Germany Kent gave this fitting formula for a good life: “Live your life in such a way that you’ll be remembered for your kindness, compassion, fairness, character, benevolence, and a force for good who had much respect for life, in general.” High Chief Raymond Alegho Dokpesi, who was just buried, was one guy who followed this principle to the fullest.
The sage’s passing has several important lessons for us to learn. There is peace and time for thought after a storm such as caused by his sudden exit.
I do not recall any Nigerian whose passage evoked such emotion and distraught in remembered memory. From the tributes and testimonies, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi directly touched millions of lives in the most diverse, profound, and positive ways.
A certain pastor said he had a great sign in his office that says, “Live your life so that the Preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.” In Nigeria, nay Africa, we are weary of talking ill of the dead. This tendency has led to embellishments of tributes even when wicked people die. The living in Africa still find ways of returning a verdict of a good life for such individuals who otherwise are quite undeserving. That is our mother Africa!
But Dokpesi’s tributes are genuine and germane; he was a good man, he was a sage; he was a legend, a foremost patriot, and detribalised Nigerian who truly believed in Nigeria and democracy and worked till his last breath for a democratic and free Nigeria. He died on May 29th 2023, on democracy day. Therefore, the date of his passing is symbolic and emblematic and has become his anniversary, chosen by divine providence for a dogged iconic fighter for the enthronement of democracy in his country. He will be remembered on the same day that Nigeria as a nation celebrates democracy. This is not an accident.
Dokpesi’s early adult experience during his university studies in Eastern Europe contributed to his dedication to democracy and freedom, which bordered on obsession. Dokpesi received a Ph.D in marine engineering from the University of Gdansk, a public research university in Gdansk, Poland. It is among Poland’s top 10 universities. Additionally, Dokpesi served as president of all African students in Eastern Europe, not only those from Nigeria studying in Poland.
This leadership engagement in Eastern Europe brought him face-to-face with communism, which ruled the era. He gained a firsthand understanding of democracy’s necessity and freedom from illiberal communism. He went to study in Poland in the 1970s, a time when his native Nigeria was subject to jackboot tyranny. One factor that connects military rule and communism is authoritarianism.
His abhorrence of communism also led to a hatred of military tyranny, which is how his obsessive embrace of democracy began. According to psychological definitions, obsessions are intrusive, persistent thoughts, ideas, or urges. Most people know that their obsessions are excessive, but they struggle to keep them under control.
In a very positive sense, Dokpesi knew he was obsessed with a democratic Nigeria, a free nation and open governance. At personal risk, he came face-to-face with life-threatening pushbacks from the establishment countless times. All he needed to do was kowtow and join the powers that be. But he instead opted to side with the oppressed masses. He committed his life and wealth to give the voiceless and marginalised a platform. He made an uncommon and peerless effort to fight for the nation’s freedom from internal colonialism and neocolonialism.
He was an authentic activist and human rights crusader par excellence, without whom democracy would not have had much chance in present-day Nigeria and, indeed, in Africa. The purpose of this discourse is to highlight a lesson from his passing rather than just repeat the flood of tributes that have been published in the media in the weeks since his demise.
It was the poet John Donne who wrote most uncannily about dying. Donne’s essay, “For whom does the bell toll?” is the imaginary question of a man who hears a funeral bell and asks about the person who has died. Donne’s answer to this question is that because none of us stands alone in the world, each human death affects all of us. Thus the poet concludes: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We can agree that everyone will have a Dokpesi moment from John Donne’s immortal remark. Yes, Dokpesi’s life and death have left behind much more inherent values than the idea that we will all pass away. Many have recognised it, but it bears repeating and situating even for emphasis.
Dokpesi made his life sublime, so upon departing left his footprints on the sands of time. His contributions, summarised in his biography, ‘The Handkerchief’, showed the man was like an elephant to the six blind men.
Like an octopus, his influence sprawled to all walks of life, becoming a jack of trades and master of all… from engineering to media, human rights, to democracy struggle, and even to televangelism and the rest.
Again like John Donne’s poem ‘Death Be Not Proud’ is a masterful argument against the power of Death, Dokpesi’s transition proved that death is not some all-powerful being that humans should fear but instead, death is a slave to the human race and has no power over our souls. Dokpesi transited to immortality, a greater life.
Beyond this, in the life and times of Dokpesi, we can also see that even in this present life, he still lives through his creations… AIT, Ray Power, DAAR Communications PLC, his televangelism, he gave meaning to many who probably wouldn’t have been anything were it not for his back he offered them to climb and impact the world.
The Dokpesi challenge, therefore, is for all to strive to do the same in our world, no matter how small or big. That way, it may also be said that we passed through this life as today, said of the late sage, High Chief Raymond Alegho Dokpesi.
- Dr Law Mefor is a senior fellow at The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; contact information includes +234-905-642-4375, [email protected], and @Drlawsonmefor on Twitter.