By Amina Salihu
Had a beautiful growing up. The best part of my life was, no doubt, my childhood; and the part where I was most impactful, I would say, was my youth – the years from secondary to university education and shortly thereafter. In a country where defining the category ‘youth’ is prone to a lot of subjective rationalisation, I had better state that this was the time I was between the ages of 15 and 35.
At age 15, I was appointed the college head girl or head prefect in my alma mater, Federal Government Girls College, Bida. I learnt responsibility early and how to set and lead an agenda. At 19, I was deputy president of the Association of Political Science Students, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and it is needless to say that I was active in the students’ movement, participating in the design and execution of a protest against sexual harassment. At 28, I began travelling the world on fellowships and at 34, I was a senior special assistant to the minister of the FCT. At 37, I was team lead for a pioneering DFID programme, Coalitions for Change (C4C). The rest, today, is dependent on that solid early foundation and opportunity.
I have taken a deliberate herstorical/historical view because, again, in a country where we have not been as responsive to or respectful of history as we could be, this becomes very important. If we were respectful of history, we would know that the best years of our founding peers were given in their youth. The movement for independence, the leadership of the regional blocks, their role as national ministers, etc., even as head of state, were achieved in their youth. These responsibilities demand mental and physical energy. We are at our physical peak in our 20s and 30s, to peak, intellect wise, in our 40s and 50s. By our 60s, we are in decline. At the moment, our life expectancy in Nigeria is an average of 53 years. Yet, a political party, once upon a time, had a 60 year old as its youth leader in a country brimming with youth energy, innovation and abundance. By the year 2030, it is projected that 50 percent of Nigeria’s population would be young people; how do we prepare for that moment when we have not given the young people room to internalise this fact and hone their skills through public responsibilities?
Now we have pushed our young people and they are organising and pushing back, to seize the space. It was as Kofi Anan said: “if governments do not listen to their people, they will hear from them”. Surely, Senator Adeyeye’s advice to his colleague is solid logic; “if you are old enough to die for your country (i.e to be enlisted in the military), you are old enough to hold office in your country”.
We can reap the dividends of demography of a youthful population, only if we invest in our young people. Part of that investment is that they are present at the table participating and shaping those decisions that affect them now. That is a certain way to take ownership. The older people should not feel threatened. There is a role and place for everyone under the sun. Elders should become elder statesperson who can provide guidance and ought to begin a succession planning strategy hinged on nurturing younger women and men and opening up the space for them.
Reducing the age for presidential candidates from 40 to 35 is a good start; governors from 35 to 30; members of House of Representatives and State assemblies from 30 to 25. Surely the state houses of assembly can only do better or at worst keep the status quo and write their names in historic gold, but not reverse the National Assembly gain. The ground has shifted beneath us all as we debate what passes for the mundane in other clime – America under Obama, Canada’s Trudeau, more recently Macron of France, and Uganda with a 19 year old female legislator, Proscovia Alengot Oroma. It show that youth being in office is a discourse already transcended. Let us hurry and walk with the rest of the world. #NotTooYoungToRun is a Movement to be taken seriously.
Amina Salihu, a feminist, farmer and philanthropist, writes from Abuja.