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Checking Illiteracy in Nigeria

Suddenly, she remembered that her cheque had to be filled and signed. A big problem: she could neither read nor write! She beckons to another…

Suddenly, she remembered that her cheque had to be filled and signed. A big problem: she could neither read nor write!

She beckons to another young customer, saying in Pidgin English: “My pickin, I wan beg you make you helep me fill this cheque for me. My pickin wey de fill am for me don go back to school.’’

Other customers watched the drama in astonishment, as they could not imagine how such a lady could be illiterate. Similar incidents occur every time and everywhere in Nigeria, a country that has produced intellectual giants who are widely recognised at home and abroad.

Illiteracy has been variously described as a serious disease that eats deep into a society’s fabric.  Its effect is devastating to the socio-economic life of any society.

It is on record that Nigeria, with a population of over 140 million, has produced many renowned, accomplished and globally recognised intellectuals.

Such scholars include Prof. Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate; Prof. Chinua Achebe, a literary icon; Prof. Phillip Emeagwali, a computer scientist globally acclaimed as the “father of the Internet’’, and Prof Gabriel Oyibo, a distinguished mathematician, amongst others.

The scholastic achievements of these Nigerians notwithstanding, observers insist that Nigeria has yet to be free from the scourge of illiteracy as some gaps still exist in its literacy profile.

Mr Pascal Bafyau, the Chairman of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, concedes that the Federal Government is aware of Nigeria’s “not-too-encouraging” literacy profile and is determined to address the missing links.

Reflecting on the challenge of illiteracy, the former Minister of State for Education, Hajiya Aishatu Dukku, regrets that over 46 million Nigerians are illiterate, adding that about 60 per cent of them are women.

Dukku insists that government alone cannot address the problem, urging all the citizens to get involved in the crusade against illiteracy. “The eradication of illiteracy in Nigeria is an enormous task; all Nigerians must come together to fight it. “We know that the greatest challenge any nation can face is how to contend with a large number of illiterates, as this affects the citizens’ health and the nation’s economic and technological advancement,” she says.

Dukku stresses the need to address the menace of illiteracy frontally if Nigeria’s aspiration to become one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020 will not turn out to be mirage.

Besides, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar gives a hint on the national distribution of illiterates, saying at a recent public function that a greater percentage of this class of hapless Nigerians comes from the northern part of the country.

Educationists have blamed the prevalence of illiteracy in the country on a number of factors, while most of them agree that poverty is the major cause of the problem.

Mahmuda Abdulsalami, 45, is a roadside mechanic in Lafia, Nasarawa State. He recalls that his ambition as a young school pupil was to become a university-trained mechanical engineer.

Abdulsalami, however, laments that his childhood dream to become an engineer was aborted by the lack of wherewithal to fund his education.

“I lost my parents at a very tender age and there was no assistance from any quarter. That explains why I am where I am today as a roadside mechanic in Lafia.

“Although I thank God for what I have achieved as a roadside mechanic, my greatest regret, however, is that I cannot read nor write,” he says. This is not to suggest that government is unmindful of the dire consequences of illiteracy, as governments at all levels have been making tangible efforts to tackle the problem by investing massively in the education sector.

Recently, stakeholders in the education sector met in Abuja under the aegis of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education to look at ways of addressing the increasing menace of illiteracy. Bafyau says that pivotal role of education in empowering people and fostering national development is never in doubt.

Bafyau says that the commission will step up the mass literacy campaign by organising workshops and advocacy programmes so as to sensitise state governors, education commissioners, council chairmen and other stakeholders to their expectations in the crusade.

The ultimate aim of the new approach, he adds, is to encourage the decision makers to contribute more to efforts to wipe out illiteracy in the country.

“The commission is also developing a Non-Formal Education Data Base and will soon provide a website for Non-Formal Education Management System to facilitate the collection of data for planning and budgeting purposes,” he says. However, it is pertinent to note that the Federal Government this year inaugurated the “Literacy-by-Radio Broadcast’’ that would cover all the states and the FCT.  The government has spent about N96 million on the project, which is part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Analysts believe that the “Literacy-by-Radio Broadcast’’ is a potent tool for accomplishing the mass literacy drive because of the capacity of the radio to reach all the nooks and crannies of the country.

At the end of the commission’s workshop, each of the country’s 774 local government councils left the venue with 100 radio sets to boost the mass literacy campaign in their respective domains.

Bafyau says that the commission has conducted training for its lead trainers, assistant trainers, radio producers, technical crew and “Literacy-by-Radio Broadcast’’ facilitators across the country.

For Dukku and many other observers, literacy is a major panacea to the scourge of poverty, environmental hazards and social problems of violence and prostitution. They, therefore, urge the commission to take decisive steps to promote literacy and wipe out illiteracy in the country. (NANFeatures)

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