Abuja–President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday asked youths who might be eyeing his seat to postpone their campaigns till after the 2019 presidential election.
The president of Nigerian, who has already indicated interest in seeking a fresh four-year mandate in 2019, made the appeal shortly after signing the much-publicised Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill into law at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The new law reduces the eligible age for those seeking to be members of the state Houses of Assembly and House of Representatives from 30 to 25 years; and those aspiring to be President from 40 to 35 years.
The age limits for senators and state governors were not reduced as originally proposed by the sponsors of the bill.
“I am confident each one of you will transform Nigeria in your own way one day– whether through the media, agricultural enterprise, as economists, engineers, or as lawmakers in your states or at the federal level, or as state governors – and even someday, as President. Why not?
“But please, can I ask you to postpone your campaigns till after the 2019 elections!” Buhari told the excited youths who thronged the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa to witness the signing of the bill.
He, however, expressed how proud he was with what the youths had accomplished with the new law.
The President described the day as a significant one for all Nigerians, and most especially the nation’s youths – and the role they play in the nation’s democracy, politics and national life.
He described the new law as a landmark piece of legislation that was conceived, championed and accomplished by young Nigerians.
“The coordinators of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Movement have now established a formidable legacy – which is that, in our maturing democracy, if you really want to change something in Nigeria, and if you can organise yourselves and work hard towards it – you can achieve it. The outcome of such efforts is this remarkable feat.
“These efforts have resulted in the heroic task of enshrining in law, a reduction of the minimum age for elective offices in Nigeria,” the President added.
While highlighting the changes introduced by the law, Buhari expressed surprise that the age limits for senators and state governors were not reduced, as originally proposed by the sponsors of this bill.
This, he said, was an issue that needed to be addressed in future.
This notwithstanding, the President said the focus and contributions of the youth had successfully increased the quality and maturity of Nigerian democracy and expanded the playing field for youth participation in politics.
Buhari added, “You, the young people of Nigeria, are now set to leave your mark on the political space, just as you have done over the decades in entrepreneurship, sports, art, media entertainment, technology, and several other fields.
“You are undoubtedly Nigeria’s most important resource – not oil, not agriculture, not solid minerals – but you and all of us.
“Your energy, intelligence and talents are what will drive and develop Nigeria, long after we are all gone.
“This is an opportunity for me to affirm that this administration will continue to do everything in its power to make Nigeria work for you.”
Buhari, however, urged the youth not to see the signing of the law as the end of the journey.
Describing it as only the beginning, the President said there was still a lot of work ahead, towards ensuring that young people take full advantage of the opportunities provided not only by the constitutional amendment but also through Nigeria’s boundless prospects.
“You should inculcate the spirit of self-help. Those who complete their training should not just sit down and wait for government or private sector to employ them.
“You should be innovative and turn your hands to any legitimate work that will enable you to sustain yourself.
“You may have noticed already that every one of you represents one of our 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. This is because today is about preparing for the bright future of our country,” he added.
Members of the NTYTR Movement from across the country were led to the brief ceremony by Mr Samson Itodo.
Among them were the President’s daughter, Halima; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s daughter, Kanyisola; as well as Aisha, the daughter of Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
Also present were the sponsors of the bill in the Senate, Senator Abdulaziz Nyako; and in the House of Representatives, Tony Nwulu. Both of them pledged additional legislative support to the group.
Speaking for the NTYTR group, Itodo urged the President to insist on internal democracy particularly in the ruling All Progressives Congress.
He praised the President and the Vice-President for encouraging the bill, noting that Buhari would be positively remembered by posterity for being the Nigerian leader who signed the NTYTR bill into law.
Nwulu, in his speech said the law was a demonstration of their commitment to the inclusion of youths participation in politics.
Nyako on his part described the law as a very important law which received grassroots support from every part of Nigeria.
Your comments, anti-democratic-
Youth groups, CDHR reply Buhari
However, two youth groups, the Ijaw Youth Council and the National Youth Council of Nigeria, said Buhari’s comments were against the rule of law and against democratic principles, noting that the President was joking.
The IYC National President, Pereotubo Oweilaemi, said, “Asking the youths not to contest against him (Buhari) is also against the law that he has just passed. He would have signed the bill after the 2019 elections that he is gunning for. It is a law and the President should not speak otherwise.
“The President should not stop any youth willing to contest in 2019. It is not befiting of the President to utter such statements. This is not the way to build our democracy.”
Also the NYCN acting President, Abdulrahman Agboola, said, “The President simply expressed his sense of humour by telling Nigerian youths not to use the law against him.
“When you look at the general perceptions, you will understand that the people surrounding President Buhari are not able to convince Nigerians on why the President should run in 2019.
“How many young Nigerians below 30 years have the resources to contest an elective post in the National Assembly, let alone that of the President? We need to therefore educate our young people on what leadership entails so that they will not fumble in office like some youths did or are doing.”
Meanwhile, a civil society organisation, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, said President Buhari’s comments on the youths indicated why he had delayed the signing of the bill into law.
The CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “One begins to wonder if President Buhari’s initial reluctance to sign the bill into law was not the fear that Nigerian youths would want to contest against him. But he need not have that fear, this is democracy and everyone must have a level playing field.
“The President, immediately he signed that bill into law, is bound by it and cannot persuade or stop any youth from contesting the office of the President as stated in the new law.”
Saraki, Ekweremadu hail Buhari, congratulate youths
But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, on Thursday described the signing of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill by Buhari, as a historic moment that young people would look back on someday.
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki urged the youth to register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards ahead of the 2019 general elections.
He said, “More than half of our over 180 million population is made up of people under the age of 30. Today’s signing of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill represents many years of hard work and signals a new era of youth inclusion and participation in our governance.
“Now more than ever, as young people across the country bask in the moment and celebrate the signing of this bill, they must not see this as the final destination. It is one thing to be able to run, but it is another thing entirely to be able to serve.
“This is why it is incumbent on our youths to register, get their PVCs and move on to the next phase of this journey, which is getting their peers elected into legislative and executive positions. You must all take part, to take charge.”
Ekweremadu, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, commended Buhari for assenting to the bill to alter the provisions of the Constitution and reduce the age qualification for some political offices.
According to him, the National Assembly has delivered on its promise.
Ekweremadu, who is also Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, said the new amendment to the constitution would open up the political space for the Nigerian youths, urging them to capitalise on it to take their proper place in the scheme of things.
He however urged Buhari to also attend to other constitution amendment bills awaiting his assent, describing them as critical to the good governance of the nation.
Bill is our initiative, says PDP
However, the Peoples Democratic Party has asked President Buhari and the APC to stop parading themselves as the architects of the ‘Not Too Young to Run Act.’
This, the PDP said, was because the bill which the President signed into law was sponsored and pursued by members of the PDP in the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly.
This was contained in a statement signed by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan in Abuja, on Thursday.
The PDP said, “It is instructive to note that President Buhari had no input whatsoever in the bill; never showed any support or enthusiasm towards the initiative and had no option but to perform a mandatory constitutional duty of assenting to the bill, as a clear reflection of the mood of the nation, given that the bill had already found an easy passage to the crucibles of the required approval of two-thirds of states in the federation.
“This development is indeed a democratic victory for the Nigerian youths over forces, particularly, the APC, that had hitherto disdained and disregarded them as lazy and inconsequential, but had to succumb to the dictates of the law and pressure by the youths and the PDP.
“The party commends the sponsor of the bill, Tony Nwulu (PDP, Lagos), other legislators who supported the process and the resilience of the Nigerian youths in getting the initiative through, in line with the vision of the PDP to allow younger Nigerians to actively participate in elective positions in governance at all levels.
“In preparation for the passage of the bill, the PDP had since launched our ‘Generation Next Movement,’ which has already put younger Nigerians at vantage point to participate in elective positions ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“In line with the ‘Generation Next Movement’, the rebranded PDP among other pro-youth incentives has since approved certain critical clauses and waivers so that the young people will actively vie for positions in the 2019 general elections.”
US congratulates Nigerian youths
Meanwhile, the United States of America has congratulated the Nigerian youths over the signing into law of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill by Buhari.
The U.S. Embassy in Abuja in a tweet said America would always support a free, fair and inclusive political process in Nigeria.
“Congratulations to Nigerian youths as @NGRPresident @MBuhari signs #NotTooYoungToRun bill into law. The U.S. supports a free, fair, and inclusive political process in Nigeria that includes the voices of young people, women, and the disabled,” the tweet read.
The US has also congratulated the country on its 19 years of unbroken civilian rule.
It noted that in Nigeria, as in so many countries, the right of all citizens to enjoy equal participation in the democratic process was achieved after considerable struggle and suffering.
The U.S. Mission said in a statement, “We congratulate Nigeria on its progress since 1999, including the first peaceful transition of power from a ruling party to an opposition party in 2015.
“As we celebrate your progress, we encourage and support Nigeria and its people to consolidate and deepen democracy as the country heads towards important elections next year.
“Who will win the general elections in 2019 is a decision for the Nigerian people. Our concern as partners of Nigeria is to see a process that is free, fair and inclusive. We offer our strong support to the Independent National Electoral Commission and welcome the technical improvements they have introduced to the electoral process,” the U.S. said in a statement.
It encouraged the government and legislators to work with INEC to achieve further improvements at least six months before the elections, in line with the established ECOWAS protocol.
Youth participation in politics declining – INEC
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission says its records show that youths are gradually showing indifference towards politics in Nigeria.
A National Commissioner of INEC and Chairman, Board of Electoral Institute, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, said this at the first Abubakar Momoh memorial lecture in Abuja on Thursday.
Speaking at the lecture with the theme, ‘Youth Empowerment and Participation in 2019 General Elections,’ Ibeanu said there was the need to ensure that youths were not left behind.
He said, “From the records, youth participation in electoral process is declining. Some of the factors that led to this include: nonchalant attitude of the citizenry, failure of candidates to fulfil electoral promises, loss of confidence in electoral commission, electoral fraud, cumbersome electoral process, insecurity and violence.