Post falsely claims Nigerian presidential candidate fled the country days after polling

A social media post claims that a video shows Nigeria’s presidential candidate Peter Obi fleeing the country the day before his rival Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner in the February ballot. But the claim is false: Obi stayed in Nigeria after the election and has appeared in public.

“Obi has done his job, he has fleed from Nigeria, he couldn’t even stay for the final result (sic),” reads a tweet posted on February 28, 2023.

A screenshot of the false post, taken on March 2, 2023

The tweet was posted by Simon Ekpa, a self-declared leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group pushing for independence in Nigeria's southeast.

He repeatedly threatened “open war” against those who came out to vote in the southeast despite his stay-at-home orders, which called for a curfew and lockdowns.

Ekpa was recently arrested in Finland, where he lives, for using social media allegedly to incite violence.

The tweet includes a video of a young man speaking in Igbo to the Labour Party's Obi at an airport, with planes and the tarmac visible in the background. But the audio is largely inaudible over the plane engines.

Obi responds in English, saying: "What we need is to remain calm and persistent, saying this is wrong. We will remain calm, remain persistent." Nigeria held elections on February 25, 2023.

Tinubu, the APC candidate, was declared the winner in the early hours of March 1, 2023, with 8.8 million votes against 6.9 million for opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar. Obi secured one-third with 6.1 million votes, according to official results.

Although largely peaceful, the ballot was troubled by long delays at many polling stations while technical hitches disrupted the uploading of results to a central website, fuelling concerns over vote rigging.

PDP and Labour have already demanded a fresh election because of what they claimed was massive manipulation of ballot counts.

But the claim that Obi fled Nigeria the day before the results were released is false.

Obi still in Nigeria

On March 2, 2023, the day after Tinubu was declared the winner, Obi gave a press conference in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, in the presence of local and international media organisations. AFP covered the event with both photos and videos.

Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, came in third during the 2023 Nigerian elections ( AFP / Kola SULAIMON)

Nigerian broadcaster Channels TV also live-streamed the press conference.

Using a keyword search for “Peter Obi airport,” AFP Fact Check found several articles referring to the video of Obi at the airport.

Some included a tweet from a user named Goodluck C. Okechukwu, published on February 28, 2023, with the caption: "A friend ran into Peter Obi this morning as they shared Asaba-Abuja flight. He bared his mind to the LP’s candidate about the elections and told Mr Peter that many await his official statement. Peter Obi sued for peace & calm & assured that things are being properly followed up."

A screenshot of the original post, taken on March 2, 2023

Contacted by AFP Fact Check, Okechukwu said a friend named Emma Ogugua had taken the video of Obi on February 28, 2023.

When Okechukwu saw the post, he requested permission to share it on his Twitter account.

“A winner was yet to be declared and tension was building up due to alleged instances of electoral fraud and manipulation. I felt the videos were newsworthy,” he told AFP Fact Check.

The post generated a lot of online traffic.

“It then dawned on me that what I had just uploaded were videos of the first sightings and first words of the popular candidate” after his rival Tinubu had taken the lead, Okechukwu said.

“From this point, everything spiralled beyond our control.”

AFP Fact Check also spoke with Ogugua who said he was on the same 8:50 AM Air Peace flight from Asaba to Abuja as Obi on February 28, 2023. He filmed the video – in which he also appears – after the plane landed in Abuja and posted it to WhatsApp and Twitter.

Ogugua said he initially did not mind bloggers sharing the clip without giving him credit but that changed when he saw Ekpa tweet it.

“I wasn’t really bothered because I’m not an attention seeker but was really angry when Goodluck tagged me to Simon Ekpa’s tweet of the same video, misinforming the public that Peter Obi was leaving the country.”

AFP Fact Check used a keyword search for “Peter Obi Asaba airport” and found another video posted on February 28, 2023, that also shows Obi at the Asaba airport.

The footage published by Njenje Media TV shows several structural features that match this picture of the Asaba Airport on Google Maps.

A comparison of screenshots showing the video, left, and Google maps, right, taken on March 2, 2023

Disinformation has dogged the 2023 Nigerian ballot. You can find AFP Fact Check's election-related coverage here.