Nine months ago, Peter Obi was a member of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, and one of the 15 presidential aspirants cleared for its ticket. As a former state governor, he stood solidly in the ranks of the political establishment.
On Wednesday, after a remarkable transformation into an outsider candidate running for the little-known Labour Party, he came in third in the race for the presidency, according to election officials.
Mr. Obi’s running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, vowed on Wednesday that the party would contest the election results, saying the ballot was tainted by violence, voter intimidation and suppression. He said his team would make its challenge against the declared victory of Bola Tinubu of the governing party, through “all legal and peaceful means.”
A former governor of southeastern Anambra state with a reputation for frugality, Mr. Obi left the People’s Democratic Party the day before Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who was one of his main rivals, became its presidential candidate.
A few days later, Mr. Obi won the Labour Party ticket and began one of the most remarkable political campaigns in Nigerian history. It was driven by his multitude of followers, including well-known figures like the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
On social media, his fans call themselves the Obidients.
Drawing on a deep well of anger at the governing party — particularly among the country’s millions of digitally-savvy youths — he connected on issues that mattered to them: unemployment, justice, fighting corruption and creating economic opportunities. Amid a wave of young people leaving or trying to leave the country, he gave hope that Nigeria could become a place they could stay and thrive.
And though he is 61, for many voters he became the youthful candidate — mainly in contrast with the 76-year-old Mr. Abubakar and the other front-runner, 70-year-old Bola Tinubu — an important factor in a country where the median age is 18.
In an interview with The New York Times before the election, Mr. Obi said that he would “aggressively” pursue the development of agriculture to drive Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy. He said he would also increase the country’s manufacturing base and “declare war on energy” — Nigeria has endemic energy problems, despite being one of Africa’s biggest oil producers.
A top priority was to unite a country that he said was increasingly divided along ethnic lines, and to move past the economic and security shocks that have left many feeling despondent.
“What drives every country is hope,” Mr. Obi said.