Leaving behind a legacy of establishing the first indigenous shipping line in Nigeria and pioneering the 24-hour broadcast service in Nigerian radio and television, Chief Raymond Dokpesi who died at 71 on May 29 will be remembered not only for his pioneering efforts but his contributions towards embracing the African cultural identity., Vanessa Obioha writes
Many Nigerians were not convinced that Chief Raymond Dokpesi had passed on until the programmes of his funeral rites were released last week. For many, it was just like he was out of the social scene for a while. Dokpesi was believed to have died on May 29 after he fell off the treadmill while on a routine gym exercise as he was recovering from a stroke. He was aged 71.
Last week, in conjunction with the People of Agenebode, the Great People of Edo State, the Nigerian broadcasting media, the Board, management and staff of DAAR Communication Plc, the Dokpesi Dynasty, announced his burial arrangements.
From the burial programme released and signed by the Chairman Organising Committee, Senator Ben Obi, it was revealed that a ‘day of tributes’ has been scheduled for Monday, June 19 at the Ballroom International Conference Centre, Abuja, at 4:00 pm. This would be followed by Requiem Mass on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, at the Church of Assumption, Asokoro Abuja time, at noon.
On Thursday, June 22, 2023, there will be a Service of Song/Requiem Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in his hometown in Agenebode, Edo State. This would be followed immediately by his interment at his residence in Agenebode. Shortly after, there will be a reception of the Requiem Mass at St. Peter’s Grammar School Compound, Agenebode. The programme stated that traditional rites will take place on Friday at Agenebode.
Chief Dokpesi had first escaped death when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020. Alongside seven members of his family, they contracted the dreaded disease. But not this time that stroke struck.
Prior to his death, Dokpesi was a habitual pacesetter in the maritime and media sectors. He rose from being a young native of Agenebode, Edo State to achieving lofty dreams. Born on October 25, 1951, to the family of Chief Williams Ayaoghena Dokpesi and Mrs. Alice Aishetu Dokpesi of Agenebode in Edo State, he spent his younger years in Ibadan. Upon completing his primary school education at Ebenezer African Church School, he proceeded to Loyola College, Ibadan and, much later Immaculate Conception College (ICC) Benin City. While in Benin, he started his undergraduate studies at the University of Benin before travelling abroad for further studies.
As a young marine engineer, he travelled far away from his Nigerian roots to Poland for further studies in 1972. There, he received his B.sc, Masters and doctorate degrees from Wysza Szokta Morska Gdynia and the University of Gdansk Sopot, Poland respectively. As the best graduating student in 50 years in Poland in Marine Transport Engineering- finishing off with a first class, he knew he had a lot at stake upon his return to his home country.
Before his adventures in Poland, he had a stint at the Nigerian Ports Authority as Marine Office Cadet in 1969 which invariably prepared him for a courageous career at sea. He would later lecture at the University of Gdansk, Poland before proceeding to Nigeria on the invitation of the then, Nigeria Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. who was on a State visit to Poland. While in Poland, he demonstrated strong leadership skills, holding positions such as President, Nigerian Students Union Gdansk Poland (1972 – 1974), President, African Students Union, Poland (1973), President, International Students Association, Poland (1974), President, Nigerian Students, Eastern Europe (1974).
Upon his return to Nigeria, he worked with different government parastatals including the Federal Ministry of Transport and Aviation as the Head of Water Transport Division on Secondment from Nigerian Ports Plc (NTCC) between 1978 and 1983.
He was the Chief of Staff of the old Gongola State Government from October to December 1983 and subsequently the Managing Director of African Ocean Line Limited from 1984 to 1988. He was Chairman of the first indigenous shipping line, African Ocean Line now Baldok Shipping Lines Limited from February 1989-and surprisingly too- till his demise.
As the Executive Chairman of DAAR Communications, he secured the first licence for private radio broadcast in Nigeria with Raypower 100.5FM. In the same vein, Africa Independent Television (AIT), became a trailblazer in curating indigenous homegrown content. All the on-air personalities had a dress code: strictly African. Remarkably, AIT glamourised African culture through its programming and in-house policies.
Chief Dokpesi’s knowledge of marine engineering provided a launch pad for his intervention in the broadcast sector. His initiatives were anchored on the introduction of 24-hour transmission on both radio and television right from inception as well as the introduction of Cyber and Chroma technology for television operations and digitalised audio and video signals on both radio and television. Through his efforts, AIT became the first African broadcast station to transmit to the United States of America (USA). Other subsidiaries of DAAR Communications include a digital multi-channel direct-to-home subscription TV, DAARSAT and Faaji FM which broadcasts in Yoruba and Pidgin-English.
A consummate author, Dokpesi boasts numerous professional qualifications and a portfolio of national assignments. He is also a recipient of several national and international awards including Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Africa Leadership Award and Gold Medal for Excellence in Business Practice, awarded by the Foundation for Excellence in Business Practice, an organ of the United Nations based in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Institute of Directors (IoD) 2007 Entrepreneurial Award.
His chieftaincy titles include Ogieorumoa of Weppa-Wanno – 1986, Araba of Osooroland 1987, Osese of South Uneme – 1990, Gbobaniyi of Ilawe-Ekiti – 1994, Oganigwe Umu Orji Ako Nibo – 1999, Sardaunna of Kpaduma, Abuja 2002 and Ezomo of Weppa Wanno Land, 2003.
Asides from being decorated with many traditional titles, Dokpesi has a colourful life decorated with women. In one of his last interviews with journalists, he remarked that polygamy is one of his greatest regrets.
In recognition of his several patriotic roles and contribution to the country in academic publications, broadcasting, sports, and the growth of Nigerian entertainment – music and Nollywood and entrepreneurship, he was conferred with a National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2008.
A member of Island, Ikoyi and Apapa clubs, he will be remembered as an avid reader, researcher, philanthropist and humanitarian.
It was not a life devoid of troubles for Dokpesi. When he was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2016 on charges relating to money laundering and breach of the Procurement Act in relation to the disbursement of N2.1 billion from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) under Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd), most of his detractors had thought that his end had finally come
As the case was taking an unfavourable dimension, he stood strong and in the end, he was discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal, which in a unanimous judgment held among others, that the EFCC failed to establish a prima facie case against him.
Justice Elfreda Williams-Dawodu, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the ingredients of the offences alleged in the seven-count charge were not established by the prosecution as required by law. She further held that there was nothing in the evidence of the 14 witnesses called by the prosecution to persuade the court to compel the appellant to enter defence in the charges where ingredients of the offence were not provided.
Following his acquittal, a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice John Tsoho ordered the EFCC to remove his name from its watch list.
In his ruling, Justice Tsoho was of the view that there was no justification for the EFCC to retain his name on its watch list since no criminal charges or allegations were pending against him.
The judge, who is also the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, noted that retaining the politician’s name on EFCC’s watch list amounted to disobeying an earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which quashed the alleged N2.1 billion fraud charges against him.
As his family prepares for his final rites of passage which will commence tomorrow, many Nigerians are still coming to terms with the news that the patriarch of maritime and a leading private broadcast media owner in Nigeria is no more. For those who knew him closely, his legacies will live long in their hearts.