Abuja (AFP) – Hundreds of young Nigerians marched on the country’s parliament on Tuesday, calling for lawmakers to remove age barriers on political posts, including the presidency.
Nigeria’s 1999 constitution stipulates that the president has to be at least 40, while senators and state governors have to be aged 35 or above.
But with an increasingly young demographic in Africa’s most populous nation and a majority of voters (55.4 percent) in the 18-35 age group, the restriction is seen as unfair.
About 500 protesters, wearing white T-shirts and brandishing placards proclaiming “#NotTooYoungToRun”, marched two kilometres (1.5 miles) to the National Assembly.
A sit-in was planned outside the parliament building until lawmakers vote on a constitutional amendment to lower the age.
Protest leader Samson Itodo said they needed a two-thirds majority in the 109-seat senate and the 360-seat House of Representatives to vote in their favour.
“For us, we are saying remove the age limit completely. If you are eligible to vote, you should be eligible to run for office,” he told AFP.
“That is full franchise. But what we currently enjoy is partial franchise.”
Nigeria’s current head of state is President Muhammadu Buhari, a 74-year-old former military ruler who has been out of the country on indefinite medical leave since May 7.
Buhari’s age is not an exception in Africa, where many elderly presidents remain in power, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who is still president at the age of 93.
Itodo said Nigeria had a “youthful population” so it was crucial young people were more involved in the political process.
Hamzat Lawal, from the NotTooYoungToRun group, said the campaign was about equal opportunity and improving good governance.
“If they (lawmakers) don’t vote today, let us sleep at the National Assembly so that they know that we are serious that young people count,” he added.
“We must ensure that this legislation sees the light of the day.”
Senator Dino Melaye, representing members of the upper and lower chambers of parliament, promised protesters the issue had been given careful attention.
“There is already a proposal that will be debated between today (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday) in the National Assembly in the ongoing constitutional amendment,” he said.
“The age qualification for the presidency has been reduced from 40 to 35 while the ages for state governorship has been reduced from 35 to 30.
“House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly have been reduced from 30 to 25. This is the proposal that we are going to debate.”