By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Renowned marine engineer, media mogul and businessman, High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi, is one of the leading contenders for the chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party, whose election comes up on December 9.
In this interview, Dokpesi speaks on why he wants to lead the party and what the PDP and the people of Nigeria stand to gain with his victory.
One wonders why you are venturing into the murky water of politics at this point in time instead of consolidating on the media industry where you have made a name.
I retired from Daar Communications a couple of years ago and, for that reason, I am not actively involved in the daily operations of the company. But as the founder and a substantial shareholder in Daar Communications Plc, I still have the privilege of looking at issues that concern Nigeria.
And the truth remains that Nigeria is my interest; the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the black race is my major concern and my major interest. And up to the time I stop breathing, I will continue to be worried about the issues of development and progress of the black race.
I recall that when we were growing up, we had hopes and aspirations which have not been fully achieved.
So, the only way I can continue to contribute to the attempt to make Nigeria flow with milk and honey and to be a place that is united, a place that is workable for all Nigerians irrespective of religion, tribe and position in the society, is through a political vehicle where I can effect change. And for that reason, I cannot fold my hands and sit back and look without contributing effectively to the dreams which I dreamt about Nigeria, my hopes and aspirations for a better Nigeria, a prosperous Nigeria, a Nigeria flowing with milk and honey, a Nigeria that is united, a Nigeria where every citizen, according to its ability, can find a place for themselves.
But all these aspirations you have enumerated can be actualised through many other platforms other than PDP chairmanship.
Let me say that I have been an active member of the PDP since 1998 but because I was running a media organisation and so on, my sympathy, my membership did not mean anything to me. But I lent my support to deepening democracy in Nigeria. I looked through all the political parties at inception and if there was anything that actually attracted me, that made the PDP very important to me, that left the necessary impact on me, it was its commitment to the unity and stability of this country. That clause in its manifesto that speaks of developing the country uniformly, of giving opportunities, creating job opportunities for the younger ones, making Nigeria a place of hope and respect and with these ideals of actualising a united Nigeria, got me carried away and I needed to continuously remain in the party to lend my support. So there was no need for me to aspire to lead the party over the years.
But the PDP ran into leadership crisis and I feel that in dealing with the crisis, the PDP needs a bridge-builder and I feel that I have that in me. And the PDP needs people that are courageous, I think I have that in me; PDP needs somebody that is capable of admitting the mistakes of the past and be determined to really look for the solution, and for the challenges that we have, you need a visionary leader. And the party needs rejuvenation, rebranding, reconstruction, rebuilding; all of these I think I am able to do effectively; that is why I am offering myself for service to the party.
The party has had many Chairmen from 1998 till date and many of them were not given a standing ovation at the end of their fractured tenures. What are you going to do differently for the party if you are victorious?
You would recall that, last year, when I decided to run for the chairmanship of the party, I adopted a totally different role. To me, the party must be returned to the people; it is the delegates and the people who should determine who should serve them in what capacity and I went round the country to offer myself, to introduce myself, to understand the problems of the ordinary man out there because, as far as I am concerned, the party is not in Abuja, the party is in the heart of people in the various villages, in the various wards.
Those who have been there in the past never went through any democratic process. They were all appointed by godfathers, by ‘garrison commanders’, by people who simply sat down and anointed their cronies to do their bidding. As a result, their commitment and loyalty was not to the people and the party but to those who anointed them. But I want to be nominated by the people so as to also serve them in return.
I want to achieve the dream of the ordinary man in the streets for a united Nigeria and PDP is only a political party that can galvanize and mobilise the people in this direction today.
What does returning the party to the people entail? Are we likely to see a situation such as we saw in the NPN days when the party was supreme and could stop a non-performing governor from getting its ticket to run?
Let me state equivocally that the era you referred to, the NPN, UPN, GNPP, NPP years, were years that party supremacy was well respected, you had strong leaders of the party. Chief Akinloye was the Chairman of the NPN and there was no doubt that there was respect for party constitution. Clearly then, it was the party that determined elected persons’ manifesto, monitored their performance and held them accountable to the people.
But do not forget that in 1999, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo both ran for the presidency but in a bid to assuage the pains of the South-West as a result of the cancellation of the June 12 election, the PDP decided that somebody from the South-West and preferably Chief Olusegun Obasanjo should come back.
Obasanjo was coming from prison. His only exposure and training was what he had had in the military; so he brought the military mentality, unitary command system into the party. So, as far as he was concerned, he was told that he was the leader of the party and at the same time the head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces; the governors too were designated the same way.
In an ideal situation, the president and governors must be apolitical once they are elected, they must serve all Nigerians irrespective of political party they belong to.
Similarly, the head of the political party should be the Chairman of the party, as he is the one to articulate and work together with his team to come up with a manifesto for the party which those that in government can market to the public for acceptance and be implemented by the government that is elected on the platform of the party.
But we had a military mentality in the sense that people who were not democrats and could not understand how exactly we were supposed to run a democracy have been running the system over the years. So, it has been a learning curve and we must forgive them but this is the time to correct those things in the PDP.
Under my watch, the party will be supreme; under my watch, we are going to make sure that governors are accorded all the necessary respect and support that they need to implement their programmes, but the party shall be supreme; the party shall take responsibility for the manifesto, for the programmes that are implemented in the states, hold the governors accountable and the party must be in a position to sustain itself because it is said that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’.
Are you certain the party will provide a level-playing field for all the contestants come December 9? I am asking that question because some of the aspirants have raised the alarm that the composition of the teams for the election is lopsided in favour of a particular aspirant.
Let me say that in actual fact the Caretaker Committee should not be blamed. When you enter a contest of this nature, people are bound to be aggravated, anxious and suspicious of everything that is done, but if only you can appreciate that we are human beings, we can make mistakes, then the suspicion would be reduced. The truth of the matter is that various leaders and persons in the party were asked to nominate people into a three-man committee, whose mandate is merely supervisory. They are not the people to conduct the election.
Having said that, it is also necessary to recognise the fact that there are 36 states of the federation and what we should really have is to get one person from each state to be sent to maybe not their own states, maybe neighbouring states and so on and these become Chairmen. But, in this case, I think five or six persons and their friends have been spotted campaigning with a particular aspirant from the South-South, thereby giving room for suspicion.
That notwithstanding, we could have resolved it without the heat that came up. I do not feel threatened or worried about that because I know that the Chairman and members of the Caretaker Committee are people of impeccable character, people who are committed to a successful transition. I know that they also want to do everything possible to make sure that this whole process is without rancour or any type of challenge.
Has the loss of the 2015 presidential election taught your party any lesson that may shape the party’s future?
Yes, the loss of the 2015 election was a failure foretold.
There is no gainsaying about it. From sometime in 2010, we were in a group called the PDP Reformed Group that was chaired by a former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, and co-chaired by then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Masari, who is now governor of Katsina State.
I provided the secretariat for the group and I was the coordinator of the whole process. There were about six governors in the group and pointed out the dangers inherent in the party and raised the alarm that the PDP was slipping but we were ignored.
Even the Adamu Ciroma and Alex Ekwueme reports on the state of the party were not implemented because of the militarization of the administration of the party. And for continuously drawing the attention to the poor state of the party, we were all suspended and, at a point, expelled from the party for daring to say there was the need for reform in the party.
Okwosile Nwodo came in and, for attempting to carry out reforms in the party, he was thrown out of the party.
Ogbulafor, who wanted to stick to the zoning formula of the party, was also thrown out.
So after the election, there as what we popularly referred to as the Ekweremadu Report and, thereafter, the Prof. Jerry Gana’s Strategy Review Committee, in which the best brains and the most active actors of the PDP were put together to review and identify the immediate and remote causes of the loss of the election, written and unwritten reasons; some of them which you cannot say you put into writing but you must know they are there. It was approved by NEC, which, in the absence of a Convention, is the highest organ of the party.
Among the issues identified as the main problem of the party is impunity, lack of respect for zoning principle, supremacy of the party, funding of the party and provision of a level-playing field for all members.
It is, therefore, imperative for the PDP to emerge from the failure of 2015 to be fully rebranded and be repackaged and be represented to the people of Nigeria. Its manifesto must reconnect with the people of Nigeria while the youths and women must be given more prominent roles to play in the party. In addition, necessary reforms must be carried out to make the party more attractive to Nigerians and win their confidence as 2019 approaches.
The vision and values of the founding fathers must be sustained and modified to meet the development that we have worldwide.
I am confident that I will benefit from those reports and I will vigorously pursue and implement these measures to make the party more accessible and acceptable to Nigerians.
We must clean the erroneous claims by the APC that the PDP is clueless and corrupt. And in doing so, there is nothing wrong in using one or two experienced members in the new working committee.
What gives you the confidence that you can win this chairmanship election?
My confidence is in the people; it is in the amount of the sacrifice I have made for this party while not expecting a dime back. In all that I have been doing for the party, I have never done so with the mindset of becoming the Chairman. I am vying for the post because there is a vacuum that has been created and because of the need to look for a servant of the people, not a master.
What we get wrong all the time in this country is that the very people we elect to go and represent us, to serve us, often turn themselves into our masters.
And we agree and accept these servants of ours as our masters out of hunger, poverty and stomach infrastructure. Often, we forget that they are only there by our own grace. We must learn to ask them to be accountable to the members of the party. In my own case, I want to be accountable to the citizens of Nigeria if, by the special grace of God, we win the presidential election in 2019, I want to mobilise, I want to strategise to get the youths of this country together. I got to the pinnacle of my career as a youth and there is no reason whatsoever and there is nothing that stops and demeans any person from getting to that height today. We must create the enabling environment, we must continue to sustain because the future and stability of this country depends on the younger generation.
From your experience, what is wrong with Nigeria and how can it be fixed?
Nigeria is well blessed with mineral resources. Nigeria has well trained and well educated manpower to drive the economy, drive the society. Unfortunately, we have wrong leadership, we have misplaced priorities.
For God’s sake, Nigeria gave a loan to South Korea in the 80s, Nigeria supported Brazil, and we started the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna at the same time with Brazil. Today, Brazilians are making planes which we are now buying. Malaysia came here, picked our palm seedling and, today, we are importing palm products from Malaysia. We need to place our priorities right.
How do we arrest the rot?
That is why I said I want to be a servant of the people. I want to lead the party to be able to change things for the better for Nigeria and Africa. We cannot allow things to continue this way. I want to be on the driving seat to make the necessary turnaround and not merely as an adviser, something I have been doing for many years now. Do not forget what Obasanjo often says that as an adviser you don’t have the authority to effect changes.
In the areas I had the opportunity to make changes I have done well. Remember that I came into broadcasting and I made a difference to the industry and took broadcasting to its pinnacle in the country. I went into the shipping industry and I became the first person to go into any shipyard in the whole continent of Africa. I ran the largest shipping company in the whole continent of Africa. I am the first again to start this idea of chairmanship aspirant going round the whole country as a constituency to convince and get people to support their vision and why they want to serve.
As a leader from the Niger Delta, how do you think the Niger Delta crisis could be resolved to pave the way for peace, stability and sustained development?
The challenges facing the Niger Delta are not different from the challenges facing all other parts of Nigeria. But the case of the Niger Delta is worse; it is very bad because of pollution and the refusal of the country to respond to the challenges of the people of the region.
I want to remind you that I was the pioneer chairman of the South South People’s Assembly and there was a blueprint that was supposed to be used for the development of the Niger Delta. The same blueprint was to be used to deal with the environment, rehabilitate, create industries, build roads and get the necessary infrastructure up.
What you get today when you raise those issues, they will tell you that we set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta to handle the development of the region.
But I believe strongly that we have to develop the political will to take the problem of the devastation of the Niger Delta very seriously, create employment for the youth, make them have a sense of belonging. We need to do the same thing in the Southeast and the Northeast. But our leaders are interested in themselves and simply misappropriate the money that is voted for the development of the area.
I am very sorry and I apologise on behalf of my generation and the generation before me. We have failed this country and we must take responsibility for it and we must seek ways of correcting the mistakes we made because there is no reason South Korea can be the 12th wealthiest country in the world today and we are in the lowest rung of the ladder and still parading ourselves as the giants of Africa.
Our youths are jobless and there is no hope because there are no industries producing the goods and services that can provide employment for them as was the case in the past. Unless we start producing things and start engaging our people in production, the level of unemployment will continue unabated. The new PDP that is coming in by the grace of God in 2019 will be one that will serve the interest of Nigeria, uplift the integrity and honour of the ordinary black man and make Nigeria flow with milk and honey once again. May God so help us.