The growing power of young people [infographic]

World map showing median ages in countries (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the youngest regions in the world, with many countries experiencing a so-called “youth bulge.” In fact, 28 of the 30 countries with the youngest median age are in Africa.

While the effects of a largely youthful population can vary, the growing majorities of young people — in Africa and elsewhere — will undoubtedly have a strong impact on their societies.

Nigeria, ranked number 16 among the world’s top 30 “youth bulge” countries, is a case in point. According to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, the country’s young adults (defined as people between 18 and 35) make up 63 percent of its eligible voting population.

Youth voters in Nigeria — it’s their turn now

Map showing median age ranges in African countries (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

Young people can provide “vitality, freshness and amazing energy to the political life, political drama and political process of a country,” said Daryl Zizwe Poe, a professor of history, political science and philosophy at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, Poe traveled to Nigeria for the U.S. Department of State and met with a cross section of Nigerian youth to talk about the importance of political and civic engagement.

The median age in Nigeria is 18, and young Nigerians collectively form their country’s largest voting bloc, so Poe was curious to hear their thoughts on shaping their country’s future.

With Nigeria’s national elections scheduled for 2019, there is growing excitement among young Nigerians, who are eligible to vote at 18. But “inevitably, the euphoria of [voter] participation … will wear off,” and yet if the lives of ordinary citizens are not improved by elected officials, the public mood can sour, Poe said.

In 2017, Nigeria’s Senate responded to the country’s changing demographics by lowering the age requirements for candidates for president (from 40 to 35) and for governorship positions (from 35 to 30), so younger Nigerians will have opportunities for senior leadership roles.

Activists who support higher levels of youth engagement in Nigeria’s political process are “hopeful and energetic,” Poe said. “They are the group that appears to be poised for leading a new era of democratic participation.”