A recent UNICEF report reveals that no fewer than 40 million Nigerians are illiterate, implying that nearly half of the adult population in the country can neither read nor write.
Observers say the report is worrisome in spite of the huge investment in the education sector by successive administrations at federal, state and local levels.
A 2005 report by the National Empowerment Development Strategy puts Nigeria’s literacy rate at 57 per cent.
The report reveals that the country’s literacy declined from the 64.1 per cent in 1999 and the 71.9 per cent in 1991.
Besides, a 2006 survey by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that 46.7 per cent of Nigerians are purely illiterate while 53.3 per cent are literate in the use of the English language.
A breakdown of the study, which used 15 years as “adult age,” shows that 61.3 per cent of the literate population is male and 45.3 per cent is female.
The study shows that the highest literacy level is in the South East geo-political zone with adult literacy figure of 73.5 per cent.
The South West and South-South geo-political zones share second position with 70.4 per cent; the North-Central literacy level is put at 53.5 per cent, while the North West is the lowest with only 23.2 per cent of literate adult population.
According to the survey, Nigeria’s adult male literacy is 31.0 per cent with 15.4 per cent female literacy.
Yet, another report by UNICEF shows that more than 10 million Nigerian children of school age are not in school.
The report indicates that most of them are either hawking or doing some menial jobs to make ends meet, stating that 6.2 million of the out-of-school children are girls while 3.8 million are boys.
Dr Joseph Ngu, UNESCO Country Representative, corroborates these figures at a roundtable to mark the 2012 International Literacy Day held recently in Abuja.
He holds the view that Nigeria is one of the countries among the E9 countries where education is a problem and the only one in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
However, a recent survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics has put the adult literacy rate in the country at 56.9 per cent.
The report ranks Lagos State as having the highest literacy rate of 88 per cent with Yobe having the lowest of 14 per cent.
Giving further breakdown of the figure, the report puts the urban literacy rate at 75 per cent and 48 per cent for the rural areas.
Nonetheless, statistics from the Federal Ministry of Education indicates that more than 500,000 of the 40 million adult illiterates had been enrolled in adult education classes.
It reveals that only 450,000 out of the 3.4 million nomadic school age children have access to formal education in the country and school enrolment in some states is as low as 12 per cent.
To reverse this, the UN Office in Nigeria says it is rolling out a three-year project tagged “Revitalising Adult and Youth Literacy’’.
The project hopes to reduce the number of illiterate population in Nigeria “even if it is only four to six million people’’.
Besides, the Federal Government says it is setting aside more than N1 billion to revitalise adult and youth literacy education in the country.
Daouda Toure, the Resident Coordinator, UN System in Nigeria, said that the funds would be self-benefitting funds-in- trust to be domiciled with UNESCO.
He said that the project aimed to accelerate national efforts to achieve Education For All (EFA) Goals 3 and 4 with emphasis on skills development to empower individual and communities to reduce poverty.
Toure urged the Federal Government to work with other stakeholders in the implementation of literacy project.
He said that such would be a prelude to the creation of a prosperous and peaceful Nigeria to enhance development.
Mr Rashid Aderinoye, Deputy Executive Secretary with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), urged education authorities to create machineries that would integrate peace education in schools’ curricula.
Aderinoye said the integration of peace education in the curricula would help to reduce the number of violence in the country.
He called on teachers to be exposed to orientation that would empower them to promote peaceful relationship in schools as well as outside the school.
However, stakeholders believe that raising the literacy level in the country will remain a mirage unless concrete measures are put in place to produce adequate and qualified teachers in the country.
Prof. Muhammed Junaid, Executive Secretary, National Commission for Colleges of Education, shares similar sentiments.
He says Nigeria requires 1.3 million teachers to bridge the shortage of teachers in the country and it will take the country 20 years to do that.
However, Imam Ibrahim Aminu, an Islamic cleric in Dutse, Jigawa, holds a contrary opinion on the literacy rating.
He argues that the rating is misleading as majority of Nigerians are literate in Arabic and local languages.
“In the pre-colonial era, we have well established educational structures in place; schools were set up providing education to the people.
“The schools were teaching various disciplines ranging from theology, philosophy, medicine, literature, astronomy, among others.
“And in our present day societies, more than 99 per cent of Muslims know how to read and write in their mother tongue and Arabic language.
So, it a misrepresentation to conclude that there is high illiteracy rate in Nigeria.
Also Alhaji Kabiru Hambali, a special education lecturer at the Jigawa School for Special Education, says the literacy statistics is exaggerated.
Nonetheless, observers say that no society can develop without education; a constitutional right of every citizen.
They say the bottom line is to raise literacy level, and it is the responsibility of government, parents, non-governmental organisations and development partners to play their roles.
Adamu is with NAN.