Meet the man who is rallying ‘Obi-dients’ to shake up Nigeria’s election

LAGOS, Aug 23 (Reuters) – Peter Obi is no political outsider, but the spotted former governor says he is looking to tap Nigerians’ anger at the status quo to fuel his third-party presidential bid.

Obi, 61, has generated substantial excitement among young voters in Africa’s most populous democracy, where the average age is 18, but the president – and the two main party candidates in the February 2023 – are political veterans in their 70s.

His supporters, who call themselves ‘Obi-dients’, say he can solve what plagues Nigeria, including unprecedented insecurity, industrial-scale oil theft and allegations of rampant corruption eight years after President Muhammadu Buhari promised to eradicate it.

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Nigerian electoral law prohibits candidates from campaigning before September 28. In a recent interview at his Lagos residence, Obi, speaking as a private citizen, said Nigeria’s problems could turn voters against the two dominant parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and Parti People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

“The system they’ve operated over the years has gotten us to where we are,” Obi told Reuters.

Bola Tinubu, 70, is the APC candidate and Atiku Abubakar, 75, is running for the opposition PDP. Read more

Many of Obi’s supporters also played a significant role in the 2020 protests against police brutality that ended with security forces opening fire on unarmed protesters, leaving them particularly keen to oust protesters. older leaders.

Young people made up half of voters in 2019 and 84% of the 10.49 million newly registered voters were aged 34 and under. Read more

“WE WILL BREAK EVERYTHING”

Obi was Atiku’s running mate in 2019, but said he lost faith in the nomination process. He is now running with the Labor Party, one of 18 registered political parties.

Dressed in a tailored but casual ‘senator-style’ blue suit and sandals, Obi said voters in a country ‘on the brink’ would shun the religious, ethnic and tribal loyalties that typically help major parties to dominate the elections.

“What’s important is that people have confidence,” he said, adding, “It’s simple. You might not like me. But what I come here to do will be different. .”

Yet, as a political veteran himself, Obi has drawn his share of controversy in the past.

Assets he controlled appeared in Pandora Papers leaks, and during the 2019 campaign, he and Atiku were challenged over their records of corruption and investing public funds in private companies, including some held shares while in public office. Both denied any allegations of corruption, and Obi said the Pandora Papers accounts were part of legal and legitimate asset management.

Now Obi says he is happy to hold on to his record as governor of southeastern Anambra State, which left a rare budget surplus.

His tenure as governor, he added, showed he was unafraid of angering powerful interests to help the nation, and was more important to voters than his Christian faith or his identity as a that Igbo – an ethnic group where some members agitate for a breakaway nation.

“We’re going to break everything to make it work,” he said.

Obi said he was finalizing the details of his platform – like how he would handle the tightly controlled naira currency or provide crippling fuel subsidies.

But he said he would renegotiate the debt, get the government out of the economy and allow the private sector to thrive.

“Young people want to see a country with a future, he said. “My job is to take the country and give it to them.”

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Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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