It is obvious that Peter Obi’s candidacy is one of the major reasons why the 2023 presidential election is the most competitive contest Nigeria has ever had since 1999. He has single-handedly made the Labour Party (LP), a minnow in Nigerian politics, go toe-to-toe with the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He is the darling of many young people, who have coalesced into a movement called the Obidients and have done an immense job of mobilising support for him online and offline. If recent polling results are right, he can even be declared as the president-in-waiting. The exciting flavour he added to the race has made him one of the most famous Nigerian candidates in foreign media.

However, it is possible for him to lose the elections seeing that polling, a new phenomenon in Nigerian politics, is never 100% accurate. Even where the polling methodology is solid, it still captures a large percentage of undecided voters and those who refuse to disclose their preferred candidate. This means that the elections can still swing towards any of the top three candidates, depending on their ability to capture the undecided voters.

So what happens if Peter Obi loses the presidential election?

For a start, it will disenchant a large number of young Obi’s supporters, especially the urban and middle-class youths, who have been energised by his candidacy. An Obi loss will make these voters retreat into their shells, believing that Nigeria might be beyond repair.

It will also further solidify the feeling of political marginalisation felt by Igbos, which has driven the resurgence of secessionist agitations in the South East as typified by the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). While hardcore IPOB enthusiasts still reject the Nigerian state and have so far expressed their opposition to the elections, an Obi win will reduce their chances of gaining more support in the region. However, a loss will fuel their fire and escalate the secessionist campaign.

While the LP will do better in the 2023 elections than they did in 2019 irrespective of how Obi performs, an Obi loss will mean the likelihood of losing their presidential candidate’s movement and party’s relevance. If APC’s presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wins, and Obi might be forced to return to the PDP because his loss will likely be due to the LP’s lack of entrenched national structures compared to their opponents, which cannot be fixed before the next election cycle.

However, an Atiku win might extend Obi’s stay in the Labour Party. Despite claims by some close associates of Atiku that he will serve only one term if elected president, there is very little precedent for such in Nigeria and around the world. Anyone believing such a promise might as well be buying a beach house in Zamfara State. This means that Obi’s chances of being the PDP’s candidate in 2027 will be very narrow, and defection to the APC will be highly unlikely also.