Ajaokuta Steel Mill were running around borrowing money today to build railway lines. Shagari saw this problem way back 1979 and embarked on the Ajaokuta Steel rolling mill and development of Delta steel rolling mill, development of Kastina steel rolling mill and most of them came into terms; it remained only the Ajaokuta Steel rolling mill which was supposed to be the backbone of our industrial development.
Ajaokuta, by the time it was supposed to have started production, was when the 1983 coup took place. Alh. Marma Makele was described as being corrupt and a thief and he ran for his dear life, he died in the UK, having succeeded not being repatriated back to Nigeria.
Mr Paul Unongo who was minister of state, is there by the grace of God, but went through trauma, frustration, interrogations and so on; the easy cliché to destroy anybody in Nigeria is that he is corrupt.
So for that reason, we could not realize Ajaokuta that was only N500 million remaining to complete and start production; all the steels required for our rail lines, standard gauge and so on was supposed to cost the entire country and to connect every village N30 billion and Shagari and the FEC at that time said that they should fund it from treasury and should not go borrowing.
We finished Ajaokuta, at that time we were using woods, slippers but it could have also been metal underground to put the roads 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 clearly in formulating; we have trained people in all fields but we don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t respect ourselves.
What do you think is responsible for the division of the country today along religious and ethnic lines?
Completely bad leadership. You see, when these issues come up, people run away from reacting. It is not the Fulani man that is bad, Shehu 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 visionaries, they were ready to accommodate all others, they pulled together the best brains that were available to bring about development and they gave them opportunities.
In those days, I remember my uncle, Chief John Umoru, was mayor in Port Harcourt and he is from Agenebode. Even in Lagos and Enugu, there were Northerners who contested and Yorubas who contested and won; people were living freely in Kano. So there was unity, it didn’t matter.
When we were growing up, the whole idea was that it is a country that was going to flow with milk and honey but all of a sudden, when you have religious extremists, when you have people who exploit the very thin lines of unity, then you will find yourself here.
That is why I strongly believe that 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 that those Nigerians must come out.
I sympathize with most of this younger generation clamouring for disintegration of the country, but I feel also very strongly that they are in that position because of the injustice that is going on in this country, because of different laws operating for different parts of the country.
Look at even the electoral law; in the South in 2015, you said this law is what is applicable and it must be applied and then in the nNrth you allowed free voting, so people were able to vote normally.
There is no electronic transmission, yet Borno where there was bomb blast in the morning, where the population we all know how it is, they returned 1.7 million votes. Lagos which is densely populated could hardly get 1 million votes to return.
You created 44 Local Government Areas in one state, there is no problem with that. But you don’t fund the federating units at the state at the moment, it would be better; a lot of the states are not economically viable, they can’t sustain themselves.
For how long can we sustain the unsustainable states; they need to merge together and people said no, how will these states grow but we can’t fund it, you can’t sustain it.
In very simple terms, the jobs that used to be done in the Northern region where there are 19 states now by the Permanent Secretary ministry of education is being done by 19 people most inefficiently and ineffectively.
The jobs that used to be done in Eastern region by just one person, including Cross River State is now being done by seven persons with different approaches. So 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 more attention to development. Today, over 80 per cent of the monies we have in our budgets are for recurrent expenditure, for payment of salaries, cars and all that is required and so for development you have less than 30 per cent.
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 that is the only way you can create jobs for people. It is not by bringing them to ministry and then you say you are given a letter as an administrative officer and that is consumption. What does it bring, what does it add? 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 recruiting tomorrow, do you want to go to Shell or do you want to go to the ministry, do you want to go to this other private company; they were chasing you everywhere and you had a choice.
Today, you get PhD, come back, the sole of your shoes will peal because for 10 years you are looking for jobs you can’t get.
As a member of the PDP BoT, why are you canvassing for a Northern presidential candidate under the party amidst calls by Southerners to produce the next president?
In 1998 when PDP was put together after G34 confronted the military, you still had elder statesmen who still believed in one Nigeria and who went through the trauma of the military torture in prisons. Some of them sentenced people like Solomon Lar to ridiculous number of years by people who are today occupying the same position.
I was arrested and trailed at that time; my offence was that I held political office, that became an offence yet they are holding political offices today and they are not trailed.
But your question is very simple and clear. There is a constitution of the PDP, which states very clearly that there shall be rotation and zoning of offices both for party offices and for political offices and I have remained very consistent in my argument.
In 1998 after the G34, it was Isa Lawal Kaita, a Northerner, who moved motion that Chief Alex Ekwueme should become the next president and Ekwueme said it is a group G34, not a political party and that when we transform into a political party, we will surely then canvass whether I should be or not be.
When the party came in and was recognized, all the northerners decided that because of the injustice that has been done to the South West, they 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 called President Obasanjo, PDP candidate at that time to congratulate him on the floor and Obasanjo was surprised; how could the president and Clinton tell him that he was watching him on a Nigerian station AIT.
So because of the necessity, agreements have been reached that there will be zoning and rotation but where do we start from. They said let us start from the South and we chose to zone it 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 six geo political zones will have a turn of five years so that in 30 years, we will end up from zoning and would have been one united country and from there, we can start exporting merits.
But after deciding on the four years rotation, when Obasanjo came in, there was an expanded party caucus where it was canvassed that the military had done a lot of damage; the programme of the PDP could not be fully implemented within those three years and it is desirable to extend it to what the constitution has provided for them to do eight years.
So again, all the founding fathers including Alex Ekwueme, Ogbemudia, all the big wigs of the PDP were present at that 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 four years but with the proviso that if he does eight years, we too will do eight years. So, let it be understood that is the foundation and everybody said yes. Ogbemudia gave the vote of thanks, appreciated the North for their understanding and so Obasanjo did up to 2007, eight years.
And so by that agreement, power supposed to have rotated back to the North. But, I as South-South people’s assembly, I led the delegation to say, the South-south had not had any opportunity, that they 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 to everywhere, took the best of the names I could have from the South-south to travel to lobby for a South-south president.
By the time we got to the convention, Obasanjo told Peter Odili, you have done very well, if we go into this convention, you are going to win overwhelmingly, but we have had an understanding with the North, please let us allow the North to be the President and that was how Umaru Yar’Adua came in.
Yar’Adua unfortunately did not live long enough to see his eight years; he did only two years; if you like two and half years because in actual facts, I can tell you for free of charge that by November 2009, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not available and therefore the vice president was the one.
The argument that he didn’t have executive powers, he didn’t have constitutional powers, let’s leave all that side, but he was the de facto until Yar’Adua died on May 6, 2010.
That was supposed to be the first term. I agitated at that time; I said for us not to break, with the principle already established, let us have the North complete that remaining one term of four years so that we will be done with the North and it can come back to the South.
Mr President as he was at that time, if you then want to run, please prepare yourself and you can even be a vice president to any of the Northerners that you want to choose if you say you have to be relevant and be there.
If you think that you want to leave because you have been president because he was actually sworn in as president, then you can go on vacation and prepare yourself to run at the end of the tenure when you come back.
But some people in the South or in the South-south in particular said no, it is not possible, you cannot be so close to power and you relinquish it and so on; crisis started. So Jonathan did another four years.
So we came to 2015 and by the time we got to 2015, the PDP had done 16 years in power, if you like 14 years of the South and two years of North and that is the situation up till today.
You say you believe in justice, fairness and equity; the North has done two years and the South has done 14 years ; is that balance?
What about other parties?
The other parties that you are talking about came into being in 2013, 2014; they don’t have a background, they don’t have history.
Now in 2015 when we fielded in PDP Jonathan, the North had started clamouring and agitating that it is their turn. You have spent 14 years, so allow us to complete our four years and we said no, we have eaten smarties, we are very smart and that is what plunged this country into this crisis; that is why we are in problem.
So I am PDP, I am guided by the constitution of the PDP which in its preamble said for its unity, for the stability, for the growth of this country, we must rotate such that every part of the country, no part will be neglected.
The APC on its own came in and also said they were adopting some zoning, rotation and in their situation they chose to pitch with a Northern candidate knowing full well that the sentiments of the North was that fact that they were this thing. They put a Northerner there to stand against the Southerner.
I believe that everybody knows here what comments and my position was at that time, that very clearly at the end of that election, I do not agree, I do not believe that Jonathan lost that election, but in any case, he didn’t contest it; even when there were ample evidences to that effect. He has become a statesman now but that has not solved the problem of Nigeria, it has deepened it.
So APC has its own constitution and rules. If in my own party, I want to win an election, I cannot win an election when there is injustice, where there is unfairness, when we are not guided by certain rules and regulations.
So in the PDP what I am agitating for is that let us be fair and just, let us put ourselves in the shoes of others, let us all as one family, remain one and in doing so, please let us choose a candidate from the North.
Some people have come to me to say how can we allow them to do eight years again and I said sorry, in 2019 we fielded a Northern candidate as recommended by the Ekweremadu’s Report but again the PDP was out-maneuvered. 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 and so I must live by the rules and so on. I can only suck in myself but I can’t do anything about that.
I cannot as a PDP person go and adopt. I am criticizing APC for failure, I am criticizing APC for making Nigeria the capital of poverty in the whole world. For the level of unemployment I am criticizing the APC. Are these PDP policies? They are not PDP policies, they are APC policies. So, I cannot be dragged into APC situations and conditions. For me very clearly, I want an undiluted, properly organized party.
Let me tell you, it is the APC policies that are being implemented. It is the lack of recognition of the federal character provisions in the constitution that has brought us to this level, you are suspicious of me, I am suspicious of you, you are suspicious of every other person.
It is because of that lack of respect of that federal character provisions in the constitution that we have a security council that is totally peopled by only people from one side of the country and speaking only one language.
All the appointments that have been done, even where there were Southerners and so on, they were all uprooted and replaced. I want Nigeria to be restructured on the principle that I see Nigeria progress and the PDP principles and policies that were implemented of giving every part of the country its due; it needs to be brought back and revised and the person for justice, fairness for now is from the North.
What the PDP did and we Southerners, we had the opportunity to be in power, we grabbed it and threw away this and that one so that we can now monopolize everything and that was what gave birth to APC. If only we were fair, we were just and we were rational, we won’t have been in this problem.
Why are you drumming support for Ahmed Tinubu?
Let me tell you that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, before he became governor, when he was still in Mobil, you know the headquarters of Mobil is just directly in front of my house in Lagos. As young men, we eat and drink together and I dare say we womanize together. We were close friends. He became governor, God blessed him but did that remove the fact that we were good friends, no, as young men. Should I say because he belong to another political party he is now my enemy. He is the godfather of my second to last child who has masters, who is a Muslim. If there is an interview and in which they ask my relationship with this man, should I say that I don’t know him because of politics, I don’t believe in that, I will never do that. He is a philanthropist, he is kindhearted, he is supportive of the ordinary person available. He has gone about bringing hope to people. So why should I be envious or condemn him for that. I praise him and I wish him the very best. I wish him the very best in whatever he puts his hands on. So, it has nothing to do with politics; it is a matter of the good relationship; we have always had and I cherish it and I want to keep it.
There is this rumour that former President Jonathan is hobnobbing with APC, probably he is going to cross over, what will you advise him?
President Goodluck Jonathan has not mentioned it to any person I am sure. Goodluck Jonathan is a statesman, he sacrificed his ambition and fight after 2015 elections because he wants a united Nigeria.
Don’t forget that the person we have at the helm of affairs globally or when Africa matters are mentioned today is Olusegun Obasanjo. He is aging and very soon may not be able to move around as he needs to travel but President Jonathan is a younger person. He is able to represent Nigeria, promote Nigeria, attract friends and investment to Nigeria, that role will fall on his shoulders very well. I encourage him very well to keep that position, to be Nigeria’s number one image maker, to be Nigeria’s reference point and so on, he is well suited to do that and wish President Jonathan the best of luck in achieving that.
Will you advise him to go to APC?
He takes his own decisions, he is an adult, he is able to assess the circumstances but I don’t believe he will go to APC.
What will you use your remaining years to do?
To serve humanity.
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