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Nigeria: Constitution Amended to Allow Independent Candidacy, Lower Age Requirement for Holding Elected Offices

(June 11, 2018) On May 31, 2018, the seventy-five-year-old Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law a bill amending the 1999 Constitution, the implementation of which will lower the minimum age requirements for competing for and holding key elected offices both at federal and state levels. The new law will also allow individuals to stand for state and federal elected offices as independent candidates. (Timileyin Omilana, Buhari Signs Not Too Young to Run Bill into Law, THE GUARDIAN (May 31, 2018).) Before reaching the President’s desk for his assent as required by the country’s Constitution, the proposal, popularly dubbed “Not Too Young to Run,” was adopted by more than a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Assembly in July 2017 and approved by the legislatures of twenty-five of the thirty-six states by March 2018.  (Samuel Ogundipe, I Will Sign “Not Too Young to Run Bill,” President Buhari, PREMIUM TIMES (May 29, 2018); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, § 9(2), International Centre for Nigerian Law (ICFNL) website.)

With the enactment of the new law, the age requirements for candidates seeking a seat in the Senate and the House of Representatives, which are currently set at thirty-five years and thirty years of age, respectively, have been reduced by five years each. (CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA § 65(1); Constitution Alteration Bill, 2016, § 2, YIAGA Africa website.)  Similarly, the age requirement for seeking a seat at a state house of assembly, which had been set at thirty years of age, is now twenty-five years.  (CONSTITUTION § 106; Constitution Alteration Bill, 2016, § 4.)  In addition, the age requirement for seeking the office of the President and the governorship of a state, which had been set at forty and thirty-five years of age, respectively, have both been reduced to thirty years. (CONSTITUTION §§ 131 & 177; Constitution Alteration Bill, 2016, §§ 5 & 6.)

Significantly, the new law eliminates the requirement that any person vying for any of the above-mentioned offices be affiliated with a political party. Prior to the enactment of this act, Nigeria did not permit independent candidacy of any kind, and a candidate for the National Assembly, a state house of assembly, a governorship, or the Presidency had to be ”a member of a Political Party and be sponsored by that party to be eligible to contest election.” (Frequently Asked Questions, INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC) (last visited June 5, 2018).) The act removes this requirement and allows anyone who is otherwise eligible to stand for election to any of these offices as an independent candidate. (Constitution Alteration Bill, 2016, §§ 3-6.)