There have been mixed reactions in Cameroon to 88-year-old President Paul Biya’s orders that his party-dominated upper and lower houses of Parliament reelect officials who are over 80 years old to top positions.
According to the central African state’s constitution, Marcel Niat Njifenji, the 87-year-old president of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, would take over and organize elections if Biya were to die.
Members of the National Assembly, the lower house of Cameroon’s Parliament Wednesday applauded as Cavaye Yegue Djibril was reelected speaker. The 81-year-old Cavaye said he appreciated Biya’s making his reelection possible.
Djibril said he is highly indebted to Biya for asking his ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, or CPDM, lawmakers to retain him in his position.
Djibril has been National Assembly speaker for 30 years. The lone candidate, he garnered 147 votes in the 180-seat body.
Many Cameroonians expected he would be replaced by a younger lawmaker. However, Biya summoned the 152 CPDM lawmakers together for an emergency meeting. CPDM Secretary General Jean Nkuete said Biya asked them to reelect Djibril.
Emmanuel Banmi, a CPDM lawmaker from the English-speaking North-West region said they obeyed instructions from their party hierarchy. He said Djibril has enough experience as National Assembly speaker.
"Cavaye Yeguie Djibril is doing his work. I want to commend his devotedness. We know we have difficulties; we have concerns of security. We need to move ahead. Let the government work hand-in-hand with the representatives of the people (National Assembly) to see that the security issue is collectively addressed with the collaboration of the people," he said.
Banmi said he was optimistic Djibril will work in collaboration with the government to find solutions to youth unemployment and the several armed conflicts Cameroon is facing. He said priority will be given to assisting people affected by COVID-19 and stopping the spread of the pandemic.
Djibril is Cameroon’s third most powerful state political figure after Biya and Marcel Niat Njifenji, president of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament.
The 87-year-old Njifenji, who has been Senate president since the body was created in 2013, was reelected Wednesday with 85 votes in the 100-member chamber. The CPDM controls 63 of the 70 elected Senate seats. The other 30 members, appointed by Biya, are loyal to him.
Niat said he was also grateful to Biya for his reelection.
Twenty-six-year-old Nguenang Cosmas, member of Cameroon’s National Youth Council, an independent state body that discusses issues related to the well-being of youths, says octogenarians are keeping young people from leadership positions in Cameroon.
"How could we elect people at the head of the legislature who could barely walk. The president of the Senate, Marcel Niat Njifenji, could barely walk to the hall. [The] same goes for the president of the National Assembly. Where are we heading to? It beats my imagination why the same people have been ruling. It is not good. They should leave the younger generation to show what they are capable of doing. Does it mean that only the old can rule? It is not good at all," Cosmas said.
Under Cameroon's constitution, if Biya were to die, were to resign or become incapacitated, Njifenji would take power, although elections would have to be organized to elect a new president in 20 to 120 days.