Members of the House of Representatives, on Wednesday, rejected a bill which seeks to pave way for youths to vie for various elective offices including President at age 35 years and prohibits anyone who has attained the age of 70 from aspiring for the highest office in the country.
The lawmakers expressed the opposition during the debate on a bill for an Act to alter the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which seeks to put the age limit for aspirants to certain political offices and for related matters, sponsored by Hon. Bede Eke, member representing Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal constituency of Imo State.
Clause 4 of the bill sees to amend section 131 of the 1999 constitution by subsisting the entire section which provides that: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if – He is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; he has attained the age of 35 years and he is not above the age of 70 years. Provided that where a person has been elected before attainment of 70 years, he shall complete his tenure as President but shall not be eligible for re-election.”
The same section proposed that such a person must be a member of a political party and sponsored by that party, and has been educated up to at least university or Higher National Diploma Degree or its equivalent.
Clause 5 of the bill which seeks to amend section 141 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) also provides for similar provisions for anyone seeking to vie for the position of the Vice President.
The bill further seeks to amend sections 177 and 186 of the constitution which provide that anyone seeking for the position of a State Government and Deputy Governor must attain the age of 35 years and not above 65 years.
Likewise, the bill seeks to amend sections 65(1) and 106 of the 1999 constitution, which provides that anyone seeking election as Senator and Member of the House of Representatives must be a citizen of Nigeria and have attained the ages of 30 and 25 years, respectively as well as prohibit anyone who has attained the age of 65 and 60 years from vying for such elective offices.
The proponent of the bill also proposed amendment to section 107 of the 1999 constitution which provides that anyone seeking election into the State House of Assembly must be a citizen of Nigeria, attained the age of 25 years and not above the age of 50 years and educated up to School Certificate Level or its equivalent.
Some of the lawmakers who opposed the bill, including the Minority Leader, Hon Ndudi Elumelu, Hon Jimoh Olajide and Hon Ahmed Jaha.
However, two lawmakers who supported the bill namely: Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu and Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta urged members to support the bill and refer it to the relevant Committee for further legislative action.
In his lead debate, Hon Eke who expressed concern over the recent nationwide protest by EndSARS groups expressed optimism that Nigerian youths will celebrate the House when the bill is passed into law.
“You cannot talk about the youths when the ageing politicians still occupy the space. The youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This bill is not targeted at anybody.”
In his intervention, however, the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila who presided over the session, responded saying: “I don’t understand the bill?”
In his response, Hon Eke who gave insight into the proposed amendments explained that the bill seeks to propose the maximum age for the office of the President was 70 years while the Senate and House are placed at 65 each.
In his intervention, Hon Elumelu who opposed the bill “advised the sponsor of this bill to step down that bill.”
On his part, Hon Jimoh Olajide who opposed the proposed amendments argued that the bill infringes on the human rights of politicians, hence, urged the sponsor of the bill to “either want him to step the bill down or you (Speaker) to hit the gavel.”
However, in his own contribution, Hon. Nkem Abonta who supported the intendment of the proposed bill stressed that the bill “tends to protect the teeming youths. Mr Speaker, he drafted the bill in a manner that space will be created for the young ones.”
In the same vein, the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu who solicited for the passage of the bill for second reading, said: “I want to substantially adopt some of the submissions. Let the bill go for second reading.”
Another member who opposed the provisions of the bill, Hon. Ahmed Jaha said: “I suggest that the bill be stepped down so that he can make further consultations.”
After the heated debate on the motion, Hon. Eke who was called by the Speaker to make his final remarks, expressed regrets over the misgivings trailing the spirit of the bill, said: “I find myself in a very precarious situation and I can see the mood of the House.
“In this House, we have called for the retirement of the Service Chiefs. The civil service rules also have age limits. We need to let our youths know that we think about them and to give them the opportunity.
“Having said this, by the leave of this House, for further consultations, I move to step down this bill,” Hon Eke said.
To this end, the bill was stepped down for further consultations.