"Catch them while they’re young" is a phrase we are well familiar with.
Kids may not possess the cognitive ability to understand political systems, but they are well aware of issues of justice and fairness. Whether theirs is a politically inclined family or not, some kids just have a sense of issues and competition and structure. While some seem to have a knack for politics (probably picked up by listening in on conversations), others just want to eat noodles, throw tantrums and sleep the day away.
The average Nigerian kid needs to understand the privileges and responsibilities that come with democracy so that they are ready to become active participants in the political process as adults and what better way to do this than the engaging and age-appropriate ways?
You could start off by asking them to perceive their ideal nation – how the set up would be like, forms of transportation, what type of stores it would have and what kind of community activities would take place. Brainstorming with your kids about what you would like things to be like can be empowering.
Some states and cities in Nigeria have “A day with the Governor” programs, where students can write an essay about policies they would change. The winner then gets to shadow the Governor for the day. An example is Bukola Zoffun a sixteen-year-old senior secondary school pupil of Awodi-Ora Secondary High School Ajegunle, Lagos, who won the grand finale of the Spelling Bee competition, organised by the Ministry of Education in 2017. For older kids, internships may be an option. Most of the time, government internships are only available to students who can live in major cities. The good thing about this idea is that it can be replicated anywhere either at the grassroots level or the national level.
You could also get your kids to email representatives or send them letters on issues they care about. These officials may have never recognized the problem or seen how they could help. Bringing it to their attention could make a difference, big or small. I am very deliberate about starting with local government officials as they are more likely to read your messages and actually listen than national leaders who get thousands of messages a day. The reason why local government engagement is effective is because it is at the heart of a lot of policies that underlie unjust systems. It is also a place you can see personal impact. While calling your state representative or national senator is important, you can rarely see the same level of individual response and even change that you can on the local level.
If you want to go beyond writing letters, you could encourage your kids to speak at town hall meetings or simply just go with them and allow them listen to people speak. They could speak on issues they are passionate about. Some local government councils have town hall meetings regularly, where individuals can comment on issues affecting the community. It is a good practice and experience for public speaking for your kids.
At events, make it a duty to point out elected officials. Tell your kids their names and what they do. Ensure you explain in a way that they can understand. More often than not, government can feel very far away, full of people you may never meet. Helping your kids know that your neighbors make policies makes it more accessible.
There are books with illustrations on responsible citizenship and governance for kids. There is no such thing as the perfect time to involve them in the political process.