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International Literacy Day: Where Stands Nigeria? By Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

September 10, 2012

As the world celebrated International Literacy Day on Saturday, September 8, 2012, it presented another golden opportunity for us as a nation to carry out an introspection of our standing and see how far we have fared vis-à-vis other nations in bringing enlightenment to, and fostering knowledge and skills acquisition among, ourselves.

While pundits are agreed that literacy is much wider and more comprehensive than the mere ability to read and write, there seems to be no unanimity as to the exact definition of it. In addition to reading and writing competencies, the term extends, but is not limited to, the continued acquisition of the diverse critical life skills desirable for a meaningful existence in the stiffly competitive, creativity-driven and knowledge-based milieu of the 21st century.

The theme of the 2012 International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Peace”. How apt the theme is to the contemporary unrests in many regions of the world, Nigeria inclusive! The nexus between literacy and security is a very strong one. Both are not merely crucial to our existence and continued survival as humans, they complement each other. Think of literacy thriving in a clime characterized by civil strife, wanton criminality and gross escalation of insecurity and you’d see its possibility only in fiction books or dreams. It isn’t just improbable. It’s outright impossible! You have to be alive and safe before you’ll learn or nurture educational or self-improvement ambitions.

How many times have schools in Borno State – the hotbed of the BH – been shut down and students sent home to waste away all because a terrorist group decides to hang chaos in the air like the sword of Damocles? How many youth corps members were redeployed to other states and how many libraries, media resource centres, literacy clubs and continuing education initiatives were suspended or wholly truncated?  We’ve lost the count, so we’d say numerous!

By the same token, and perhaps more important, the weight lent to security and communal tranquility by education is of immense significance. Education liberates, it polishes the mind, personality and character of its possessor. It is a treasure, empowering and giving man a chain of reasons to live, and live responsibly, not leading a life of criminality.  It teaches the gains and beauty of human diversity and gives its possessor the courage to not just tolerate the viewpoints of others, but also respect them, without necessarily accepting them. Such a robust respect for humanity must surely strengthen peaceful coexistence. That education is a bulwark of security and societal stability explains why the northern region of Nigeria, by far the least literate region, keeps hosting tribal, political and religious feuds.

It is clear that literacy is a Millennium Development Goal (MDG). But what is not commonplace is its primacy over the other MDGs. It forms the basis, the stepping stone to the attainment of all other lofty objectives constituting the MDGs. Whether it’s the reduction of infant or maternal mortality, the realization of gender balance and fairness, the eradication of extreme poverty or fostering sustainable development and peace, literacy and vigorous enlightenment are key requirements.

The Director General of the UNESCO, Irina Bokova said it quite beautifully. “Education brings sustainability to all the development goals…” This justifies why UNESCO deems literacy a basic human right.

In sharp contrast to this, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) regards literacy, including basic education, as a mere privilege, not a right, for the teeming populace. Section 18 provides that “Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and…shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c ) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme.” (Emphasis mine)

Lamentably, section 6(6)(c) of the same constitution makes it impossible to enforce the above provisions in any court of law. Too bad! Even if we assume it could be judicially enforced, the widely ambiguous phrase “as and when practicable” remains a veritable pretext for Nigerian policy makers – with their track record of transactional leadership style and expertise at playing to the gallery – never to pursue any serious literacy programme.

Having said the above, it is not to be assumed that the governments at various levels have done nothing to improve literacy. I reckon that the recent establishment of Almajiri Model School, the provision of free basic education in some states, free vocational trainings in Lagos and some other state, etc., are all laudable initiatives to lift the flag of literacy further up on the mast. Some private bodies, NGOs and right groups are also helping to oil the wheel of the vehicle of literacy in the country.

But all those feats aren’t enough, they can be surpassed. This is imperative if Nigeria must meet, or get close to meeting, her target of reducing illiteracy by 50% between 2000 and 2015. Barely 3 years to the set date, literacy for all – children, youth and adults, able-bodied and challenged – remains a grossly unmet goal with a recent national literacy survey done by the National Bureau of Statistics estimating adult illiteracy rate in Nigeria to be 56.9%. This means that approximately 70% of Nigerians are illiterates.  This is alarming granted that the world over, the illiteracy rate is about 20%.

Lest we forget, the responsibility of attaining the literacy goals is a shared one. No single entity – government, literacy organizations or individuals can successfully shoulder it. All hands must be on deck and all stakeholders must play meaningful complementary roles. Government should embark on better legislation, improved funding and transparent implementation of the relevant policies. Literacy groups and other NGOs should increase their activism, mobilization and outreach. Private individuals too should continuously improve the self, donate and volunteer to assist others and regard knowledge acquisition and skills honing as a life-long process.

Lest we forget, the road is still far, the terrain rough, the time short and the resources scarce. But the goals are quite lofty; they’re well worth the colossal sacrifice. I shall play my part. What about you?

*Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin is a Nigerian freelance writer, writing tutor and the CEO of Naija Writers’ Coach. He blogs at www.NaijaWritersCoach.wordpress.com
 

As the world celebrated International Literacy Day on Saturday, September 8, 2012, it presented another golden opportunity for us as a nation to carry out an introspection of our standing and see how far we have fared vis-à-vis other nations in bringing enlightenment to, and fostering knowledge and skills acquisition among, ourselves.

While pundits are agreed that literacy is much wider and more comprehensive than the mere ability to read and write, there seems to be no unanimity as to the exact definition of it. In addition to reading and writing competencies, the term extends, but is not limited to, the continued acquisition of the diverse critical life skills desirable for a meaningful existence in the stiffly competitive, creativity-driven and knowledge-based milieu of the 21st century.

The theme of the 2012 International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Peace”. How apt the theme is to the contemporary unrests in many regions of the world, Nigeria inclusive! The nexus between literacy and security is a very strong one. Both are not merely crucial to our existence and continued survival as humans, they complement each other. Think of literacy thriving in a clime characterized by civil strife, wanton criminality and gross escalation of insecurity and you’d see its possibility only in fiction books or dreams. It isn’t just improbable. It’s outright impossible! You have to be alive and safe before you’ll learn or nurture educational or self-improvement ambitions.

How many times have schools in Borno State – the hotbed of the BH – been shut down and students sent home to waste away all because a terrorist group decides to hang chaos in the air like the sword of Damocles? How many youth corps members were redeployed to other states and how many libraries, media resource centres, literacy clubs and continuing education initiatives were suspended or wholly truncated?  We’ve lost the count, so we’d say numerous!


By the same token, and perhaps more important, the weight lent to security and communal tranquility by education is of immense significance. Education liberates, it polishes the mind, personality and character of its possessor. It is a treasure, empowering and giving man a chain of reasons to live, and live responsibly, not leading a life of criminality.  It teaches the gains and beauty of human diversity and gives its possessor the courage to not just tolerate the viewpoints of others, but also respect them, without necessarily accepting them. Such a robust respect for humanity must surely strengthen peaceful coexistence. That education is a bulwark of security and societal stability explains why the northern region of Nigeria, by far the least literate region, keeps hosting tribal, political and religious feuds.

It is clear that literacy is a Millennium Development Goal (MDG). But what is not commonplace is its primacy over the other MDGs. It forms the basis, the stepping stone to the attainment of all other lofty objectives constituting the MDGs. Whether it’s the reduction of infant or maternal mortality, the realization of gender balance and fairness, the eradication of extreme poverty or fostering sustainable development and peace, literacy and vigorous enlightenment are key requirements.

The Director General of the UNESCO, Irina Bokova said it quite beautifully. “Education brings sustainability to all the development goals…” This justifies why UNESCO deems literacy a basic human right.

In sharp contrast to this, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) regards literacy, including basic education, as a mere privilege, not a right, for the teeming populace. Section 18 provides that “Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and…shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c ) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme.” (Emphasis mine)

Lamentably, section 6(6)(c) of the same constitution makes it impossible to enforce the above provisions in any court of law. Too bad! Even if we assume it could be judicially enforced, the widely ambiguous phrase “as and when practicable” remains a veritable pretext for Nigerian policy makers – with their track record of transactional leadership style and expertise at playing to the gallery – never to pursue any serious literacy programme.

Having said the above, it is not to be assumed that the governments at various levels have done nothing to improve literacy. I reckon that the recent establishment of Almajiri Model School, the provision of free basic education in some states, free vocational trainings in Lagos and some other state, etc., are all laudable initiatives to lift the flag of literacy further up on the mast. Some private bodies, NGOs and right groups are also helping to oil the wheel of the vehicle of literacy in the country.

But all those feats aren’t enough, they can be surpassed. This is imperative if Nigeria must meet, or get close to meeting, her target of reducing illiteracy by 50% between 2000 and 2015. Barely 3 years to the set date, literacy for all – children, youth and adults, able-bodied and challenged – remains a grossly unmet goal with a recent national literacy survey done by the National Bureau of Statistics estimating adult illiteracy rate in Nigeria to be 56.9%. This means that approximately 70% of Nigerians are illiterates.  This is alarming granted that the world over, the illiteracy rate is about 20%.

Lest we forget, the responsibility of attaining the literacy goals is a shared one. No single entity – government, literacy organizations or individuals can successfully shoulder it. All hands must be on deck and all stakeholders must play meaningful complementary roles. Government should embark on better legislation, improved funding and transparent implementation of the relevant policies. Literacy groups and other NGOs should increase their activism, mobilization and outreach. Private individuals too should continuously improve the self, donate and volunteer to assist others and regard knowledge acquisition and skills honing as a life-long process.

Lest we forget, the road is still far, the terrain rough, the time short and the resources scarce. But the goals are quite lofty; they’re well worth the colossal sacrifice. I shall play my part. What about you?

*Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin is a Nigerian freelance writer, writing tutor and the CEO of Naija Writers’ Coach. He blogs at www.NaijaWritersCoach.wordpress.com

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