Each of us tends to find illustrations for the view we express in the public space. We see and hear things differently. These are two assertions I have always made on this page. Recently, the owners of the African Independent Television lost their founder, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, but when the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, expressed his condolences it was for me another illustration of the view I held about the real condition of Nigerians. The Sultan was saying one thing while my mind dwelled on another. I focused on a perspective different from the telephone conversation he had with my dear sister, Mrs Tosin Dokpesi, and aired on AIT. I shall return to this point.
The only interview granted by Chief Dokpesi that I ever watched was the one aired after he passed on. It was recorded when he clocked 70 but aired again recently. The interview gives me insight into the life of the man we all know in the public space. I have heard bits and pieces about him over the years, and the interview confirmed what I heard. One such was a comment Mrs Tosin Dokpesi once made on the occasion of the birthday anniversary of her husband. She said when they felt concerned about an issue in the family, Chief Dokpesi would always encourage them to overlook offences that others caused and would use examples from the religious perspective to back up the view he expressed.
It’s been several years since Mrs Dokpesi made this comment and I can state that she doesn’t only take to her husband’s advice, she herself is a living example. I recall that in the years that I met her at events in Abuja, as I greeted her she would always humbly, respectfully, and with a smile say “Good afternoon, sir.” Her style of interaction was always so warm and sincere that when next you saw her across the hall at events you would want to get up, walk over, and greet her. Mrs Dokpesi is so unassuming and humble for such a prominent person that I never walked away from her each time without a deep impression left on my mind. I suppose you feel like that when you come across people who don’t go around carrying the burden of ego, pride, or what the Hausa described merely as girman kai, swollen-headedness, a phenomenon I personally find off-putting.
Meanwhile, I made reference to this because of a conclusion I reached long ago: As the husband is, so is the wife likely to be. From the interview, I saw that Mrs Tosin Dokpesi reflected on her husband and, maybe I should add, vice-versa. At the risk of veering off my focus here, I think I should state the reason I expressed such sentiment. Almost two decades ago, I was seated behind my table in the office when a young man who worked in another office on the same premises walked in. He walked past my table, looking into the office nearby. He turned back, saying “Where is this person?” He left, neither acknowledging I was seated nor greeting me.
Months later, I moved to another office and you had to pass by my table before you would get to an inner office. The wife of this same young man walked in and refused to neither acknowledge that I was seated nor asked if the person in the inner office was available, which she simply must do before she would go to the door. She stopped some four feet away from my table, whispering to herself as to whether or not the person in the inner office was around, and then she left. I never had any interaction with both husband and wife before these encounters except that I saw them together from afar on the premises, but that was their attitude.
Weeks later, the wife came to the office and announced to everyone that her car had a problem on the road just outside the premises. I stood up, took another person with me and walked down the stairs to assist her with the car. I suppose that summarizes my view of life: Let people be who they are; be what you are. At the time Chief Dokpesi was talking in the interview, he said many people offended him and did him harm in his lifetime, but he overlooked and moved on. I took note of this coming from an elder, and I learnt.
Now back to the phone call the Sultan made to the Dokpesi family. As he spoke with Mrs Dokpesi, the Sultan recalled the time he was in the army and he was in Lagos. He explained how Chief Dokpesi related well with him and his fellow officers, and how he had assisted them. I reckon Mrs Dokpesi was probably not aware of what the Sultan said about Chief Dokpesi at the time it actually happened. Her husband was doing things for whoever came across him as he felt he should to any fellow human being, to every compatriot. But she heard this one from the Sultan. The Sultan said more complimentary things about the late Dokpesi than was aired at that time. The little I heard, even as he spoke, reminded me of a matter I have always pursued on this page: Nigerians across tribes and religions are more together at a person-to-person level than the division of some project in the public space.
Projections other than this reality are what I have always campaigned against on this page. Each person who projected division got a response here irrespective of the tribe they came from. When the Sultan spoke about a southerner as he did to the Dokpesi family and other prominent Nigerians said how people from other tribes and religions had been good to them, could some of us stop saying what we said? My journeys across this nation make what the Sultan says resonate with me. Everywhere I go, I see northerners who take me as their brother and son. I have Igbo who would do things for me as though the same mother gave birth to us; I see people across tribes who just do things because we are all humans. But some come to our national space and create the impression that Nigerians across tribes don’t talk to one another. The harm they do is such that at a meeting with a European diplomat, he asked me why I did something in one of the institutions in the North when I’m from the South-West. His impression is that Southerners don’t even talk to Northerners.
How should some of us treat the impression of division that some create when the reality is quite different? How, when a well-known politician of northerner extraction would call and say, “Tunji, it’s been a long time we spoke,” even though it was a few months interval. How should we react when an Igbo friend would call and say, “Tunji, I hope you are doing fine.” Those who don’t want to have anything to do with people of other tribes are entitled to their position. But when some of us push the view we do, there’s a need for such to align themselves to the fact that there’s always the other side to a coin as well. Those who feel their tribe is the best thing to happen to mankind and that others should be hated and demonised for whatever reasons may continue. We too will continue to emphasise what we know to be the reality among Nigerians and in the best interest of Nigeria.
The Sultan of Sokoto’s words to the Dokpesi family about how Chief Dokpesi related with him and other Nigerians is, for me, a good illustration to cite in support of the view I always express on this page. In fact, I say in private conversations that if Nigerians across tribes and religions have been to me what they have been to me but I don’t state it on this page, I should be guilty of an offence against our nation. Nigerians relate well with one another based on their common humanity and as compatriots. It’s the reality here rather than falsehood that dissemblers promote. How Chief Dokpesi related well with fellow Nigerians irrespective of tribe and religion and about which the Sultan eloquently spoke bear witness.