He was relatively unknown until a few months ago, and yet Peter Obi has emerged as one of the frontrunners in the upcoming Nigerian elections.
Young by Nigerian political standards, 61, and with a reputation for probity in a country rife with corruption, he is the man to watch.
His supporters say that if he wins the presidency in February, he will show that Nigeria’s democracy is in good shape in the world’s first major elections of 2023.
Sky News had rare access to the Labor Party candidate during a brief visit to London.
He is, he said, the change agent in this election.
“We are trying to say, and everyone can see, especially young people, that something is wrong and everyone can see that the country cannot continue on this path to nowhere,” he said.
There is a buzz around Mr. Obi. He had come to address a foreign policy crowd at Chatham House, the think tank, with a whopping 100,000 flocking to watch online.
The Georgian square outside was packed with people waiting for him afterwards, singing and chanting his name. Chatham House rarely sees these kinds of scenes.
His supporters say he is the antidote to what they call “big man-ism” in Nigeria: the all-powerful ex-army general or rich man seizing power through money and influence.
Mr. Obi carries his own bag, they say, and only has a wristwatch.
There are questions, however, about the undeclared offshore companies he reportedly owns and his campaign manager was convicted of money laundering. He despised them.
His affairs are all transparent, he said, wrapped in trust, and as for the disgraced team official: “Whatever happens with him, it’s a thing that happened before he became my campaign manager.”
There are much bigger questions about the financial integrity of your opponents.
Obi is up against the big and powerful interests in Nigerian politics and comes from the Ibo minority, who have never had one of their own at the top.
He admits to being intimidated, but says he is up for the role and believes Nigeria’s problems need to be resolved.
And he says that the British should also care about this election.
“We have 200 million people, which is a huge market for Britain. And it’s critical for Britain: as they leave the European Union, they need Commonwealth members,” he said.
The country he wants to rule faces enormous challenges: runaway inflation, rising unemployment and endemic corruption.
It is threatened by separatist groups and jihadist insurgencies. He says that he will sit down with agitators and rule with compassion.
Paul Arkwright, a former British high commissioner to Nigeria, said the county needs a new sense of direction.
“I’m afraid it’s quite messy and there’s a sense of paralysis almost in Nigeria,” he said.
“I think a fresh voice, someone coming up with new ideas, could make a difference and that’s important for the UK.”