News coming out of Port Harcourt concerning the decommissioning of Daar Communications broadcast facilities is not good at all, especially following the recent apotheosis of founder and Chairman Emeritus, High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi. In the immediate, both AIT and Raypower have been knocked off the air by the activities of the Rivers State government.
Even before the sudden departure of Dokpesi, there were skirmishes between the State government and Daar Communications which some may have mistakenly attributed to the political differences between former governor of the State, and now minister of the Federal Capital Territoty (FCT), Chief Nyesom Wike, and Dokpesi. But the matter goes beyond that. Dokpesi did not have time to carry grudges against people, except those who tried to kill him directly, and I am not sure Wike was one of them.
What is playing out in Rivers State is the story of the man who holds the yam and the knife, and enjoys the beneficial responsibility of slicing out pieces for those waiting for crumbs from the master’s table. Otherwise, how does a layman, not learned at all, interpret a case that is in court and a party to the case taking what seems conclusive decisions and actions? But let’s leave that to the court and the interventions of good men.
The first thing I want to say here is that my friend and brother, Raymond Dokpesi, was not a land grabber at all. He wasn’t also a troublemaker. He fought very good fights on behalf of the ordinary folks of this nation and, at times, also to protect himself and family. His stations were burnt down a number of times and he dodged fatal bullets, losing his head driver, Danladi, in one of those attacks. I have had to state this because it is possible for people to recall his several brushes with governments and not imagine that some of those brushes were carefully orchestrated as smokescreen to silence him.
Dokpesi was a first class marine engineer who pioneered private broadcasting after his first foray into politics in the old Gongola State as Chief of Staff to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, was abrogated by a military coup on December 31, 1983, of which former President Muhammadu Buhari, was the head. He had a dream to provide an alternative voice for Nigerians to speak or enjoy an escape from their sorrows through entertainment, and Daar has provided that, at least from the testimonies of so many Nigerians.
I don’t know why the stations in Port Harcourt should be off the air except that there can be quite some people without respect for yesterday or would not devote scant time for the ephemerality of power.
My friend is not a land grabber. Those whipping up the sentiments at play in Rivers State may have their reasons beyond the scope of our immediate understanding. I have had to look at a couple of materials in the past few days to confirm my understanding of the story playing out there.
Let me make a confession here. I love Rivers State. I did my National Youth Service in the state and had some great fun there. Professor Ola Rotimi, of blessed memory, who presided at the Crab Theatre in the University of Port Harcourt, was my friend and mentor. It was such a great honour to watch the rehearsals and performances of The Gods are not to Blame and Hopes of the Living Dead. He was one of the very best in theatre productions. So my memory of Port Harcourt remains fresh and understandably enviable.
I was in Port Harcourt in May 2007 when the stations were launched and was fully aware of the sentiments behind the station but didn’t know of the subterranean interplay, until recently. In the process of working on The Handkerchief, the authorized biography of Dokpesi, along with a couple of my friends, Adebayo Bodurin and I had approached Dr Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State, for an interview which he kindly granted.
The relationship between Odili and Dokpesi is well known and perhaps documented. With a cocktail of licenses in his bag, Odili was one of the early converts of the broadcaster who had the ambition to build a network that would dwarf the nation’s public broadcaster. In Port Harcourt, the governor, who was well known and was also doing great things for his people, quickly found confluence in the plan of a South South man who wanted to rule the nation’s airwaves, and hatched his own plans to lure him to the state.
‘’Seeing how much ground he had broken, it wasn’t difficult encouraging him to come closer home and expand this magic that he had put in place. As they say charity begins at home. It’s not my words but we grew up to learn that charity begins from home, because just as family is the nucleus of the society, the home is the nucleus of the state, region and the nation. So, it was not difficult assisting him to come to the area, inviting him to come and make this magic happen,’’ Odili told us.
Odili dreamt development always and could see from afar a man who personified his dreams and that understanding nurtured a relationship that was painfully severed only recently.
It may seem now that part of that encouragement was to provide a conducive environment for Daar’s operations in form of land. Dr Shadrach Akalokwu, the governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Communications, was given the challenging responsibility of smoothening the process. A communications expert who was at the time also thinking of the new world economic order, which also includes a new information order, It was Shadrach who facilitated the 43 hectares of land that was given to Daar Communications somewhere in Choba, a location not too far from the University of Port Harcourt. This writer is aware that a hefty amount in several tens of millions was paid for the certificate of occupancy nearly two years ago.
Dokpesi’s dream was to build a broadcast hub in Port Harcourt in the mode of Alagbado in Lagos and Kpaduma Hills in Abuja, which feat was realized immediately. So, when the AIT operations from the Lagos headquarters were crippled on the day of the 2007 governorship elections by a massive fire, which followed a massive explosion, the transmissions were moved seamlessly to Port Harcourt and Abuja. The viewers hardly noticed anything and the broadcaster hardly lost its capacity to perform optimally.
One good thing about broadcasting is that it takes development to any environment it operates in. The coming of Raypower to Alagbado changed the property value in that part of Lagos; this has also happened around Kpaduma Hills, Abuja, where property value hit rooftops overnight. Sources in Port Harcourt told this writer that what is happening in Port Harcourt is about land, and nothing to do with propriety in politics or concerns for the people. The Daar land has since been shared among politicians and close friends, leaving only about three plots for the broadcaster.
Those with a little knowledge in broadcasting will confess that three plots will not even provide enough space for the guy wires supporting the mast, not to talk of other facilities. As it is, new owners of a land in dispute have taken possession while the entire community of new owners with the prompting of government collectively took down the Daar broadcast facilities.
In executing such plans, nobody thought of the investment, nobody thought of what happens to the workers or the right of the people to be informed and entertained. At inception, about 80 per cent of the workforce was sourced from the local environment, and by now some of them have received high profile industry training. Nobody thought of what signals are being sent out to the investing public. As it is, politics is the big thing, the politician is the new king, and the world should revolve around him in a country where poverty has been weaponized.
This was not the spirit in 2007. Such action doesn’t interpret the kind of enviable relationship Dokpesi had with Odili. It does not feed the spirit that nurtured the South South Peoples Assembly and created a voice for the South South people. There is a calamitous blunder here that should be righted immediately and the new lords of Rivers State should realize that the beauty of tomorrow is about the ingredients of yesterday and today being applied in good measure.
Dokpesi has been apotheosized. History has him in a good place. What about you?