Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has signed a law reducing the age limit of election candidates, increasing the chances of younger people participating in the country’s polls.
“I signed into law the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that was conceived, championed and accomplished by young Nigerians. The bill has now become an act of parliament. It is a historic day for Nigeria,” Buhari said while surrounded by young campaigners on Thursday.
There had been some speculation that the 75-year-old president, who announced plans to seek re-election in 2019, may delay signing the law to improve his chances of regaining power.
The bill had been passed last year by the Nigerian Senate and was awaiting the president’s approval to become law.
Presidential election candidates can now stand for office at 35 years instead of 40, state government aspirants at 30 rather than 35, while 25-year-olds can now enter the House of Representatives, a five year age reduction.
Campaigners from the NotTooYoungToRun movement, which had backed the bill, told CNN that young people should be able to vote for their peers.
Hamza Lawal, a founding member of the group, said young Nigerians represent more than half of the country’s registered voters.
Nigeria also has the highest number of young people on the continent, with 60% of them under 30, according to official figures.
“Young Nigerians with integrity and competence that want to serve Nigeria can now run for public office and can now have their name on the ballot. We will have inter-generational equity when it comes to politics,” Lawal told CNN.
The bill has generated much needed goodwill for President Buhari who has suffered low approval ratings in recent months, particularly after he was widely criticized for his recent comments on the entrepreneurial drive of young Nigerians.
Young Nigerians took to social media to commend the decision.
Some speculated that the law may lower Buhari’s chances of winning in the 2019 elections, while others argued the move could sway more young people to his side.
The US State Department commended the passage of the law saying it will continue to support policies that encourage fair electoral processes in Nigeria.
“Congratulations to Nigerian youths as Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari 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 US Embassy tweeted.