Raquel Jaramillo Palacio, American author and graphic designer, once said, “The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality.”
These words come to mind as glowing tributes pour in following the announcement, Monday evening, of the passing of High Chief Raymond Aleogho Anthony Dokpesi, media mogul, businessman, politician, philanthropist, and much more.
Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was sworn in barely hours before Dokpesi’s death was announced, said the deceased played “pioneering roles in private broadcasting” and that “his pacesetting investment in the industry is an inspiration to many who come after him”.
“The history of the evolution of the Nigerian media industry will be incomplete without prominent mention of Dokpesi and his giant footprints on the media landscape,” Tinubu said in a statement by his media officer, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, in a condolence message to the Dokpesi family and DAAR Communications, described the deceased as a successful entrepreneur, media mogul and philanthropist who took the art of giving to a new level and made significant contributions to human progress.
“He was a humane businessman and philanthropist who took the art of giving and human relations to a new level,” Jonathan said.
“As a patriot and politician, he exemplified the virtues of loyalty, justice and service. A team player and bridge builder, High Chief Dokpesi played the kind of politics that promoted friendship, ethnic cohesion and national unity.
“High Chief Dokpesi will be remembered for his works of charity, devotion to his faith and inspiring leadership, especially serving as a trailblazer who pioneered private broadcasting and played a major role in advancing media freedom in Nigeria,” he said.
Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, described him as the “pioneer of private broadcast media in Nigeria”, “a formidable chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)” who brought “his experience and expertise to bear in handling party affairs”, an illustrious son and “a worthy ambassador of Edo State” who will be “remembered for his knack for excellence and unwavering spirit of enterprise”.
“The Ezomo of Weppa-Wanno, Chief Dokpesi was an outstanding businessman and, indeed, a media mogul, who took the bold step to venture into private broadcasting and broke the ground for many who came after him. He was a pacesetter and brave in his quest to build Africa’s most enterprising, private broadcasting brand,” Obaseki said in a statement mourning the late Dokpesi.
The PDP, through its national publicity secretary, Hon Debo Ologunagba, said Dokpesi was an exceptionally committed and courageous nationalist, an insightful and loyal party man, a brilliant and resourceful entrepreneur who was steadfast in his selfless contributions towards the unity, stability and development of the party and the country at large.
The party said as a patriotic Nigerian, Dokpesi deployed his media empire to champion the cause of national development, “promoted greater and affordable access to information across the country, stimulated good governance, enhanced economic growth and development in all critical sectors and opened our nation to international limelight and opportunities”.
Born in Ibadan, Oyo State, on 25 October 1951, though his parents were from Agenebode, present-day Edo State, Raymond Dokpesi attended Ebenezer African Church School, Loyola College, Ibadan, and Immaculate Conception College (ICC), Benin City. He went to the University of Benin for his post-secondary education and, thereafter, through a scholarship funded by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), went to study Marine Engineering at the Wyzsza Szokta Morska Gdynia and the University of Gdansk Sopot, Poland, where he earned a doctorate degree.
On his return to Nigeria in 1976, Dokpesi took interest in politics, working closely with Alhaji Bamanga Tukur in the prelude to the Second Republic. He was campaign manager for Alhaji Tukur, who was then gunning for the governorship seat of the then Gongola State. After Tukur won the governorship seat, he appointed Dokpesi Chief of Staff. Dokpesi also served as Director-General for Adamu Ciroma’s presidential campaign and, later, for Tukur’s presidential campaign in the same capacity.
The idea to set up a broadcasting station came following the enactment of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Decree No. 38 by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime in 1992, which effectively deregulated the broadcast media, broke government monopoly of the sector and opened it up from private sector participation. Dokpesi decided to take a plunge, propelled by the desire to bridge the information gap created by government-owned radio stations, and on 1 September 1994, RayPower FM, Nigeria’s first private station, officially hit the airwaves.
Anyone with a vivid recollection of those days would remember how many waited with bated breath to hear the first sounds from RayPower broadcasting live on the 100.5 FM frequency. Everyone wanted a fresh breath different from the monotony of the government-run radio broadcast services. Today, RayPower boasts about 20 substations across Nigeria.
Two years later, DAAR Communications, the parent company of RayPower FM, launched African Independent Television (AIT). The sparkling new station became a game-changer, spicing up its offering with entertainment programmes that had youth appeal, especially musicals. Programmes like AIT Jamz (later Prime Time Jamz) and Lunch Break are still fresh in the memory and, arguably, helped to propagate Nigerian/African music beyond borders.
AIT launched its signals in the US on 20 September 2003, the first African TV station to do so. Today, its signals are reportedly received on the Hotbird satellite in America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and across Europe, as well as in other African countries.
On 1 December 2012, Faaji 106.5 FM, another private radio station from DAAR Communications, began operations, transmitting basically in Yoruba and English.
Kenny “Keke” Ogungbe, Dokpesi’s close associate and brother-in-law, who was the heartbeat of AIT Jamz alongside Dayo “D1” Adeneye, once narrated how Dokpesi had sought his opinion on what to do outside of politics and he had suggested, “Let us do radio”.
“We got to the US and he started buying radio equipment. I asked if he had a licence, and he replied, ‘Don’t worry’. Before we left America, he ordered the construction of DAAR Communications while we were still in Los Angeles,” Ogungbe said, according to a report by The Cable.
RayPower had started broadcasting without licence until a threat by the Sani Abacha military junta to deal “decisively” with a certain radio station “broadcasting illegally” forced the station off air pending its licensing on 15 August 1994. It went fully on air 16 days later.
But Dokpesi’s interest in politics hardly waned. He remained active in politics after Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999. A staunch, loyal party man, he was a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and National Executive Committee (NEC) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and stood with the party through thick and thin, including during the turbulent years following the party’s loss of the 2015 presidential election to the All Progressives Congress (APC). He chaired the organising committee for the PDP national conference in 2015 and contested for the national chairmanship of the party in 2017 but lost to Uche Secondus.
In the build-up to and during the 2023 election, Dokpesi threw the whole weight of his support behind his party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and did not spare any opportunity to drum up support for Atiku. On several occasions he pleaded with the South-East region of the country, a region that has been seeking a chance to have a shot at Nigeria’s presidency, to support Atiku in 2023 on the promise that Atiku would do only one term and hand over to a South-Easterner in 2027.
At the regional level, Dokpesi was among the leaders of the South-South People Assembly (SSPA), an organization focused on promoting the cause of the South South people of Nigeria.
Outside politics, Dokpesi worked briefly with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Aviation, where he headed the Water Transport Division on secondment from Nigerian Ports Plc (NTCC). His African Ocean Line Limited, which he set up and served as its Managing Director between 1984 and 1988, was Nigeria’s first indigenous shipping line and is reported to have contributed to the formulation of the Nigerian Shipping Act Decree 1986, which stipulated a 40:20:20 sharing formula for cargo between developed and developing countries.
A brush with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2016 over allegations bordering on money laundering and breach of Procurement Act in relation to the receipt of N2.1 billion from the Office of the National Security Adviser came as a dark cloud, but it quickly dissipated after the Court of Appeal in Abuja presided by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu on 1 April 2021 discharged and acquitted Dokpesi of all the charges. He would then demand N5 billion in damages from the then Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. He also asked all major electronic and print media outlets in the country for a full retraction and apology.
Dokpesi received the National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2008. His people also conferred on him two chieftaincy titles reserved for worthy sons.
According to information from the management of DAAR Communications, Dokpesi had been nursing an illness which was worsened by a fall off his treadmill during a routine gym exercise. He bowed to death on Monday, 29 May, at the age of 71. For a man who used all resources available to him to advance the cause of democracy, perhaps it is not for nothing that the heavens chose to call him back on such a memorable day that has become synonymous with Nigeria’s democratic journey.