Today has been proclaimed as International
Literacy Day by the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO). But with close to 40
million illiterates, should Nigeria join in the
celebration?
Salamatu, a petty trader in her mid-forties,
married to a chicken seller in Sokoto, where
the adult literacy rate is as low as 22%, has
never seen the four walls of a classroom.
Neither have any of her seven children. She
feels she is too old to attend a conventional
school but would not mind any literacy
centre, the problem is there isn’t any such
thing in the community she lives.
There are over 40 million ‘Salamatus’ in
Nigeria who are not literate. The 2010
National Literacy Survey conducted by the
National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says that
close to half (47.4%) of the illiterate
population would like to attain the status of
a literate person. But presently only an
estimated 500,000 are enrolled in literacy
classes.
So with Nigeria facing the challenges of a
huge illiterate population, lack of access and
lack of commitment on the part of most
state governments, the question is should
she also celebrate the International Literacy
Day today?
September 8 has been proclaimed as
International Literacy Day by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO). The event which
aims to highlight the importance of literacy
to individuals, communities and societies
has been celebrated across the world since
1965. The theme for this year’s celebration
is: Literacy for Peace. The theme calls all
UNESCO member countries to invest in
literacy in a bid to promote peaceful
coexistence and democratic culture.
In Nigeria adult literacy rate is about
56.9%with huge variations between states
(Lagos 80.5 (literacy in English) 87.7
(Literacy in any Language) and Yobe
24.2(literacy in English) and 48.9 (literacy in
any Language). Other states where literacy
rates are very low particularly in English
include: Jigawa 26.1%, Kano 27.8%, Katsina
27.5% and Zamfara 26.2%.
This low level of literacy has translated to
high level of poverty, ignorance, diseases,
insecurity and a non-virile democratic
practice because people cannot vote
effectively.
Nigeria now chairs the E-9 countries, which
are countries that account for more than 50
per cent of the world’s population and have
the highest number of illiterates. Other
members include Bangladesh,Brazil, China,
Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico and
Pakistan. We are also at risk of not meeting
Education For All (EFA) by 2015.
States have been blamed for not living up to
their statutory responsibility of educating
their indigenes. Executive Secretary of the
National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult
Education and Non-Formal Education (NMEC)
Jubrin Yusuf Paiko in a previously published
interview with said the major concern is
facilitators. Paiko said people are looking for
access but it cannot come without
availability of facilitators.
The minimum benchmark states are
supposed to pay facilitators is N7, 500 but
not many states are complying.
“Even some are paying as low as N2,000
per month and they are not regular. Without
the teachers, there would be no centres,
without the centres there would be no
learners,” he said.
Minister of state for education Barrister
Nyesom Wike at a ministerial press briefing
to flag off the International Literacy Day in
Abuja said most states do not have
education as a priority.
“It is not building roads, it is not building
things that would not affect the
development of a state. They are important
but comparatively without those who are
educated how would all these things be
maintained? When you educate people,
development is bound to come,” he said.
The mass literacy commission has also been
heavily criticized for underperformance.
Some stakeholders have advocated it be
scrapped or merged with the Universal
Basic Education Commission (UBEC). But
whereas, UBEC which deals with basic
education (Nigeria has 10million out of
school children) enjoys 2% of the
Consolidated Revenue running into several
billions of naira, NMEC which is contending
with more than 40millionilliterates got a
paltry sum of N82mthis year as envelope
from the Federal Ministry of Education.
The commission has policy documents such
as guidelines for setting up literacy centres,
curricula for out-of-schoolboys, integrated
Quran schools, girl child and adolescent girls
and adult and youth education. But it can do
little with poor funding from federal
government and less support from the
states.
On the issue of funding, Paiko said, “The
challenge is more on our part than theirs
but they (UBEC) have the funds. I know the
ministers are trying to see how the NMEC &
UBEC Acts can be amended to see that
certain funds go to adult literacy since
states are not accessing. Why not federal
government continues with its own
responsibilities by taking care of NMEC, UBEC
and Nomadic education.”
But the Minister’s stand is that funding can
never be enough and what matters is what
is done with the little given. He also said the
ministry’s position is that NMEC remains.
“The mere fact that people have not
performed does not call for the abolition of
an agency. The agency was set up to
perform a certain function and you cannot
say it is not relevant. The present leadership
of this agency has been able to make some
progress.
As for funding, education is under the
concurrent list. What federal government
ought to be doing is making policies to give
direction so states can implement and
intervene. There is no part of this world
where funding has not been a problem but
let’s start with the N1bn government has
given and regular budgetary system.”
Last year, federal government released
N1bn seed money in trust of UNESCO for the
Revitalizing Adult and Youth Literacy
programme in Nigeria. The programme
which should eventually attract about
N12bn to achieve its objectives of making
about40million Nigerians literate between
now and 2015 is yet to start.
Within the period when federal government
gave UNESCO the fund and now, federal
government started and is almost
completing the construction of 100 Almajiri
schools under the Almajiri Education
Programme.
Why the delay? Wike said the programme
has experienced some delay because it did
not have possession of the funds and the
project was been handled by UNESCO which
is bringing its technical expertise and
knowledge.
UNESCO Country Representative Dr. Joseph
Ngu said the programme only came on
stream May last year and it was delayed
because of the UN bomb blast but a
strategic framework has been launched.
“We have to develop the framework, agree
with Nigeria what is going to be
implemented and who is going to be
responsible for what. It is a logical
framework that has been done and we are
really on track to implement it. We do not
want to misuse resources so that by 2015
we would have made a dent in the number
of those people that are currently illiterate,”
Ngu said.
But in the one and half years since
President Goodluck Jonathan’s
administration came on board has literacy
improved? “We cannot say since we came
in 20 or30% Nigerian adults are more
literate but we have been able to plan and
the agreement we have with UNESCO is a
foundation,” the Minister answered.
The Federal Ministry of Education has said it
would ensure that the programme is
“effectively and successfully implemented.”
So should Nigeria celebrate the International
Literacy Day? Yes, if it would serve as a
reminder to states, local governments, non-
governmental organisations and other
Nigerians that literacy can bring liberty
from poverty and ignorance.

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