For fear of losing their political career too soon, members of the House of Representatives yesterday pressured their colleague, Hon. Bede Uchenna Eke to withdraw a bill seeking to prescribe age limit for political officeholders.
The various offices included those of the President, Governors and the members of National Assembly from both chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The bill is titled “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to put Age Limit for aspirants to Certain Political Offices; and for Related Matters”.
Presented at Wednesday plenary, the bill stirred up controversy and dissensions among the lawmakers who feared for their political future.
Hardly had Hon. Eke who represents Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal constituency of Imo State moved the motion for the second reading of the bill when called upon by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila than the House became charged up and rowdy.
Prior to this time, proceedings had been going smoothly with less circle of debates on preceding motions.
But emotions ran riot when the House echoed “nay” to the question by Gbajabiamila on whether members would agree that the bill is read for the second time.
The answer caught everyone’s attention.
But the speaker, again, but the question. This time, there was almost a tally in the voice votes.
Tactically, the speaker deliberately called for a debate on the bill to gauge the temperature, asking the sponsor to lead.
Giving the synopsis of the bill, Eke said: “Mr. Speaker, Honourable colleagues, we have challenges. One is about the EndSARS protests. This bill when passed, our youths will celebrate this House.
“You cannot talk about the youths when the ageing politicians still occupy the space. The youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This bill is not targeted at anybody.”
At this juncture, Gbajabiamila said “I don’t understand the bill”, asking specifically for the age limits.
Reacting, Eke said that the maximum age for the office of the president was 70 years while the Senate and House are placed at 65 each.
Swiftly, the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu raised a point of order.
“Minority leader has a point of order”, Gbajabiamila said.
Speaking, Elumelu said “I want to advise the sponsor of this bill to step down that bill”.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Jimoh Olajide from Lagos State raised his hand for contribution.
Recognised by the Speaker, he urged Eke to withdraw the bill.
“Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the consideration you have given even after voice vote has been taken”, he said.
But Gbajabiamila quickly quipped “But I have not hit the gavel”, he said.
Continuing, Olajide said “Maturity and wisdom…I will either want him to step the bill down or you hit the gavel”
In his own contribution, Hon. Nkem Abonta from Abia State took a middle cause.
“The bill tends to protect the teeming youths. Mr. Speaker, he drafted the bill in a manner that space will be created for the young ones”, he said, calling for a balance.
On his part, the deputy minority leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu from Enugu State when recognized to speak pleaded with his colleagues to allow for the second reading of the bill.
He said “I want to substantially adopt some of the submissions. Let the bill go for second reading”.
Meanwhile, just when many people thought the bill was getting both reasoning and sympathy from the members, Hon. Ahmed Haha from Borno State nailed it.
“I suggest that the bill be stepped down so that he can make further consultations”, he said.
At this juncture, Hon. Eke was called by the Speaker to make his final remarks.
Rising up, he became emotional and helplessly heeded the “advise” of his colleagues who were apparently waiting for the final question on the bill.
“I find myself in a very precarious situation and I can see the mood of the House. In this House, we have called for the retirement of the service Chiefs. The civil service rules also have age limits. We need to let our youths know that we think about them and to give them the opportunity.
“Having said this, by the leave of this House, for further consultations, I move to step down this bill”, Hon. Eke said.
Speaking to Journalists afterwards, he regretted the episode, saying he would consult further.
“I was misunderstood by my colleagues. Some said we cannot do this. You have to withdraw it otherwise we kill it. Well, I saw the mood of the House. I saw that everybody wants it dead. I now said Ok, let me withdraw it so that I can consult further.
“For me, like I said before I withdrew the bill, this would have been an avenue for us to say youths, come and be part of government”, he said.