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Literacy and Good Governance: the Nigerian Perspective

S R Oyewale

Department of French
Michael Otedola College of Primary education
Noforija-Epe, Lagos State

The latest UNESCO data have shown that seventy per cent of Nigerian chilgren are drop-outs or out of
school. Coupled with this statistics is the fact that up to fifty-four millions of the Nierian population are
illiterate. What could this portray for Nigeria if not some gloomy hope? Could this give some credence to
the assumptions that social deviance, miscreancy, uprysyng could have resulted in the implacable spate
of terrorism spearheaded by boko haram insurbency,

Since the new political dispensation was flagged off in 1999, the political language in circulation would
not have been of a matter of concern if not for its grave implications which have manifested themselves
in terms of before, during and after election chaos, violence and restiveness we have witnessed here
and there on the national territory. If left unchecked to continue, the political language as being used in
Nigeria, could signal doom for the country and plunge her into an abysmal self-annihilation, self-
extermination. The country would either disappear completely as a geo-political entity or fragment into
fragile, febrile, or frail pockets of ethno-religious or ethno-cultural population, who in the long run could
end up fighting one another for supremacy and ultimately destroying one another for flimsy pretexts. In
order to avoid this looming racial Armageddon or Holocaust, language education, reformation and
transformation on the part of the political gladiators and supporters should be sanctified and sanctioned
in the light of the title of this paper: Literacy, Language Education and Good Governance.

What is Literacy?
A layman definition of literacy usually ends thus: ’Ability or proficiency to read, write and understand’.
And the absence or insufficiency of such skill is regarded as ‘ illiteracy’. However, the term has evolved
over the years since its inception, thus it would not amount to a ‘grandiose expose’ of the concept if we
could take the time and pain to explore and exploit its semantic pregnancy along with its related lexical
variations. This would enable us to position the notion in its varied contexts in general, and in its relation
to good governance in particular-which is actually the main theme of this conference.

Literacy in English History

In the history of the English Language, literacy was conceived by the word ‘literate’ which signified ‘be
familiar with literature’ or else ‘well-educated, learned’. As from the 19 th century, the term referred to
‘the abilities to read and write text’, specifically, while broadly, it meant ‘being knowledgeable or
educated, in a particular field or fields’. Since the mid-twentieth century, scholars and researchers have
been able to come up with varied definitions of literacy, which have found their way into academic
disciplines such as psychology, economics, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and history.
So if literacy today is being debated in the fields of language education, and governance, such incursions
should not constitute an exception.

Literacy in French History

The French Language is historically connected to literacy thanks to the contribution of the former to the
evolution of the latter. Etymologically, ‘alphabetisme’ and ‘analphabetisme’ are in French the two
concepts denoting ‘literacy’ and ‘illiteracy’, as ‘alphabetisation’ designates ‘literacy learning’, so to say,
and is used in France to refer to the process of literacy acquisition. Prior to the early 1980s, illiteracy in
France had been an perceived as an issue concerning the immigrant populations from North and sub-
Saharan Africa because of their poor reading and writing skills in French as a second language.

Noteworthy is the observation that the problem of illiteracy not only concerned the African immigrants
but also some French nationals with a regional language such as Basques, Catalans and Bretons.
However in1981, the inadequate reading and writing attributes of the French nationals were
underscored and the development brought about the coining of another term: ’illetrisme’. This was done
so in order to differentiate the poor French with inadequate skills in reading and writing (illetrisme) from
the African immigrants (analphabetisme). Does this act not amount to xenophoby or outright racial

Thus, the concept ‘ illetrisme’ referred to those who had been through part or all of the French primary
school system without gaining adequate skills.

In its dynamic evolution, the term ‘analphabetisme’ (analphabetism or illiteracy) engendered two other
terms of ‘ litteratie’ and ‘litteraties’. The former is a calque of literacy, referring to competences deemed
important to ‘information societies’, corporations, communities or groups and the latter designates

Finally in August 2005, France adopted the concept ‘litterisme’ which refers to the capabilities to read
and understand a simple text, and to use and transmit written information of day to day living.

Literacy as Set of Skills

Literacy is commonly conceived and understood as a set of ’tangible skills’ which are particularly related
to the cognitive domain of learning: these are reading, writing and oral skills, and are independent of the
context in which they are acquired and the background of the person who acquires them. Here, literacy
is perceived as a condition, an instrument for broader societal development, economic growth and
progress as well as the transition from ‘oral’ to ‘literate’ culture (Goody, 1977; Ong, 1982; Olson, 1977 &
1994) as cited by the.........................

Literacy as Numeracy Skills

Numeracy is somehow viewed as either a supplement to the set of skills encompassed by literacy or a
component of literacy itself. Though based on mathematical or numerical education, foundation or
knowledge, proficiency in numeracy is already a facet of literacy, which may dwell on the cognitive or
psychomotor domain, or both. Recent development have portrayed numeracy to be the skill or ability to
‘process, interpret and communicate numerical, quantitative, spatial, statistical and even mathematical
information which is appropriate for a variety of contexts(Box, 6.3) or for more effective participation in
relevant social activities(Evans,2000) as cited by the...................

Literacy as Access to Knowledge and Information

As at today, literacy has assumed a broader, more comprehensive dimension to even relish a
metaphorical meaning. In its semantic evolution, it has sprouted other related skills, applications and
practices such as ‘information literacy’, ‘visual literacy’, ‘media literacy’ and ‘scientific literacy’(OECD).
These skills can be used on their technical applications or critical examinations of the surroundings ( for
instance workplace, hospital or school) in order to for or initiate social change(Hull, 2003)cited by the...
Still, the skills can ‘allow people to express, explore, question, communicate, and understand the flow of
ideas among individuals and groups in quickly changing technological environments’.

Literacy as Practice or Application

Having noted the limitations of literacy as a mere acquisition of skills, scholars ventured further to focus
on ‘the application of these skills in relevant ways’. The application or practice of these skills gave birth to
the concept of ‘functional literacy’. The initial aim in the 60s and 70s was the impact of literacy on socio-
economic development. Thanks to its evolution, functional literacy-otherwise known as literacy as
application or practice-has come to ‘help people move out of ‘local’(illiterate, ignorant, obscure)
positions into fuller economic, social and political participation.

Literacy as Learning Process

Literacy as a learning process is individualised, specific , as acquisition of knowledge by each and
everyone, thirsty for such. This type of literacy goes beyond the formal educational system and concerns
itself with what someone learns and for what. Literacy at this stage takes place outside the school
setting, and can be acquired vocationally, manually or observationally-including traditional methods of
learning like apprenticeship. In sum, literacy becomes a learning process for an urgent need or demand,
a necessity so to say.

Literacy as text
Here, literacy is perceived as-not the method, process, or the practice or application of learning- but the
ontological nature of the notion itself, i.e. ‘the subject matter’. This is what could be referred to as
‘textual literacy’ or ‘texture of literacy’. In other words, it is the corpus including ‘the subject matter and
the nature of the texts that are produced and consumed by literate individuals’. Besides, texts vary in
subject and genre (prose, poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction), by complexity of the language used and by
ideological content (simple, philosophical, psychological, canonical, technological).

Literacy as oracy
Oracy is smartly coined from literacy, and constitutes a complimentary part of it (literacy). It may as well
be said ‘orality’ or oral expression. It is the foremost skill one acquires naturally as a result of
socialisation right within the family circle. Charles Bally ( ) calls it the ‘spontaneous language’.
Incidentally, quite a number of languages have no written but only oral form which could jeopardise
their sustenance, thus their survival (many African languages fall within that category). So, taking into
account oral competence skills has important consequences for securing benefits from the literacy
programme. In term of numeracy, for example, many adult learners already know oral counting and
some mathematical structures, and have an art of mental arithmetic more or less adequate for their
daily life. Such skills can just be built upon to enliven their literacy deficiencies (Archer and Cottingham,

Literacy, from its inception through its evolution, has offered a wide range of conceptions and
perceptions. This is a commendation with a view to avoiding a semantic monopoly and permeating a
likely democratic selection for its application in any context or situation it suits one’s desire or need.
Before dropping the anchor on literacy and its variations-in order not to overflog the issue-we would like
to bring to the notice of all that literacy is now institutionalised (UN and NGOs), regionalised (Africa, Asia
and South America), and even nationalised (Brazil, India, Kenya). So, we look forward to ‘nigerianising’
the notion of literacy- just for Nigerians and by Nigerians, and from the Homeland Nigeria.

Communication as literacy of context

What literacy concerns us out of the types or forms discussed above? Within the context of governance,
the type of literacy, which is relevant here, is undoubtedly that of communication which deals with
language usage , application or manifestation. Literacy as communication encompasses a bit, a part or
some aspects or features of all the types already mentioned. Contextually, literacy is a set of
communication skills which basically are: listening, speaking, reading and writing. In relation to literacy
and governance, what people listen to, speak, read and write, ultimately affects political activities for
good or for bad. Governance is practised all over the world, and its resultant effects are obviously
influenced by people’s reactions to social, political and economic information they are awashed with,
through listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Effective and efficient communication requires some exigencies, demands or conditions. As Alo, cited by
Adewole-Orimogunje (2009,171) puts it, communication competence is concerned with the knowledge
and ability which speakers need to possess in order to use language appropriately in communicative
situations. Still, Adewole—Orimogunje (ibid, 171) informs us of the requirements for such competence in

Canale (1983) identifies four components of communicative competence

as-grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse
competence and strategic competence. Grammatical competence which
embraces the knowledge of linguistic forms enables the language user to
produce well-formed sentences and utterances. Sociolinguistic competence
has to do with the mastery of socio-cultural rules which determine how utterances
are produced and understood in different situations. Discourse competence
deals with the mastery of the principles combining grammatical forms and
meanings in order to produce coherent and cohesive text in spoken and
written discourse. It is the ability to manipulate language to achieve specific
As to strategic competence, again, by Canale and cited by Alo (2003,119), it has to do with:

The mastery of verbal and nonverbal communicative strategies that

may be called into action for two main reasons: (a) to compensate for
breakdown in communication due to limiting conditions in actual
communication (...) or to insufficient competence in one or more of
the areas of competence, and (b) to enhance the effectiveness of

Noteworthy among the ‘ four components of communicative competence’ is the sociolinguistic

competence as it is intimately related to the topic of our discussion for its affective, emotional,
psychological attribute: ‘ how utterances are produced’ by politicians and followers goes a long way to
arousing or dousing political tensions in a given situation. What is said and how it is said is of importance
in a political situation for as the adage says in French:’ Walls do have ears too’, a submission that
utterances are not immuned from misinterpretation.

Literacy and Language

In the scope of literacy as communication, what relationship does language entertain with the concept?
What do people need, if not language, to communicate? So, literacy cannot dissociate itself from
language since the latter is the vehicle for transporting and transmitting ideas, knowledge and
information within the human societal circles. As Ogunsina (2009,1) rightly says:

Language is made up of letters and words and is a property of the human society
which gives identity to a group and interacts with every aspect of human life. It is
the chief instrument of effective communication. Language is not just a vehicle
for transporting ideas, it is often times, the very chamber that generates those

And as if to buttress what has just been said about literacy as communication and language, Sapir
(1963,8) as cited by Ogunsiji ( 2009,29), affirms that language is “ a purely human and non-instinctive
method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols”.

Literacy and Education

Education can be defined as a system, a programme, if not, an activity, an operation aimed at dispensing
or acquire knowledge, competence with a view to socialising, cutting a niche in the social strata or
institutions. Its relevance to literacy as communication is not far-fetched: education is communicated
through language, and this indeed is the intrinsic link between the two concepts.

Literacy and Literature

Literacy and literature embody in common two features or characteristics: they both possess oral and
written forms. Thus, there are written literacy and oral literacy as well as written literature and oral
literature. The two terms look like twin lexis, and this could engender some ambiguity in meaning. As a
result, there is need to opt for the lexico-semantic digest of the duo. Before dwelling on the union or
otherwise of literacy and literature, let us lend a listening ear to Ogunsina (2009, 2-3) about literature:

Literature is a virile vehicle of human expression, which seeks to investigate man.

It attempts to investigate man’s behaviour in society, his knowledge of himself, and
the universe in which he finds himself...It also reacts on society as it attempts to criticise,
oppose, uphold, shape the views shared by members of the society (especially the ruling
class ), views about the world, about man, and about the society. By this the social order,
and ideals of the society are both maintained and changed.

Literacy is a way of extracting information, knowledge, and ideas from literature, especially via reading
and listening, since these two attributes are pertinent to information collection and evaluation for
valuable utilisation. By this, literacy and literature has got a close link.

Like literacy as communication, literature communicates to man and with man. Scholes et al (2002,
xxvii), as cited by Oghuan (2009, 83), admit that literature

enriches our lives because it increases our capacities for understanding and
communication. It helps us find meaning in our world and to express it and
share it with others. And this is the most human activity of our existence.

Literature could help people form their own philosophy of life, which might be the turning point in their
existence, providing unexpected remedies, solutions, to their perceived insurmountable predicaments,
problems. This is what Oyetunji ( 1971, 107 ),as cited by Oghuan ( Ibid, 84 ), expresses:

Through the life of someone else, a reader ( of literature ) may be able to see
and understand his own life more completely by applying what he reads to
himself. A well-read man is presumed to be a wise man not only he has
accumulated a mass of fact but mainly because he has acquired the wisdom
which comes to other people only by painful experience in long life.
Literature communicating to and with man is subtly transparent, spiritual, psychological and affective.
This what at times is called contemplation. Literature communicates to man through contemplation.
Such contemplative communication looks quite profitable, beneficial, to man as it helps him to
ingurgitate and dissect information, or ideas he receives through literature reading. Collie (1987, 2), as
cited by Ajewole-Orimogunje ( Ibid, 170) also affirms that “ literature, which speaks to the heart as much
as to the mind, provides material with some emotional colour that can make fuller contact with the
learner’s own life.”

In order to properly situate the liaison between literacy and governance, need arises to exploit the latter
as concept in all its ramifications so as to bring out the desired results expected of this write-up. That is
why we believe the following aspects, related to governance, will be looked into: some definitions of
governance, its types, characteristics, etc

Governance and Good Governance

“ The purpose of government is to protect and serve the people being governed, to ensure that they
enjoy the basic rights and freedom needed to live useful, fulfilled lives.” With this overview about
governance from the US Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria, we can enter the domain of governance to
exploit all its intricacies with particular reference to literacy. Is there a distinction, a difference between
governance and good governance? The general opinion about these two terms is that of notion and
realisation: governance is the principles while good governance is the practice, of political
administration. It is like to practise what one preaches. Thus, the non-practice or absence of governance
is simply bad governance. This is to say that governance in action is of two classes worldwide: good
governance and bad governance. Yahya (1999, 15) as cited by Oke (2010, 32-33), considers the two
concepts thus:

Governance is defined by the World Bank as “the manner in which power is

exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources
for development”. Good governance will in effect mean the use of power by the
government (...) and how the public service operates: (a) to promote democracy,
accountability and transparency, (b) to formulate and implement good policies, (c)
to effectively and efficiently manage (...) human and financial resources in order to
achieve sustainable national development, to achieve economic prosperity to
alleviate poverty.

Good governance has transcended the limits of national territoriality to position itself on the pedestal of
international, multinational cooperation, partnership, mutual and beneficial relationships. It is in this
perspective that the notion and act, framework and implementation of good governance can better be
apprehended and appreciated. Global and regional institutions have made good governance their Trojan
horse, pre-requisites for financial and technical assistance to needy member or association countries.
One of such institutions is the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) which determines the concept
of good governance in the following lines:

In the context of a political and institutional environment that upholds human

rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, good governance is the
transparent and accountable management of human, natural, economic and
financial resources for the purposes of equitable and sustainable development.

In terms of overall understanding and international consensus, good governance

is an overriding concept from which can be inferred a number of fundamental
principles and intervention sectors suitable for helping to achieve the aims of ADC.
Good governance has evolved from its original focus on economic processes and
administrative efficiency to a subject with stronger links to democracy, the rule of
law and participation. This is also the understanding of ADC as it permits attentionsSS
to be drawn to political and institutional processes and results and to the role of
the state in the development process and its responsibility to its citizens.

Non-Conventional View on Governance

The Institute On Governance (IOG) is a bilingual (English/French) NGO, located in Ottawa, Canada, and
has got as a mission statement to

explore, share and promote good governance (...), and to help governments, the
voluntary sector, communities and the private sector put it into practice for the
well-being of citizens and society. From our perspective, governance comprises
the traditions, institutions and processes that determine how power is exercised,
how citizens are given a voice, and how decisions are made on issues of public
concern...We provide advice to public organisations on governance matters. We
bring people together in a variety of settings, events and professional development
activities to promote learning and dialogue on governance issues.
When one examines, analyses the quotation above, one discovers therein an unusual hidden meaning:
governance is not an exclusive propriety of government, the state and politicians; it concerns every
institution, every tradition, every corporation saddled with the duty of dispensing, discharging one
responsibility or obligation, towards a populace, a community or a congregation. This is the pristine view
of The Institute On Governance on Governance:

Since governance is not about government, what is it about? Partly it is about

how governments and other social organisations interact, how they relate to
citizens, and how decisions are taken in a complex world. Thus governance is
a process whereby societies or organisations make their important decisions,
determine whom they involve in the process and how they render account.

Zones or Spheres of Governance

According to The Institute On Governance (IOG), the concept of governance is applicable to various
forms of organisation, not only governmental. That is why, The Institute has been able to come about
the criteria of governance as “ the more strategic aspects of steering: the larger decisions about direction
and role. That is, governance is not only about where to go, but also about who should be involved in
deciding, and in what capacity. As a result, The IOG stipulates four zones, four areas of governance as

- Governance in ‘global space’ or global governance deals, with issues outside the purview of
individual governments.

- Governance in ‘national space’, i.e. within a country: this is sometimes understood as the
exclusive preserve of government, of which there may be several levels: national, provincial or
state, indigenous, urban or local. However, governance is concerned with how other actors, such
as civil society organisations, may play a role in decision making on matters of public concern

- Organisational governance ( governance in ‘organisation space’) : this comprises the activities of

organisations that are usually accountable to a board of directors. Some will be privately owned
operated, e.g. business corporations. Others may be publicly owned, e.g. hospitals, schools,
government corporations, etc.

- Community governance ( governance in ‘community space’): this includes activities at local level
where the organising body may not assume a legal form and where there may not be a formally
constituted governing board.

Principles or Elements of Good Governance

On a general consensus, eight principles or elements of good governance are hereby highlighted:

- Rule of Law
Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced by an impartial regulatory
body, for the full protection of stakeholders.

- Transparency
Transparency means that information should be provided in easily understandable forms and
media, that it should be easily available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by
governance policies and practices, as well as the outcomes resulting thereof; and that any
decisions taken and their enforcement are in compliance with established rules and regulations.

- Responsiveness
Good governance requires that organisations and their processes are designed to serve the best
interests of stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.

- Consensus- Oriented
Good governance requires consultation to understand the different interests of stakeholders in
order to reach a broad consensus of what is in the best interest of the entire stakeholder group
and how this can be achieved in a sustainable and prudent manner.

- Equity and Inclusiveness

The organisation that provides the opportunity for its stakeholders to maintain, enhance, or
generally improve their well-being, provides the most compelling message regarding its reason
for existence value to society.

- Effectiveness and Efficiency

Good governance entails that the processes implemented by the organisation to produce
favourable results meet the needs of its stakeholders, while making the best use of resources-
human, technological, financial, natural and environmental-at its disposal.

- Accountability
Accountability is a key tenet of good governance. Who is accountable for what should be
documented in policy statements. In general, an organisation is accountable to those who will be
affected by its decisions or actions as well as the applicable rules of law.

- Participation
Participation of both men and women, either directly or through legitimate representatives, is a
key cornerstone of good governance. Participation needs to be informed and organised,
including freedom of expression and assiduous concern for the best interests of the
organisation and society in general.

Literacy and Good Governance

Literacy should be one of the priorities of good governace