By Sule Ahmed Oyofo, editor-in-chief
Out of the blues came the heart-wrenching news that an Iroko tree has fallen. The term “Iroko” is used to refer to great men, distinguished personalities; people in the mold of High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi, the doyen of modern-day broadcasting, including music, entertainment, journalism, sports, and even politics, who had to answer the call at a time most unexpected. When the call came, I hurriedly asked in confusion, who died? Unbelievably, the caller answered “High Chief”. Dazed, I asked again, which High Chief? You know that many people who have “arrived” also ascribe to themselves that title. So, it was imperative I asked properly and the caller affirmed our fears. Cold sweat broke out from my forehead.
Immediately, I stood up from where I was and called my wife, asking her if she has heard. She said what? And right there, I broke the sad news to her; abruptly, she dropped what she was holding and collapsed on the available armchair. ‘Oh my God’, she screamed. ‘Why Raymond’, she blurted out, and then went into a long treatise regretting the inexplicable development; stating that Chief Raymond had all the money in the world, not only to cater for himself but also to consult the best doctor in the world as well as treat himself in any hospital. How did death manage to creep in? she wondered. I was getting dizzy myself, but, swiftly, I jerked myself awake and took a long look outside the window, only seeing shadows.
My eyes had become watery and my head heavy from just thinking about the spiral effect of his dramatic exit. It was May 29, Democracy Day and the winner of the 2023 presidential elections, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was about to be sworn into office as the 16th privileged Nigerian to hold the highest political office in the land. We were all glued to our television sets not so much to monitor the event, but to catch the moment he would be “arrested” as some “wave” making Nigerian “prophets had prophesied. They were so emphatic about it and even advertised it on social media. That was what captured our interest before the sad news crept in. So, it is understandable as those of us without the “spirit of foresight” stayed glued to our television set, to ‘see’ how that will happen.
A similar event had occurred in the biblical days, though unrelated, when Prophet Elisha, was told by sons of the prophets, that his master—Elijah—was about to be taken ‘away’ by chariots of fire; they urged him to be vigilant to see it happen. Truly, as foretold, it happened and Elisha who was alert, witnessed the great spiritual event! We were in that state of physical concentration not to miss out on this ‘modern day’ prophesy, since as it was ‘yesterday, so it is ‘today’, we are told. But, it is instructive to note that, not one of the wave-making ‘prophets’ ‘foresaw’ the earth-shaking, departure of an illustrious son; not one of them. Asiwaju was eventually sworn in without mishap and the subsidy he removed brought us down to earth—that we are in for a tough time!
Nevertheless, as with every other thing on earth, I sat down to grapple with the magnitude of what had just happened. High Chief Raymond Dokpesi is not someone I would begin to write in the past tense. This is one of the mysteries in this world—here today, gone tomorrow. Some people would fall sick and they would be flown to places like India for further treatment; they would return to recuperate; some would be admitted in the hospital and they would be there for weeks with family members and associates trooping in to encourage them. With Chief Raymond, that privilege was not allowed—another signal that we are not actually in control of our lives. They said money answered all things; if so, why did nature and time not give our dear High Chief the opportunity to display his hard-earned resources to shame the ailment that took him away? That’s the puzzle.
Oh death! Where is thy sting? You left people who do all sorts to impoverish mankind; people who desecrate humanity and then went for a spectacular gentleman; a showbiz impresario, the man who held the broadcasting world spellbound; a man who brought panache, glamour, and comedy to elevate the status of Nigeria in the eyes of the world; you went and snatched a colossus businessman who set the benchmark in the media industry, a broadcaster with a stint of finesse; an unforgettable bridge builder who lived ahead of his time! The Chairman of DAAR Communication was not an ordinary man to be snatched away just like that without any warning; this is the Araba of Osoroland, the Gbobaniyi of Ilewi-Ekiti and the Ezomo of Weppa-Wanno clan we are talking about. This is the chairman Emeritus, who broke the jinx of poverty and smashed all known barriers to hit the very height of the limelight.
Imagine a youngster who emerged from the remote and sleepy village of Agenegbode; who gave him the opportunity to excel? You could imagine the first day he arrived in Lagos and picture how he braved the odds. But, Chief Raymond was a genius; a delightful, hardworking, and fearless adventurer. You know, this is the problem. Chief Raymond was a man who exemplified the maxim that “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. It was in 1986, at Ikeja Klass Night Club, owned by the late John Chukwu that our paths crossed for the first time. I liked him that very day. He came in a white Mercedes Benz 230 model at the time. Instantly, I was gripped with joy. It occurred to me that if somebody from my native Estako could succeed big time, what am I waiting for? Of course, I had already met the late Prince Tony Momoh who promptly recruited me as a reporter for Daily Times, and the late Dele Giwa, renowned journalists, both of whom inspired me to success.
On that day, Ray, as we sometimes call him, danced with so much excitement. I was particularly impressed. From then on, I decided to “emulate” him. I imbibed his attributes and vowed to play in the big league like him. When I peeped into his background, I shook my head at what I discovered and released a whistle! This wasn’t a lazy man as some people may want to believe judging from the ordinary perspective, he saw life. I found out that his business acumen was exemplary as with his genuine progress. His expertise covers social, corporate, and individual levels. I realized that if I had to copy his example, I have to put aside so many things—and be focused, for this indefatigable, dedicated, record-breaking media tycoon (apologies to Patrick Obayagbon) was actually a workaholic. He took his time and read Marine Engineering from the University of Benin; from thence, he left for Gdansk in Poland where he bagged Masters’s and Doctorate degrees in the same profession.
As a man with a mission, he didn’t just ‘bury’ himself in books; he took to student activism and led African and Nigerian students in Europe, as a whole. He had big ideas. Am not too sure if he read Ben Carson, but he does appear to be one of his good disciples. Armed with a PH. D, Chief Raymond lectured Marine Transport Economics in Europe, before being invited back home by Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. When he came, the handsome and delectable prince was no longer the son of Agenegbode alone but now of the whole continent—Africa and Europe. From then, he became a master of his environment, blazing the trail in his chosen profession. His Midas touch became apparent making him the “first” in every sphere of life that was to turn around the fortunes of the generation of Nigerians before and after him! Because there is no time to exhaust his gigantic achievements, we will just summarize.
Before setting up the first indigenous shipping line in Nigeria, the African Ocean Line, Chief Raymond calmed down and joined the Federal Ministry of Transport and Authority where he was the head of the Water Transportation Division before being seconded to the Nigerian Ports Authority, 1978-1993; at African Ocean Line where he was the Managing Director, his business partners were juggernauts like M.K.O Abiola, Shehu Musa Yar Adua and Bamanga Tukur. Watch out for the “northernisation” of his blood from this time on. Stepping up in life, Chief Raymond would later consolidate his northern connections with the likes of Adamu Ciroma, General Sani Abacha, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, becoming useful in their political odysseys. He pioneered the first privately owned Radio Station in 1993; General Sani Abacha would later galvanize him to launch into the world of private broadcasting which he did in 1994. Alagbado, where Raypower FM, was set up, would later become a mecca of sorts for us, young journalists.
At the slightest excuse, we all trooped there to “belong”. The global satellite television station known as AIT (African Independent Television) grew expressly; He followed this up with 24-hour broadcasting and extended the reaches, to, far away United States, United Kingdom, Asia, etc. Ever tireless and in constant search for improvement, Chief Raymond, imagine his age at that time, scored other first; he assisted in formulating Nigerian Shipping Policy and in 2008 was conferred with the title, Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(OFR). He even had the time to write books, one of them being “West African Shipping Ranges. 1975”. If he was successful in business, the same might not be said in politics which was dogged by policy hiccups. For example, as campaign manager for Bamangar Tukur in 1983, his short stint as Chief of Staff was cut short by the military intervention that year.
When he campaigned for Adamu Ciroma’s presidential bid, Babangida had them banned for being old brigades. In 1993, when he stood in for Bamangar Tukur’s presidential bid, the election was annulled—again by the military. His foray with ‘Atikulated” ended in defeat in 2023. In the build-up to the 2019 general elections, I met him at his Kpaduma Hills mansion. We chatted happily. Chief Raymond has always been kind to me. When I worked briefly in the civil service and wanted a credit facility extended to my agency, he granted it without fuss. The agency wanted discounts to enable them to carry out a successful environment campaign which eventually saved them hundreds of thousands. The woman who was my agency head ended up claiming the credit and dealt harshly with me for no reason other than ego.
Anyway, that’s a topic for my memoirs when the time comes. I never tired of visiting his massive DAAR Communication outfit established in the lush and serene environment of Kpaduma Hills, in Asokoro. Chief Raymond had become a celebrated household name with a world-class reputation! Vibrant and dynamic, it is yet another mystery in life that at the height of Covid-19, in 2020, he was one of those struck down by the dreaded virus; but he miraculously survived. Some say it wasn’t his time yet, maybe. He lived an exemplary life to the admiration of all—the poor inclusive. He never believed in holding back. He was accessible, likable, and a socialite to the core; being in his company was a delight; instinctively, you wanted to hug him; he had genuine human feelings and never discriminated against anyone.
He gave everyone a level playing field; ask Dayo Adeneye and Kenny Ogungbe; only his huge assets gave his true status away as a wealthy man. He was emotionally generous and down-to-earth; not for him was the life of self-deception—and pretense! Among those extolling his virtues, would they copy his examples? Can they fill the big vacuum he left behind? Will they rather ‘give’ than ‘withhold?’ Can people just barge in on them and they are welcomed with open arms? Now, as the grief-stricken mourners go about lamenting, let them stop the tears. Chief Raymond was in a class of his own. Through his deeds and thoughts, they can rest assured that his journey to eternity is already smooth and seamless. Chief Raymond is reaping from his impeccable actions while on earth—his love for mankind and legendary hospitality.
He has been irresistibly drawn into the unseen gears of the strictly operating laws of Reciprocal Returns; let there be no alarm and apprehension. “In the light of the Truth”, Abdrushin describes death as an “event which is so inevitable and yet constantly pushed aside in our thoughts”. He says “It is an irrefutable fact majority of us try to ward off from our thoughts by reason of our indefinable fear of the subject!” Yet, he writes “All the illusions do not alter the fact in the slightest degree we are all oppressed by a secret fear that death may one day surprise us!” He added that “it is a natural course of life!” According to Abdrushin, it is dread and cowardice that is responsible for why we shrink from death thoughts. “The vague fear which accompanies man like a shadow during his whole life on earth largely originates in the fact that he is fully aware of all that is wrong in his frivolous and degrading actions”, all of which amount to a delusion!
Let us all beware. Chief Raymond has finished his course on earth—the gross material matter, and is ethereal bound to luminous heights. Those of us privileged to know him must not depart from his magnanimous lifestyle. Look at the mammoth crowd that thronged the outskirts of the village as the hearse bearing his body arrived for the final journey. Gunshots and drum beats heralded his final hours on Earth. Brother, what can we do? We are all powerless—a pawn in the hands of some invisible, great force imperceptibly, propelling us hour by hour to that journey whence man shall not return. This is life; born today, traverse the world tomorrow, and at the end, back to mother earth! How frail it is to be a human being! Will the mourners learn? In life and in death, High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi exemplified humility. It is our sincere prayer that God will give eminent personalities like him longer lives for the world to enjoy more of them. At 71, he was too young to depart; but then, that is the way of life. Painfully, I have no alternative than to say Farewell, sir.