The Young Progressives Party (YPP)’s candidate, Ojon Dotun, is a 38-year-old candidate for the office of governor in the election slated for October 10, 2020. The Independent National Electoral Commission records him as the youngest of all the candidates for the election. He is a journalist and former student unionist. He spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on his chances of winning the election.
How did you get a number of your opponents to step down at the contest of the primaries for you to emerge unopposed candidate of your party? Did you earn it, or it just happened?
Dotun: It is a combination of what we earned and at the end of the day you may not have all the answers to life’s questions. First, I must tell you that I was the last person that entered into the race. A lot of people did not know that I will contest. I had known that I would do this, yet I actually took my time to consult with people, even beyond our political party. So, when I came up some people felt that with the kind of credibility I will bring to the party, that it was better for them to step down. Some did not even consult with me, only for me to get to the venue of the primaries and I got to know I will be the only candidate. That was how it happened.
You don’t have a rich background in politics, so how did you find yourself getting to this point and how do you hope to forge ahead?
Dotun: I don’t want to be called a professional politician because one thing I have realised over time is that a major challenge we have with leadership in Nigeria, when it comes to political leadership is experience, and experience will keep giving us that old familiar results. So, I am not a professional politician. I have never contested for anything. The only thing that I have ever contested for was the students’ union presidency, when I was in school. Of course, that could be a very good bedrock. I was the student union president in my polytechnic, but when I came out, something more than politics which is a passion for good governance actually gripped me. In the process of doing my journalism, I was actually studying and asking this familiar question: what is the problem with us in Nigeria? And I discovered that we don’t have a peculiar problem. The problem we have is what is known across the continent, which is leadership failure, which is a product of our tradition, if you allow me to go that way. Because our tradition lays emphasis on what the leader can get from the community rather than what the leader can give to the community. So, you go to the traditional ruler of your town for example, he is expecting to drop something. The traditional ruler of your community comes to you, he is also expecting you to drop something. So, traditionally, our leadership style is about the leader getting from the followership and that is what is translated into public leadership and into politics. So, I am not a professional politician. I am just somebody who desire a better Nigeria and I put my eyes on any avenue that this will happen. Politics seems to be the only avenue for me to communicate my intentions to the people.
You are of the Young Progressives Party, and you are young, so how young are you?
Dotun: I am actually 38 years old and according INEC, on the list of the candidates released so far, they said I am the youngest of the candidates. This most often breaks my heart when people still talk to you….trying to market my candidature was a major challenge, because majority of the people thought I was fronting for somebody and before the election I am going to step down or merge with another party. This is because, to them a 38-year-old person should not be governor. I feel sad. It is understandable. In a community where 38-year-old are still looking for jobs, in a community where 38-year-old still do not have an idea how their lives would pan out, I will forgive any person who thinks that a 38-year person is too young to be governor. The reality is that, even if you check the United Nations definition of who a youth really is, I think is a person between the ages of 15 and 24 or 25 as the case may be. But because of our peculiar situation here, we say even if you are 50 we can still elect you as the youth leader of our political party. It is really sad.
Now Are you intimidated by the personalities that you are facing in this election, especially with their towering CVs?
Dotun: In reality, when you look at the people that we have entered the race with, the only thing that it has helped me to do is to fastened my seat belt tighter. In reality, if you put our understanding of the community today, side by side their own understanding of our community today, the you will discover that I have nothing to fear, I am not intimidated. I think I even understand the people the more, I understand the community, the people of the 21st century more than they do. But in reality, it has actually reduced my hours of sleep from six to four hours, it has made me to travel more and it has actually challenged me to communicate and connect more with people.
With the nature of politics in Nigeria, particularly with the foretaste offered by the just concluded local government elections, do you have the guts to stand the ballot box snatching, wielding and shooting of firearms and the other forms of violence?
Dotun: I think we are coming in a new dimension. We did a private study that showed that about 400,000 people have never voted in Ondo State. We have about 1.3million voters card in the hands of the electorate in the state now, and you will discover that in the elections in the past, the highest any governor had ever had in the polls is about 300,000. When we did our calculations, we discovered that there is a group of people that has never voted. We are reaching out to these people with a message of hope. We believe that this new group of people will be different from the groups that we have seen in elections before. The community of people that do ballot snatching, the community of people that wield guns during election, we are trying to see that we do not have a repeat of what we have always seen during elections. Our belief is that we will be raising a new set of people, we are communicating with them and we are changing their mindset, and we only hope that things are going to change come the October 10 election. For us, we do not have the power to withstand their guns or their violence. We do hope that this new set of people we are reaching out to will be an asset on the day of election.
Now do you also have the financial power to meet these bigwigs, given the demands of election and the syndrome of vote selling and buying?
Dotun: I will say yes and no, because the kind of money you actually need will be dictated by your mission. For us to have gone this far, we have spent a lot of money. For campaign, in our own little way, we do have the money. But to bribe people to vote for us is the money we do not have. We do not intend to borrow or to ask people to give to us. I keep telling people that this is not a contest between partisan politicians. This is our expression of our own commitment to something entirely different. We have the money to campaign, to communicate our ideas to people, and I must tell you that it is very, very expensive and we have been spending the money. But the money to buy votes on election day, is what we do not have. We did our independent research and we found out that leading candidates spent about N1.5 billion on the day of election. This is because Ondo State started what they called dibo kii seobe, which means let me vote so that I can cook and an average person got N5,000 for a ballot cast. When you multiply that with about 300,000 votes cast, that gives you about N1.5billion. We do not have this kind of money. Even if somebody gives this kind of money to us, we are going to turn it down, because our intention is not to buy the conscience of the people. My intention is to give the people a new direction. Now, to your question, I will say, yes, we have the money to campaign, and we have been spending, but to buy the vote of the people, we do not have such money sir.
What are your expectations from the agents that would supervise the election such as the INEC, police and other stakeholders?
Dotun: Principal among my expectations is that they should all remember that they are all Nigerians and we will all benefit from the good of this nation. If a government is working well, everybody will benefit. As a good Nigerian, I want them to be as independent as possible, because at the end of the day, what makes an election bad or not may not be totally what INEC does or refuse to do, it could also be the input of security agents and all that. So, I want INEC to be as independent as possible, to give everybody a level playing ground to actually express their commitment to their community. For the security agents, I have met with the police leadership in Ondo State and I have communicated my desire to them, that a better Ondo State is for the good of all and we must be able to protect the votes, the voters and the contestants. It is does not matter at that instance whether the contestant is a rich man or a poor man; it is does not matter at the end of the day whether the contestant is from a popular party or what people call unpopular party. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day the contestant is from a ruling party or the party that is yet to be in power. That is my expectation.
What is your message to the voting public in the face of all these challenges that could be experienced during election proper?
Dotun: My message to the youths, who are the major asset or every community, if we have the opportunity to choose between competence and partisan politicking, I think we should be able make that commitment of picking people we do know their antecedents could speak for them. For example, I a 38-year old persons seeking for political office and from this 38 years, I have invested 18 years into my career. So I have something that I am doing. It is not about somebody who doesn’t have something doing. I understand the feeling of Nigerian youth. So what I expect from them is to give change, real change a chance. It is for us to be able to disrupt the current direction of leadership and be able to put people at the centre of leadership purpose. So I expect people to look beyond the noise of partisan politicking, to see the reality of excellence in our own commitment and message. I strongly believe that if we continue on this path, that a lot of them will actually be drawn to our message of hope.
If elected into office as governor, what would you do differently from what the currently governor is doing now?
Dotun: In Ondo State right now, I am the only candidate and my party is the only party that is campaigning with a blueprint. We have what we call the Lip Agenda, and everything we want to do in the next four years is in the Lip Agenda. Let me start with the letter L, this is leadership. We want to redirect the concept of leadership from power to people. This is what I mean, the current direction of leadership we have in Ondo State is about power, where the father is the governor, where the mother is the acting governor and where the son is the Chief of Staff. One of the reasons why they want to stay in power is because they want to continue to use power for family advantage and their parochial interest. For us we want to put the people at the centre of leadership purpose. We want the policies and programmes of government to be about the people, not what we want to gain. Not about power or authority. That is the first thing. You will agree with me that if we get the concept of leadership right, the 70 per cent of all the problems facing our community we will get them solved. This is very paramount to me. I did a four-year research into the problem of leadership in Africa and I came out with a book titled Understanding Technical Leadership and in that book, I noted that if you solved the problem of leadership, that majority of the problems in our community will be solved. The first thing we will be doing differently is leadership. It is leadership to understand the plight and pains of the people; it is leadership for you to understand that you need to allocate more money to people living in abject poverty so that you can solve the problem of poverty in the community. The problem we had when we graduated from school, sir, was lack of job in Ondo State. But this is the first time the community is having the problem of getting into the higher institution to study and not have hope of employment. When we were growing up the pride of our state was education, because we saw each family being proud of the number of graduates they could produce; but that has become a thing of the past today. That is why we need to change the direction of leadership so that we can give hope to the people and to me that is one massive thing that, once we do, we are going to solve a lot of problem.
Considering the concept of zoning in Ondo State, where some believe that the next governor should come from a particular zone. You are from the southern senatorial zone, how do you fit into this arrangements?
Dotun: I am from the southern senatorial zone, from Ojuala, in Ese-Odo Local Government Area. I think, in the spirit of fairness, the south deserves to produce the next governor. If you look back as far as 1979, that a northern governor ruled from 1979 to 1983. From 1999 to 2003, it was a governor from the northern senatorial zone and now we are having another northern governor ruling us today. I think it will only be fair for the people of Ondo State to give me, a credible southern candidate, a chance. It goes beyond coming from the south. What are you bringing on board? A lot of people a beginning to say that for any candidate that will emanate from the south, he must be a candidate with competence, with character and knows what to do. I think we easily fit into this. I am from the southern senatorial district and I think I should be given a chance.