Obi has inspired a zealous movement of mostly youths and disrupted Nigeria’s traditional two-man presidential contest. But can he go all the way and win the vote?
This month, after eight years of a Muhammadu Buhari presidency under which Nigeria emerged as the world’s poverty capital and endured two recessions in five years, Nigerians will head to the polls to elect his successor, hoping for a new era.
Since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s presidency has rotated between two political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) now in opposition, and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
But now, the trade union-backed Labour Party is campaigning with Peter Obi, former two-term governor of the southeastern state of Anambra, as leader – and people are taking notice.
Several polls and surveys have projected a win for Obi on February 25, including one conducted for Bloomberg News by Premise Data Corp in September 2022 in which 72 percent of respondents named him as their first-choice candidate.
Competition, however, remains stiff despite Obi’s rivals carrying plenty of baggage.
The main one is APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the influential former governor of Lagos who was instrumental in Buhari’s historic victory in 2015. He has been deemed the candidate to beat, despite fighting to shake off controversies of a past life of alleged drug dealing and falsifying his age.
Tinubu’s choice of a fellow Muslim, Kashim Shettima, as a running mate remains divisive in a population split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. Tickets for the major parties are usually been split between the two major religions.
Allegations of corruption continue to trail Tinubu’s time in office and that of his former friend and business partner, the former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who is the PDP’s presidential candidate. There is also the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP)’s Rabiu Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano and an influential figure in the north.
Both Tinubu and Abubakar can marshal immense resources and may benefit from organised party structures that could help swing the election. But Obi, who was Abubakar’s running mate in 2019, has sought to claim the moral high ground.
“I have challenged everyone, go and see whether there is anywhere a kobo [coin] of Anambra state money’s missing,” the 61-year-old declared emphatically at a town hall series organised this January by Channels Television, one of the country’s leading broadcasters.