Peter Obi is hardly a political outsider, but spectacle wearers the former governor says he is looking to use Nigerian anger with the status quo to boost his third party presidential bid.
Obi, 61, has made a big splash among young voters in Africa’s most populous democracy, where the median age is 18, but the president – and both major party candidates in the February 2023 election – are 70-year veterans of politics.
His followers, who call themselves the Obedients, say he can address what ails Nigeria, including unprecedented insecurity, industrial-scale oil theft and allegations of widespread corruption eight years after President Muhammadu Buhari fled , promising to eradicate it.
Nigeria’s election law bars candidates from campaigning until September 28. In a recent interview at his Lagos residence, Obi, speaking as a private citizen, said Nigeria’s problems could pit voters against the two dominant parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“The system they have used for years has brought us to where we are,” Obi told Reuters.
Bola Tinubu, 70, is the APC candidate while Atiku Abubakar, 75, is running for the opposition PDP.
Many of Obi’s supporters also took part in 2020 protests against police brutality, which ended with security forces opening fire on unarmed protesters, particularly seeking to remove senior leaders.
In 2019, young people made up half of the electorate, and 84% of the 10.49 million newly registered voters were aged 34 or younger.
“WE WILL BREAK IT ALL”
Obi was Atiku’s running mate in 2019 but said he had lost faith in the nomination process. He is currently running for the Labor Party, one of the 18 registered political parties.
Dressed in a tailored but casual blue suit and “senator-style” sandals, Obi said voters in a country “on the brink” would shun the religious, ethnic and tribal loyalties that usually help mainstream parties dominate elections.
“It’s important that people trust,” he said, adding, “It’s simple. You may not like me. But what I will come here for will be different.”
However, as a political veteran himself, Obi has courted his share of controversies in the past.
Assets he controlled emerged in the leaked Pandora Papers, and during the 2019 campaign he and Atiku were challenged over their records of corruption and investing public funds in private businesses, some of which they owned , while in public positions. Both have denied any allegations of bribery and Obi said the Pandora Papers accounts were part of legitimate and legitimate asset management.
Obi now says he is happy to be on his record as governor of the south-eastern state of Anambra, which has left a rare budget surplus.
His tenure as governor, he added, showed he was not afraid to anger powerful interests to help the nation and was more important to voters than his Christian faith or his identity as an Igbo ethnic group, some of whose members are campaigning for a breakaway nation.
“We’re going to break it all down to make it work,” he said.
Obi said he was finalizing the specifics of his platform – such as how he would handle the tightly controlled naira currency or deal with crippling fuel subsidies.
But he said he would renegotiate the debt, get the government out of the economy and allow the private sector to flourish.
“Young people want to see a country with a future,” he said. “My job is to take the country and give it to them.”