Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, the Chairman of Daar Communications, parent of African Independent Television and Raypower radio station, cut his teeth in business and politics early in life. He was personal assistant to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, when he was the general manager at the Nigerian Ports Authority and also served in the Ministry of Transport under the duo of Alhaji Umaru Dikko and General Garba Wushishi. His association with the likes of the Tukur and the late Chief MKO Abiola was believed to have facilitated his rise in business. In politics, one of his early assignments was being the campaign manager for Tukur, which saw him (Tukur) become the governor of the old Gongola State back then. He played similar role during Alhaji Adamu Ciroma’s presidential bid as well as Tukur’s presidential campaign in 1993. In equal sense, he took up same role for former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and former governor Peter Odili of Rivers State, when the two men wanted to rule Nigeria. A prominent leader of the South-south People Assembly, an organisation that seeks to promote South-south people, Dopkesi, played a defining role in the campaigns of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and today, he is eyeing the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party. With a support base that cuts across, Dopkesi is confident the project is doable and is leaving no stone unturned in living this dream of his. In this interview with Olawale Oleleye, he spoke on his ambition, the future of the PDP, the Change agenda of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the strategy by the PDP to take over power in 2019. Excerpts:
You were the face of APDA as a fall back option during the power tussle that engulfed the PDP. Suddenly, it ended the way it did. So, what has changed with APDA now that you are pursuing an ambition in the PDP?
Let me thank the Almighty God for the peaceful resolution of the problem and challenges that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) faced at that time and by the judgment of the Supreme Court. But let me also, having thanked God and the justices of the Supreme Court for that, state very emphatically that the strategy review committee – the group of concerned PDP members that were very active managing the affairs of the party and giving support to the caretaker committee at that time felt very strongly that it was in the interest of the party and our first option was PDP, PDP and PDP.
But it was necessary for us to have Plan B and that Plan B was necessary because of what could happen at the Supreme Court and so on. It was basically to be able to provide a platform. A number of the Makarfi people, who are 99-95 per cent of the membership of the PDP were in the various councils, having to contest council elections and so on. They were being deprived of the opportunity to contest, so we found ourselves either trying to use Accord Party (AP), SDP, and other parties to be able to contest, because the laws at that time recognised only the Sheriff group as the authentic PDP and what they did was that each state they went, they made sure they decimated the PDP over there – prevented the PDP members from running.
Rather than start using different types of platforms in different states, it won’t show the cohesion that we had to have. So, we said we were going to go ahead and definitely have a platform on which we were going to run. This was the origin of APDA. Our option A was PDP; our option B was PDP. In fact, our options from A to Z were PDP, but we needed to have a Plan B to be able to deal with the challenges of that time. And we knew that any party we adopted was going to face a lot of attacks, so, we looked at the name – Peoples Democratic Alliance – we were negotiating with associations at that time, which the PDP thought we were going to have alliance with.
The Peoples Democratic Alliance, as it was, all we needed to do was to add Advance to it in order to bring our placement – our voting position up down there. But the colours, the constitution of the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) – everything was PDP. The amendments that were agreed to at the strategy review committee meeting were what were put down there. I, Raymond Tony Aliegho Dokpesi paid the necessary fees to INEC for the registration of the party. The bank drafts are there to show that it was done and I did it with the clear knowledge of and permission of all the organs of the party. Everybody was aware that this was being done for the PDP.
Yes, there were a few people who were not comfortable with it but the preponderance of the people wanted that to happen. Then we went to the Supreme Court, also at the Supreme Court, we were very confident of the facts of our matter on the powers of the convention. We were very sure that the few people that were parading as leaders had no support anywhere within the party, yet, we went to the Appeal Court, with the support of the incumbent government and so on, and judgment was given.
On the day of reading, the judgment, in spite of three months adjournment and so on – that we were going to get about the 90th day, the judgment came in, two of the justices didn’t – there was no written judgment. It was only the minority judgment. They have been possibly put under pressure to read out what the two judges teamed up together to write. Thank God we appealed to the Supreme Court and all those who supported the process in making sure that we succeed, we are very grateful to them.
So, what is the future of APDA after this?
There was nobody that came across me, that attended the several meetings that I left in any doubt that the APDA was a Plan B for the PDP. Plan A is the PDP. So, now that the justices of the Supreme Court had already given judgment, we must strengthen plan A. There was no time I left the PDP. Yes, I founded; yes I supported in order to have a platform for all our numerous members, who would be contesting.
In Nigeria, the tendency is always that the most important election is the election in which I want to contest. It is the election that affects me and you forget the ordinary people and Senator Makaffi is such a grassroots politician that he believes those grassroots people should not be left but somebody has to take the responsibility – somebody had to take the bull by the horn and that bull by the horn I volunteered to take.
A lot of efforts went into that process, are you saying all of those efforts are wasted now?
All the effort must be wasted, because they were backup plan. If the plan A is functional, there was no doubt whatsoever that our option A was PDP. So, if the issues of the PDP are now resolved, that is where we must put our efforts and strengthen ourselves and move forward.
Now that you are seeking to be the national chairman of the PDP, more or less against the run of play, because there is said to be an understanding that the South-west would produce the chairman of the party and you are from the South-south. How are you going to balance this understanding?
Let me quickly point out that when we lost election in 2015, there was an Ekweremadu report and that Ekueremadu report, I want to tell you that I belonged right from the PDP reform group, the group that in 2010 saw tomorrow and outlined the issues and the problems of the PDP and attempted to proffer solutions, recommended amendments to the constitution of the party. That group was led at that time by the former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Masari and I was the third person that was not from the legislature that formed that initiative. We had former governors, we had people, who saw the problems and attempted to proffer solutions.
These amendments, which we tried to make, the party accepted it up to the Board of Trustees level. It was approved and it was when it got to NEC that the governors at that time shut every aspect of it down, because it was close to the election. They said it would be revisited after the election. Those problems which we identified in 2009, which included impunity, which included lack of respect for the provisions of the constitution, which included disrespect for reports of committees that the party adopts up to the NEC level, even at convention, have been parts of the major banes of the party – disrespect for the zoning formula of the party.
The constitution of the party only recognises the north and south. In the zoning of offices, a committee of 88 persons led by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State co-chaired by Governor Ibrahim Dankwabo of Gombe State, former Governor Gabriel Suswam was secretary and there were other former governors, former senators, serving senators and serving House of Representatives members, former ministers, who decided that there should be a paradigm shift; that zoning will only be on the North and South basis and the party adopted it.
They came to a convention and adopted it. Then a few persons met and said they wanted to modify the position of the party, because they are powerful in the party. So, there was no time the PDP as a party ever zoned the chairmanship of the party to the South-west or any part of the South. Those people, who were in Port Harcourt, a majority of them will tell you that their opinions were not so. Just a few governors went into the room, came back and announced to them that these are the positions and asked them to go and sleep.
Ahead, the party at the national set up an 88-man committee and yet, the convention of the party adopted a position and it almost led to the breakage of the party in Port Harcourt. Thank God, after that convention it was reaffirmed that it is part of the resolution of the convention in August. It was part of the resolution in May, then after that, NEC approved that again, just as NEC has reaffirmed again now. It was a concession.
The South-east said they had held the position of National Chairman and therefore they would not be interested. The South-south had held the position of deputy national chairman and it is only a convention that can elect a chairman. There is no convention in which any person from South-south, including Prince Uche Secondus was elected National Chairman. Chief Olabode George was also a Deputy National Chairman just like Uche Secondus, so, it is just misleading the public by saying South-west is the only region that has not produced a national chairman. Neither South-west nor South-south had produced a national chairman.
Now, we have heard an argument also, of recent, as per the reasons why we won’t be able to have a chairman of South-south extraction. Let me make it abundantly clear: I was born in Ibadan. My umbilical cord is buried in Ibadan. I went to school in Ibadan. I’m married to two Yoruba women. So, there cannot be any question to my being a South-west person. My children speak Yoruba, so, there can be no discrimination. But the truth of the matter is simply the fact that the NPN, you will remember very clearly, also, in an attempt to move forward, decided on Chief Adisa Akinloye, one of the most powerful and knowledgeable politicians of those days.
The Chairmanship of the party was zoned to the South-west in the hope that Chief Akinloye would be able to do the magic wand, and what ended up happening? The UPN floored NPN in all the elections. Not one single state was won. So, the fact that the PDP zones the chairmanship to the South-west does not guarantee the PDP any victory right down there. I dare say, with due respect to all those that are parading themselves today that we need bridge builders; we need people who are able to come together in the interest of the party but none of these people have shown directly that drive, that love and passion for even themselves as south westerners. The amount of fighting, the amount of acrimony going on and the number of candidates that have come out wanting to run, they are not such that you will say you want to put all your trusts in them.
The South-south on the other hand, yes, they have five governors, yes, they have abilities, they have governors, who will protect them but should they lose their states, because they want to please the South-west? The PDP is anxious in the interest of democracy, in the interest of Nigeria, to have a strong political party that can serve in opposition between now and 2019 and also, try to wrest power from the sitting government.
Coincidentally, everybody from the South-west is my in-law or is my relation in one way or the other, yet they cannot achieve these goods for the people. So, the people of the South-south are also looking at their interest. We are going to go to war. Who out of these people can fight fully, can defend the party, can protect the party or can answer the millions of people living in the South-south, who are committed to the PDP? That their interest will be protected? So, we must look at the interest of the PDP across Nigeria, not the interest of individuals, not the aspiration of anybody. I have told them, at the end of the day, it is the PDP that must be a winner, not an individual, not Raymond Dokpesi, not Chief Bode George, not Gbenga Daniel, not Prof Tunde Adeniran. We must look at the overall interest of the PDP.
Are you genuinely in the race, because there is this swirling theory that you are just out to undo the chances of the South-west?
Undo the chances of the South-west? I have already stated very clearly, I am the only candidate or aspirant who up to date had undertaken a tour round the 36 states of the federation. I just want to spoil the chances of the South-west that I decided to go? If there is any person aggrieved, I must be one of the most aggrieved – aggrieved on the constitution of the party based on what has been said and done as regards zoning by the appropriate national organs of the party that undertook a tour round the country. I expressed interest. I have remained consistent in my service to the party irrespective of it, I didn’t go away. So, I would want to spoil the chances of the South-west? Some people in the South-west are saying if they don’t win, they are going to break the PDP. Why should that be the spirit?
Taking you up on your passion for the job, why you are interested in leading a party that is more or less a carcass?
I do not believe that the PDP is a carcass. I do not agree that the PDP is a carcass. Don’t forget, immediately after the 2015 election, people lost interest in the PDP. People had shown that they need to align to the government in power in order to be able to get this thing. I organised and brought the PDP together for the first time, at the THISDAY Dome in Abuja. Delegates from all parts of the country; gave them hope and assuring them that someday, the PDP shall rise again and the people believed in it and started coming together, meeting and working at the way we could improve and get us ready to be able to move ahead.
What we need is a proper leadership. What we need is vision and by the grace of God by December 9, you will see a great realignment of the PDP. You will see the hope and the opportunities that are given to the youths, you will see the position given to the women in a renewed rebuilding effort of the PDP and you will see very clearly that PDP is not a carcass; that PDP is still the only party grounded and which has its roots to the ground in Nigeria. APC is just floating. Any breeze will blow it off. So, the only party grounded to the root in Nigeria is the PDP. We will reactivate it. We will realign. We will again forgive one another, come together and appropriate leadership to be able to do that – a blessed one, not a quarrelsome, unforgiveable and the-not-ready and so on. I believe I am the bridge between the North, West and East on fairness, justice and equity.
You need a firm leader. You need a courageous one, who will stand by the truth, that will make sure that the youths of this country – that their appropriate and legitimate rights are not denied; that will ensure industrialisation and development of this country for once; that will make sure that women are given rights and if there is a sense of justice from the morning of the day, people will fall in place and a great movement that the founding fathers of the PDP started before will come into light and we will be able to have a formidable – one of the largest parties that will be possible again in 2019 election.
You will agree that PDP currently has serious credibility crisis, so, what are you going to be doing differently to make the people trust the party again?
See, what is very important is that in every human endeavour you achieve success, in the process, you also make some mistakes. So, the PDP being in power for 16 years had a lot of the successes as far as the development and progress of the country is concerned, but it also made some mistakes. But what you have now is a blow up hope. The PDP is corrupt, but all the coups that had ever taken place in Nigeria, the previous administration is always accused of corruption and by the time there is another coup, the people that were accusing people are again accused of corruption. So, it is normal in a developing environment. The PDP did not prepare strategically for the election early enough. It allowed grounds for the APC and the opposition to be well grounded and had platforms and understanding and appreciated the roles of the media.
We need to represent the PDP and apologise for the mistakes that were genuinely made, atone for our sins, promote and project properly and give the proper understanding to Nigerians. The time is very short now. That is why we cannot gamble with the kind of time that we have. The resources are limited. And the media, you know how expensive it is, and media yet constitute 80 to 85 per cent of the effort. Whether it is the social media, the electronic media, the print media or the traditional media and so on, we need to remobilise to re-orientate people.
There are issues that need to be addressed. There are issues that started since 2003 and so, somebody who is just coming from a different party and coming into the PDP would not know what happened in 2003 and the youths, we need to groom; we need to give them hope, give them opportunities. When we are growing up, we had a lot of opportunities. We were entrusted with opportunities, which were taken for granted by the PDP federal government and at state levels and so on and so forth. Once we come out with a formidable, successful December 9 national convention, I believe that the gate will open for the PDP to start moving.
Talk about the timing, don’t you think the PDP will be better off taking its chances in 2023 as against 2019?
No! No! See, this country has never been as divided as it is today just based on wrong policies of the administration. This country has not been as hungry as it is today. Ordinary people, the middle class and the rich also cry here now. People have not been as impoverished. The corruption they are talking about; you are in the media, you are able to see the amount of corruption that is going on, that is being unearthed – far more than what has ever happened.
It is institutions that endure. We will come out with fresh ideas with the younger generation, who we want to bequeath this country to. It is not the youths that are leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders of today. Together with them, we should rebuild and restructure. How long more can I live? They are the ones who will live. We have to involve them in dealing with this issue of corruption.
And talking about the government of the day, what really do you think is the problem?
I will be divulging my campaign strategy if I start talking about the problems that they have. When INEC lifts the ban and by the grace of God, I am the chairman of the PDP, then we will be able to start talking about what their failings are. We will start reeling it out quite effectively and quite properly and what we think should be done to be able to salvage this country.
Why do you feel the government has failed to this extent?
It is because there is no cohesion; there is no vision. They are strange bedfellows. They had no plan – they didn’t expect to win! They stumbled on success. PDP voted out PDP. It was not that APC won. No! PDP voted out PDP. So, I believe that we have learnt our lessons, we will put our house in order and we will get things going on.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think if former President Jonathan had won in 2015, Nigeria would have been better off?
Let me say that Jonathan was a God-fearing human being. Jonathan, definitely, was not perfect but he had the best intentions for Nigeria. The people that are in government right now don’t have a history of wanting any good for Nigeria. They don’t! There is no proven track record that these people are dedicated to the progress and development of Nigeria. I don’t know anyone. May be you want to advise and tell me who? There is no person that has shown capacity. So, people have struggled to grab power – just to get power for their own benefits but not to apply that power or that opportunity for the good of the ordinary man of this country, to bring about development and progress.
It is very easy to fall sick and go to London and have the best medical facilities, what prevents Nigerians from having it? Exodus of doctors out of Nigeria started about 1984 and successive governments failed to create and build. How much does it cost to build an ultra-modern hospital in every local government in Nigeria? How much money have we been allocating to the local government administration? Where do you find it? Do you find anything tangible in your local government area? Since 1976, the monies that have been allocated can you find them? No!
We need to turn a new leaf. We need to restructure. We need to redefine our priorities. We need to hold our leaders accountable and responsive. We need people, who genuinely love this country and want to move it to levels that all the European, Asian and American countries that have developed – that we are better than the height they have attained. We must look for ways to bring Nigeria to that level, so that it can become the pride of the black race.
The next election will be defined by serious debates, especially one that borders on governance structure and one of the issues likely to be looked at is restructuring. What is your idea of restructuring?
I was a member of the 2014 National Conference that looked at the structure of Nigeria and the challenges confronting Nigeria in all spheres of life and proffered a solution. I fully and absolutely subscribe to the immediate implementation of the 2014 recommendations. I am shocked at the positions that even some members of the conference are taking now.
The truth of the matter is that we are very clear that this country needs to be restructured, reorganised, and repositioned. There is no state in this federation that doesn’t have mineral resources. We need to diversify our economic base, we need to build our industrial base, we need to patronise made-in-Nigeria goods. That is the only we can create job opportunities for the youths! If we continue to buy finished products from other parts of the world then those who are producing will be employing their citizens and our own children will continue to be jobless.
The food that we eat, we must produce them. We cannot be coming cap-in-hand to the federal level to be asking for allocations, we should go back to the earlier provision, where you contribute to the centre. Let us allocate more money. I was laughing when this administration was said to have been allocating money for the searching of oil in the North-east and in the Chad Basin whilst we were appealing that more money should be allocated to the development of other mineral resources, so that we can diversify our economic base. People are moving up from oil now and going into shale gas and other green sources of energy. So, in another ten years, it will be a foregone conclusion that we must make use of our crude oil within our territory.
Yes, we will still export to some countries but not in the volumes – they won’t have the need for it. So, we would have to diversify – we have to build capacity. The younger generation needs to be involved, because I got my PhD about 42-43 years ago but I dare say today, my children with Masters are now better than I. So, why do I want to die there? We must involve them so that their new technology and their new information can be brought to bear in pushing up Nigeria to the place it is supposed to get into.
So, definitely, everything that we have been doing wrongly would have to be corrected. So, we need to restructure. Everything that we are doing, we need to reorganise even our thought process so that we can be more patriotic and committed to the well-being and good of our society. Nigerians should stop thinking I am Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani – that is a big challenge. We are a country, we are not a nation and we need to be in a nation. So, it is every aspect.
I lived in Europe and I have never seen cows going on the streets in London. I’d never seen one in Poland. There are ranches, where animals are bred, fed and what you just find is either in supermarket or in ordinary markets, the meat is brought cleaned, prepared and with health standards that are required. So, in the name of herdsmen, people are being killed, people are being kidnapped, children are being sacked from classes and so on and you don’t think there is something wrong with us?
Buhari came in on a tripod of security, economy and anti-corruption. What is your take on his approach to the fight against graft?
There is nothing that I want to say about that other than they have failed woefully. All they have done is that they have continued to haunt their perceived enemies. Let them come out very clearly. They have been more corrupt in every ramification. You have heard the Kachukwu problem in NNPC – contract worth $25bn they say was awarded without due process. You have seen in various ministries. Today, the contractors tell me how contracts are inflated, the process by which people are appointed. Look, people are disenchanted.
They have failed woefully. It is the PDP that set up ICPC, EFCC – what have they done to enhance and improve it? There is nothing. How many people have been jailed for corruption? Spurious allegations! People are tried in the media and at the end of the day, the whole matter fizzles out and where there have been judgments they have lost all of them woefully and then they come back, rather than accept the fact that there was media trial. Can anybody state whether a job that was carried out, awarded by this government today, whether it was properly carried out or not?
Are you worried that if some of these issues are not addressed Nigeria might get to a point of disintegration?
Did you say we might get to? Are we not already at the point of disintegration? We are only being held together by gun but it is from the freewill – from the bottom of the hearts that a nation will normally come together and say that we, but here it is by laws, decrees and guns. Is it Operation Python Dance, Crocodile Smile – are these the things that will keep a country together? No, there must be love, there must be harmony. It is not by force.
It is out of frustration, out of discrimination, out the bad policies of this administration that Nigerians have found themselves in wanting to push for self-determination. That is why they are clamouring for restructuring, reorganisation, so that at least, let them be contended in their various areas; let us bring about developments in our various areas.
Lastly, as the nation inches towards 2019, what do you reckon are the options before her if she must stay together and then get past this stage?
First and foremost, you need a formidable vehicle of mobilisation for Nigerians. Those that believe in the unity and stability of this country must come together under the umbrella of the PDP and the PDP must reform itself – PDP must turn a new leaf to be in a position to mobilise. We must come out with people-oriented manifestos, not manifestos that are on the pages of newspapers but manifestos that are intended to address the challenges of the ordinary people of this country, who constitute in any case, over 80 to 85 per cent. We must look at the issues that confront the youths. About 75 to 80 per cent of our population is youth. The people in the elderly position are less than three to five per cent. There is a lot of reorganisation and restructuring required. We must have the courage to restructure.
I believe this issue of restructuring will actually be a 2019 campaign matter – the major campaign matter, so we must manage, for now. Let us get to the point, because if you expose everything right now, the APC will have the opportunity to start correcting themselves. You have heard that they wanted to hold their convention. It has been postponed again. Since the last one they held in 2014, they have not been able to hold one again – strange bedfellows. Who is the chairman of BoT? Who is their chairman of NEC? Has NEC ever met (It did last week)? These are the problems. These are the issues.