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Too Young To Run?

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PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

When I was either 5, 6 or about 7 years old, my parents always said if you were among a few friends and one of them suggested we all did something that I knew was wrong, or could get me into some serious trouble, I should run away very fast like I stole something. The ‘like I stole something’ part was my dad – he’s funny like that. In other words, I should get away from there very fast – I was not too young to run from that situation.

During the course of speaking with thousands of youths whom I have met across the 15 countries I have visited, one of the things young girls who are either 14, 16, or even 19 years old always say is that they get distracted from school by people who are older, asking them to do silly things in exchange for new iPhones 9 (especially in South Africa – the men are called Blessers), or for designer clothes – which they would quickly outgrow.

I told them what my parents shared with me that they should also get away from there very fast – in other words, they are not too young to run! We are now in the festive season, which is always colorful, but in Nigeria, it is also another season. One of the phrases that became a bill signed into Law earlier in the year, was the “Not Too Young To Run Bill”.

Can you just imagine if I was crazy enough to say hey, I want to run for some office in February or March next year – doesn’t matter which one. The comments would just flow, but the loudest, would be perhaps – “You are just 16, stay in school, finish university, get some experience, go back to University, get even more experience, and then maybe, maybe then, you should think about running.”

I would be about 29 by then.

I thought – what would my response be? I guess my answer would be yes. I have zero experience in government; at least, I think that’s an advantage. But here is what I learned about the power of resilience, determination, and fighting hard for what I believe in when I sat down with Presidents Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ellen Johnson Searleaf of Liberia, and Kolinda Kitoravich of Croatia to share my ideas for a simple global Girls Education policy.

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan told me when we met at the AU about the difficulty of finding consensus – even though I didn’t like the violence in his country. I learned about compassion from President Jakaya Kikwete in Tanzania and President Hage Geingob in Namibia, when they showed me what they were doing for Education in their countries, with very little budget.

In Washington DC, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to me about how hard it can be to galvanise two factions, when they have become proxy warriors for others. I saw determination to fight for their people in the face of climate change when I sat down at various times with the leaders of Jamaica, St Kits & Nevis, Samoa, Tuvalu, St Vincent & Grenadines, and Vanuatu at the UN, also the Prime Minister of Fiji, who was the President of the COP 23 in Bonn – Germany.

President Uhuru Kenyatta told me about the changes in his country’s investment climate in government companies like Kenya Airways, and how it would help employment. President David Granger of Guyana explained the difficulty and fears of conflict because Venezuela was getting ready to invade his country over the disputed Essequibo Oil territory. In June this year, President Nana Akuffo Addo talked to me being a young film maker, about his film location for Ghana project, to attract Film makers from Hollywood. Last month, I met my first Arab leader – President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Egypt, and he spoke about the power of youth, because he recognizes the role youths can play.

Each of the 29 world leaders I met have showed me, and taught me priceless and very important real examples – not theory, real examples about what they are doing, their challenges, and their mistakes, so I don’t make them myself.

Let me ask – Am I too young to run? You tell me.


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