A rich businessman with a status for being frugal, Peter Obi has emerged as a strong drive forward of February’s Nigeria’s presidential election, energising voters with messages of prudence and accountability which can be amplified by a military of social media customers.
In a rustic that appears to at all times be looking out for a messiah to resolve its myriad issues, younger social media-savvy supporters have elevated Mr Obi to sainthood and are backing his largely unknown Labour Celebration towards two septuagenarian political heavyweights.
The best way he has attracted supporters appears to frame on populism – a tag he and his supporters would denounce, however a few of his rhetoric is likely to be encouraging that.
“It is time to take your nation again,” he typically says.
“[This election] is the outdated towards the brand new,” he advised the BBC.
His title is usually trending on social media on the again of quite a few conversations sparked by his supporters, immediately recognisable from their show image of his picture or the white, pink and inexperienced emblem of his occasion.
These are largely city under-30s who discuss with themselves because the “Coconut-head technology”, as a result of they’re strong-willed, independent-minded and contemptuous of older politicians who, they are saying, have carried out little for them.
Lots of them, like Dayo Ekundayo from the jap metropolis of Owerri, had been concerned within the EndSars protests that compelled the disbandment of a infamous police division two years in the past and in addition morphed into requires higher authorities.
Now, they’re deploying the identical methods that mobilised lots of of hundreds of younger Nigerians and raised thousands and thousands of naira inside weeks for the 61-year-old who they take into account an alternative choice to the 2 events which have dominated politics because the finish of army rule in 1999.
“Which Nigerian politician has ever held workplace and has his integrity intact? I don’t see another logical possibility for younger folks in Nigeria,” stated Mr Ekundayo.
He has already been concerned in a march for Mr Obi, and is offering logistics and mobilising college students for the marketing campaign as he did in the course of the EndSars protests.
However opponents say Mr Obi is a political impostor, one in all many who spring up at election time with delusions of being a 3rd drive that may wrestle energy from the normal events.
Many supporters of the principle opposition Peoples Democratic Celebration (PDP) and impartial observers agree he’s head and shoulders above the opposite candidates, however say he lacks the nationwide reputation to win the election and have warned his supporters that they danger losing their votes.
They imagine he’s a distraction from the frequent purpose of eradicating the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from workplace, and will cut up the opposition vote.
A religious Catholic from jap Nigeria, they level to his lack of recognition within the Muslim-dominated north, whose votes are thought-about crucial in successful presidential elections.
However Mr Obi and his running-mate Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed have had sturdy showings at occasion rallies within the north, attracting massive crowds in states the place the recognition of the Labour Celebration was doubted – though such crowds will be employed by politicians.
His critics additionally query whether or not he actually represents a break from the corruption he routinely lambasts, mentioning that his title popped up within the leaked Pandora Papers which uncovered the hidden wealth of the wealthy and highly effective in 2021.
Whereas he was not accused of stealing cash, he didn’t declare offshore accounts and property held by relations, citing ignorance.
He was additionally accused of investing state funds, as governor, into an organization he had dealings with. He denied any wrongdoing and factors out that the worth of the funding has since grown.
Mr Obi repeatedly says he’s not determined to be president, which is ironic for a person who has modified events 4 occasions since 2002.
He dumped the PDP simply days earlier than its presidential major in Might and the occasion went on to decide on the 75-year-old former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as its presidential flagbearer.
Critics say he pulled out of the competition as a result of he knew his probabilities of successful had been slim however he cited wrangling throughout the PDP, the place he was a vice-presidential candidate in 2019, for deciding to cross over to the Labour Celebration.
His supporters are additionally satisfied that he was pushed out of the PDP as a result of he refused to bribe delegates on the occasion major and have coined the phrase: “We do not give shishi (cash)” as a buzzword for his famed frugality and his prudence in managing authorities funds in a rustic with a historical past of wasteful expenditure by public officers.
They regard him as an unconventional politician ready to tackle the APC and PDP behemoths seen as completely different sides of the identical coin, who they accuse of dipping their fingers into the general public purse.
There’s additionally a non secular and ethnic twist to his candidacy.
In a rustic the place roughly half the inhabitants is Christian, his supporters hope that this may bolster his probabilities of successful, as after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari they’d not need one other Muslim – the APC’s Bola Tinubu, 70, or the PDP’s Mr Abubakar – to take workplace.
And whereas he has downplayed his faith, Mr Obi has grow to be a relentless face on the massive auditoriums of Nigeria’s Pentecostal church buildings, to rapturous receptions, and he has additionally singled out Christian communities within the north for visits.
This has drawn criticism from opponents who accuse him of bigotry and making an attempt to create divisions via faith, accusations he has denied.
Some additionally assist Mr Obi due to his ethnic background. Igbos make up the nation’s third largest ethnic group, however Nigeria has had just one Igbo president, largely ceremonial, because it freed itself from British colonial rule in 1960.
Many Igbos accuse successive Nigerian governments of marginalising them and hope that Mr Obi will rise to energy in order that the south-east, the place most of them stay, would see higher growth and so counter the pull of secession teams just like the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob).
Critics say he’s a supporter of Ipob, a gaggle designated as a terror organisation by Nigeria, however he advised the BBC that he’s a agency believer in Nigeria and that his place on the completely different “agitations throughout the nation” is to dialogue and attain a consensus.
He stated Nigeria’s primary precedence is the problem of insecurity as a result of it has grow to be an existential one “that should be dealt head-one decisively”.
“If you happen to take care of it [security] as we speak, you take care of inflation as a result of farmers would return to farms and that would scale back meals inflation,” he stated.
A philosophy graduate, he labored in his household’s retail companies earlier than happening to make his personal cash, importing all the pieces from salad cream to magnificence merchandise, and baked beans to champagne, whereas additionally proudly owning a brewery and holding main shares in three business banks.
You possibly can usually recognise a Nigerian billionaire from a mile off however Mr Obi is thrifty and wears it as a mark of delight.
He’s fast to level out that he owns simply two pairs of black footwear from midmarket British chain Marks and Spencer, prefers a $200 go well with from Stein Mart to a $4,000 Tom Ford go well with, and at all times insists on carrying his personal baggage, somewhat than paying another person to do it for him.
Even his kids aren’t spared his frugality. His 30-year-old son was denied a automobile, he stated, whereas his different little one is a cheerful major faculty instructor – a rarity in a rustic the place a politician’s title typically opens doorways to extra profitable jobs.
Regardless of the monetary controversy, his tenure as governor of Anambra state has grow to be a reference level for his presidential marketing campaign.
His supporters level out that he invested closely in training and paid salaries on time – the easy issues that almost all Nigerian state governors are likely to neglect.
He additionally left enormous financial savings in state coffers on the finish of his two four-year tenures, one other rarity.
However Frances Ogbonnaya, a college scholar in Anambra state when Mr Obi was governor, is shocked by the praises being sung in his title, describing his tenure as unremarkable.
“Who saves cash within the face of starvation? Who saves cash within the face of a scarcity of services?” she requested rhetorically.
However it’s his status for frugality and sound administration that has attracted a horde of supporters, often called OBIdients.
Some have been accused of cyberbullying and labelling anybody who doesn’t vote for him in subsequent 12 months’s election an enemy of the state.
He responded with a tweet calling on his supporters to “imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship”, but it surely has carried out little to calm them down.
They’re fast to remind anybody who tells them that elections aren’t received on Twitter, that information from the electoral physique exhibits a bounce in new registered voters, most of them younger folks.
However this isn’t the identical as truly turning out to vote on election day.
With weeks to the election, there is no such thing as a denying the momentum behind Mr Obi however cynics additionally level to the dearth of a nationwide occasion construction to assist the view that, whereas doable, an Obi presidency stays extremely inconceivable.
“The construction that has saved us the place we’re, the construction that has produced the very best variety of folks in poverty in any nation, the construction that has produced the very best variety of out of faculty kids, that’s the construction we wish to take away,” he stated.
He retorted that his construction is “the 100 million Nigerians that stay in poverty [and] the 35 million Nigerians who do not know the place their subsequent meal will come from”.
If half of these end up to vote him on election day, it would very effectively be all that he wants.