ABUJA, May 31 (Reuters) - Nigeria lowered the minimum ages for political offices on Thursday, when President Muhammadu Buhari signed a new bill into law in a victory for a campaign that has sought a greater voice for young people.
Nigeria’s median age is just 18, according to the United Nations, and many youth see Nigeria’s ageing leaders as out of touch. Buhari, 75, is the oldest person to helm Nigeria since the transition to civilian government in 1999.
The law reduces the minimum age of the president to 35 from 40. For members of the House of Representatives and states’ houses of assembly, the minimum was lowered to 25 from 30. The change comes as Nigeria is gearing up for elections in February 2019.
The effort to lower age restrictions was backed by a campaign with the slogan “Not Too Young to Run”.
“This is just the beginning, now we focus on getting credible and competent young people into government!” wrote Cynthia Mbamalu, one of the campaign’s members, on Twitter.
Nigerian politics is dominated by older politicians, in a culture where age is often venerated. Former vice president Atiku Abubakar, 71, also plans to run for president next year, campaigning in part on a platform of youth empowerment.
“You, the young people of Nigeria, are now set to leave your mark on the political space,” Buhari told campaign organisers at the signing ceremony, adding that he was confident they would make their mark as politicians or even president.
“But please, can I ask you to postpone your campaigns till after the 2019 elections!” he joked.
Yet the bill is not a total victory for campaigners - the original version had aimed to lower the presidential candidacy age even further, to 30, and also reduce Senate and state governor age requirements from to 30 from 35.
“Surprisingly, the age limits for senators and governors was not reduced, as originally proposed by the sponsors of this bill,” Buhari said. “This is an issue that may need to be addressed going forward.” (Reporting by Paul Carsten, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh Editing by Peter Graff)