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Nigeria's 2023 elections: Obasanjo backs Peter Obi

Ben Shemang
January 3, 2023

Nigerians will vote for a new president on February 25. Around 95 million voters are expected to participate in the crucial election, as many grow increasingly disenchanted with the quality of Nigerian politics.

Nigeria I Präsidentschaftskandidat I Peter Obi
Image: Gbemiga Olamikan/AP/picture alliance

With less than two months to go until Nigerians head to the polls to elect a new president, one of the frontrunners — Peter Obi of the Labour Party — has received a major endorsement from former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

In an open letter released over the weekend, Obasanjo asked Nigerians to vote for Obi, whose candidacy has proved particularly popular among young voters

"None of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job, particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge," he wrote in the letter.

The former president  encouraged young Nigerians to vote for Obi as their best representative. Obi — a 61-year-old businessman and former governor — has used his campaign to hone in on the concerns of the young generation who seem poised to demonstrate their voting power in this election: 71% of newly registered voters in Nigeria are aged between 18 and 34, according to Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

A recent poll conducted by the news agency Bloomberg revealed that 72% of "decided voters'' said they would support Obi in the elections.

But the dynamics of Nigeria's democracy means Obi's campaign is still far from secure: His center-left Labour Party does not have a great stronghold across all of Nigeria's 36 vast states. 

Obasanjo's endorsement condemned by other candidates

Obasanjo's letter has already drawn sharp criticisms from the camps of other presidential candidates. 

Bayo Onanuga, the spokesperson for the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinbu, said the former president's words don't carry much weight in Nigeria's current political environment. 

The main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) has also downplayed Obasanjo's endorsement of Peter Obi.

PDP lawmaker Gideon Gwani told DW that his party was not rattled by Obasanjo's comments.

"I strongly believe we are going to win," he said. "Obasanjo has a right to campaign for any of the candidates from the different parties. It is one thing for him to campaign and it is another thing for the electorate to accept his decision of to accept him in what he is trying to do.

"For us in the PDP we are continuing with our campaign we believe we have the support strongly."

Political analyst Jonathan Dabo believes it was irresponsible for the former president to publicly align himself with a candidate.

"Honestly as a stakeholder (and) former president, it is inappropriate to mention that," he told DW.

"Looking at Obasanjo as a father and elder statesman...to me it is so biased at this level."

Olusegun Obasanjo speaks to DW

Does Obi have an edge?

But not everyone is opposed to Obasanjo's comments: Emmanuel Bawa, a lecturer at the Kaduna State College of Education who himself falls into the young voters bracket, believes Obasanjo's open letter about Obi hit the nail on the head for a generation of disenchanted Nigerians.

"He said Obi has an edge and the edge is based on competence, character and capability — (in this) I want to align with the former president," Bawa told DW.

"In this time, we need is a leader who is young, active, vibrant, who can work round the clock to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians, and I think for the love of country, for patriotism and in the interest of the younger generation, (Obasanjo) is right in taking his position." 

Eighteen presidential hopefuls — including one woman — are in the running to lead Africa's most populous nation.

Analysts say the leading contenders to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari are Ahmed Tinubu (70), a former governor of Lagos state and the candidate of the governing All Progressive Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar (75), a former vice president who is running for the opposition People's Democratic Party's (PDP), and the Labour Party's (LP) candidate Peter Obi.

Nigerians will choose their preferred candidate on February 25. Security and the economy are the key issues most likely to shape the election, with around 95 million voters are expected to head to the polls, according to INEC's projections.

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Edited by: Ineke Mules