Raymond Alegho Dokpesi
I join the rest of you, friends, associates and family members of Dr. Raymond Alegho Dokpesi in congratulating him for hitting the proverbial three scores and ten in a country where life-expectancy is embarrassingly reckoned to be less than 55 years! We are here today to join him in thanking Almighty God for what many of us see as an amazingly adventurous, a remarkably industrious, and a stunningly glamorous life, that has been spread between entrepreneurship in marine transportation, pioneering ventures into private electronic media, and hazardous incursions into the treacherous terrain of the peculiar Nigerian politics of acrimony and absurdity. My dear friend, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi: You have not been a bystander in the socio-economic and political life of Nigeria. You have not been an onlooker in the unfolding events of your society. No. For much of these last 70 years, you have been a proactive participant, a vigorous contender, and sometimes even an avantgarde, controversial, opposition politician. Congratulations, Okunrin meta! There have hardly been any dull moments in your life. Well-done!
Dr. Dokpesi, you are now officially an old man. You have now joined the exalted club of Nigerian elders, patriarchs, and matriarchs. I congratulate you for reaching what Psalm 90:10 says is the span of a man’s life: Yes, 70 years, and perhaps 80 for those who are strong. Since you have remained very healthy and agile as we all can see today, you are likely to be counted among those who are strong. We give thanks and praise to God for this, especially when we consider your often repeated testimony that you grew up as a weak and sickly child, who was given very little chance to live. We give thanks and praise to God also when we remember that only last year, COVID-19 was passing by Kpaduma hill, and it branched into your house, attempting to dispatch you and some members of your family prematurely to face your Creator. But it was definitely not your portion. And that is why we are here today.
You must however consider your forthcoming septuagenarian years, and if it pleases God your octogenarian years, as extra time, or even as injury time – a time when you must quickly re-arrange your priorities; a time when you must necessarily be detached and disengaged from the excessive preoccupation with worldly achievements and successes that often characterize youth and middle age. Yes, consider the years ahead of you as injury time, when you must act seriously on the words of St. Paul (in 1 Corinthians 13:11 and especially in 2 Timothy 2:22) that as we grow older, we need to “shun youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” The same admonition is captured in the DESIDERATA, where the author Max Ehrmann calls on us older people, to “Take kindly the counsel of age, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” The book of Ecclesiastes has a rich, heavily poetic reflection on old age which we all need to study. I ask you all to please find time to read Ecclesiastes 12:1-8.
Though modern society appears to have a rather negative attitude towards old age and towards old people, because they are no longer beautiful, strong, useful, and productive in the narrow, materialistic, and exterior sense, yet the Judeo-Christian religion sees old age as a grace, a great blessing that not everyone is privileged to attain. Those who attain old age are to embrace it with utmost gratitude and see that there are many positive dividends even in the diminishment and vulnerability of the aged. Yes, from a biblical point of view, old age is not something to be ashamed of at all. It is not something to resist, to dread or to fear. It is not something to simply tolerate. No, from a biblical point of view, the golden years that we call old age are often the crown of life, the crown of sacred blessings, the crown of substantial rejoicing. Old age is not a time to be grumpy or an excuse to do nothing, but simply wait for death. Those who are granted the grace of many years have the opportunity not only to appreciate the beauty of God’s greatest gift of life, but also to understand the fragility of the human spirit.
God has his mysterious purposes for allowing us to be born in a weak, vulnerable and fragile state, to grow to be healthy and strong in the prime of life, and then, if we are so privileged, to advance into old age, during which stage we gradually diminish in physical strength and agility, in outward beauty and splendor, in mental or cognitive attention, and eventually to expire, as far as our fleshy mortal existence is concerned. Christians who are granted the many years of life have the marvelous chance as they slow down on the affairs of the turbulent world, to deepen their awareness of the mystery of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
As people slow down and can no longer run around in pursuit of money, pleasure and power, old age may be the most spiritually fruitful period of life, when they can constantly place their souls and the souls of their loved ones before the mercy and tenderness of God. Since we often live our lives forward, but learn the lessons backwards, old age may be the most opportune time to appreciate God’s gentle, loving, merciful, guiding hand, through the course of our entire lives. And indeed, old age should be the time to constantly pray for a serene passage to the next life.
There is a purpose for the aging process, with its many debilities and diminishments, which become a prelude to the inevitable reality of death. We are told in Job 1:21 that naked we came into this world, and naked we shall return. No one can return to God in strength, power, vigor, splendor, and as it were on springs! Not at all. We shall all return to God empty and naked – with the full manifestation of our embarrassingly miserable mortality. Even when we fool ourselves into thinking and acting as if some deaths are more glorious than others, we only revel in self-deception. Yes, even when we import golden caskets for our beloved one, even when we install air conditioners in the grave, or when we bury them in a Hummer Jeep or Lamborghini, we often realise it somewhere in our consciousness that we are only deceiving ourselves, for as we read in Psalm 49:20, the richest and the greatest of men, lacking understanding, will die just like the animal that perishes.
To be continued tomorrow.
• Rev. Fr. Ehusani, executive director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation delivered this Homily on the occasion of the 70th birthday celebration of Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, October 25, 2021.
Raymond Alegho Dokpesi