Where children stand in policy is reflective of a government’s priorities even to the adult citizens who legitimize their power. Introducing civic education was the right step towards creating political awareness among children, has it accomplished its goal?
My earliest memory of an election was December 2006. I was barely eight years old. The catchy jingles for the gubernatorial elections in 2007 were my reasons for watching the election proceedings where Babatunde Raji Fashola emerged as governor of Lagos State. I memorized a lot of them. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday—that I could predict an election and have my preferred candidate win. I would sit with my parents and their friends, listening to them discuss politics; now armed with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations, I have some understanding about Nigerian and global politics.
As a result of military rule and the leaders in the First Republic, Nigerians practised a form of parochial culture—a subject political culture where the citizenry had little to no say in political activity. This culture continued to affect the way Nigerians participated in politics even after the country became a democratic state in 1999. Nigeria has had six elections since then, yet political participation from her citizens has remained low. Little wonder the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recorded the lowest amount of voter turnout in the 2019 elections. This political cycle however, INEC has recorded the highest number of registered voters ahead of the 2023 general elections, with youths topping the voting population. The #ENDSARS protests of 2020, combined with rising inflation and recurrent attacks by insurgent groups, have served as a catalyst for a participatory political culture among the youths.
CHILDREN’S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AS A PANACEA
In many countries, there is no active political participation for individuals until they are 18 years old; in others, political participation starts at 21 years old. Only a few countries, like Brazil and Ecuador, have their voting ages reduced to 16 years old. As a result, children are not allowed to participate in politics until they are considered adults and are deprived of the opportunity to understand how the political system runs.
The Universal Primary Education program, established in 1976, was handed over to the states during the military era due to funding deficits. The program was reinstated during president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 1999 and enacted into law in 2004; this led to the creation of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).
Civic education was introduced to the school curriculum in 2009, however, it is unclear how much the subject has changed how children in Nigeria think about politics. A 2015 study highlights poor implementation due to a distorted, duplicated, and disorganized curriculum. In the 2009/2010 academic year, the Nigerian government removed history as a subject from primary and secondary school curricula. This was later re-introduced in 2017 but did not commence until the 2018/2019 academic year. The introduction of civic education is a good step towards increased knowledge of politics among children, but it has not accomplished its goal.
Children can be taught about democratic systems. As it affects us daily, concepts and processes can be explained in ways that suit children’s understanding. This may include the use of colours, animation, and pictures to aid their understanding of the nation’s political landscape.
Slovenia is a practical example of encouraging political education and participation among children. The Slovenian Children’s Parliament has been active since 1990. Every year, more than 100 students from each school visit the National Assembly Chamber of the Republic of Slovenia to discuss topics selected by the students. This makes it possible for kids to participate in decision-making at all levels, both locally and internationally, giving them a voice to speak fairly.
The Nigerian Children’s Parliament, set up in 2015, has been useful in campaigning for the protection of children’s rights, but it is unclear if they have been involved in legislative discussions outside their rights.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Political participation goes beyond elections and voting into the basis on which policy is formed and the global community has made efforts to include children, via impact assessment, into public policy processes.
In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and in 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC). Nigeria signed and subsequently ratified this on July 23, 2003.
The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 protects children and specifies the duties and obligations of the government, parents, and other authorities. The act transfers a duty of care on parents, but we barely think of how political decisions affect them. As of 2022, the act had been domesticated in 34 out of Nigeria’s 36 states.
According to the Act:
Every parent, guardian, institution, person and authority responsible for the care, maintenance, upbringing, education, training, socialization, employment and rehabilitation of a child has the duty to provide the necessary guidance, discipline, education, and training for the child in his or its care such as will equip the child to secure his assimilation, appreciation and observance of the responsibilities set out in this part of the Act.
Children’s rights offer us an essential tool in supporting legal and policy change. Where they stand in policy is reflective of a government’s priorities even to the adult citizens who legitimize their power. These policies include education, health, access to social services, and safety.
In Nigeria, UNICEF data says there are about 107.8 million children with 20 million currently out of school. In 2021, over 850,000 children were recorded to have died under the age of five and in 2022, when 83,000 Boko Haram members surrendered to the Nigerian Army—41,000 of them were children soldiers.
An indication of a fault in our policies include the continued abductions of schoolchildren since 2014, and the surrounding security concerns that now keep children away from their education. Nigeria’s future depends on how well children are treated today and whether they will grow up in conditions that allow them to thrive and excel.
If charity begins at home, parents should engage their children in civic-minded discussions and listen to their thoughts after substantial interaction. What is the essence of teaching if there are no worthy examples?⎈
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