By Udora Orizu
There was a slight drama yesterday as members of the House of Representatives rejected a bill seeking to prescribe age limit for political office holders and pressured those sponsoring the bill to withdraw it.
The legislation titled “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to put Age Limit for Aspirants to Certain Political Offices; and for Related Matters,” was sponsored by Hon. Bede Eke.
The bill would affect the offices of the President, Governors and both chambers of the National Assembly.
The bill stirred up controversy when Eke moved a motion for it to be read for a second time.
The controversy caused the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to ask the question on whether members would agree that the bill be read for the second time. But almost all the lawmakers screamed ‘’No’’!
Thereafter, Gbajabiamila applied diplomacy and deliberately called the sponsor of the bill to lead the debate on it.
Eke accepted the invitation and said: “We have faced challenges. One is about the #EndSARS protests. This bill when passed, our youths will celebrate this House. You cannot talk about the youths when the aging politicians still occupy the space. The youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This bill is not targeted at anybody.
‘’I am not prejudiced in sponsoring this bill because I detest or do not like elderly or ageing men in governance but this is premised on the fact that as a society we must learn to quit when the ovation is loudest as it is being done by elderly politicians in some parts of the world including African politicians.
‘’Nigeria as a developing country with weak institutions of governance needs agile and youthful leadership to drive the business of governance until such a time when we must have built strong institutions that can work independent of each other without the influence of a “strong man” leader – which is more pronounced during the reign of a youthful leader.
‘’More so, as a legislator, it is my ardent desire to reach the ages which this bill seeks to restrict and by then I will gladly retire having paid the dues to my country. Hence we must face the realities associated with ageing, some of which include reduced mental and physical capabilities including dementia. The demands of political offices are very tasking on the aged and required mentally and physically agile persons.’’
Intervening, Gbajabiamila asked him to specify the age limits.
Reacting, Eke said that the maximum age for the office of the President would be 70 years while the Senate and House would be 65 years.
Immediately, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, raised a point of order and advised the sponsor of this bill to step it down.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Jimoh Olajide, in his contribution said: ‘’Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the consideration you have given even after the voice vote has been taken. I will either want him to step the bill down or you hit the gavel.”
But Hon. Nkem Abonta said the bill would protect the teeming youths of Nigeria and create political space for them.
On his part, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, pleaded with his colleagues to allow for the second reading of the bill.
But their pleas were rejected, as Hon. Ahmed Jaha, in his contribution suggested that the bill be stepped down for further consultations.
At this point, Eke was called by the Speaker to make his final remarks.
Eke 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 opportunity. Having said this, by the leave of this House, for further consultations, I move to step down this bill.’’