Upon reflecting on the International Literacy Day, I wondered if the United Nations (UN) had an inkling of what was to happen on August 26. The day its office in Nigeria was bombed, marking the formal launch of international terrorism here. I say this because of the theme of this year's celebration chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The theme was 'Literacy and peace'.
Nigerians might not easily see the correlation between literacy and peace but recent events and statistics all add up to explain this.
According to data from UNESCO, 793 million adults - most of them girls and women - are illiterate. A further 67 million children of primary school age are not in primary school and 72 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are also missing out their right to be educated.
In Nigeria, there are over 8million out-of-school children, over 40million youth and adults who are not literate, more than 700,000 students yearly who cannot gain admission into any tertiary institution, 3million unemployed graduates and about 70 per cent of Nigeria's population of 150million living below poverty line.
After the April presidential elections violence broke out in some parts of the north, some corps members lost their lives in the process. The once beautiful Jos is a shadow of itself owing to religious violence. Many have fled Borno because it is now a haven for Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist sect. The South-east has become a zone for easy money making through kidnapping. Thank God for amnesty granted Niger-Delta militants, militancy was once federal government's headache in the South-south. Finally, even the seat of power, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has been jolted from its false sense of security with two bombings at the Police Force Headquarters and United Nations (UN) building.
One can now understand what these statistics of uneducated, illiterate, unemployed and poor Nigerians have been doing with their time. How denying them their right to education can make them rein vengeance on a society they assume care less.
So what now is the correlation between literacy and peace? Literacy increases awareness among citizens, awareness is vital for the development of democracy, democracy has the attributes of harmony, tolerance, cooperation and sacrifice and these attributes promote global peace.
Studies by UNESCO have shown that countries having higher literacy rate are also high in the ranking of global peace. Less prone countries such as Ghana, Tanzania or Kenya and Uganda who have managed to tame violence have improved the extent of primary school education with steady increase in enrolment.
On the contrary, countries which experienced violent conflict in the 1990s like Somalia, Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Chad are off track in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) because the education infrastructure has been destroyed, spending on schools and teachers have reduced and children are prevented from attending classes.
The 2011 Global Monitoring report reveals that unequal access and inequalities to education, interacting with other disparities heighten the risk of conflict. The report also said that the education of local populations is suffering because of unfair patterns of resource allocation.
The Civil Society action Coalition on Education For All (CSACEFA), a non-governmental organization mobilizing the Nigerian government to meet Education For All (EFA) goals by 2015 believes that the recent spate of bombings in Nigeria represents a dangerous dimension to violent assaults which poses a very grave challenge and a cog in the wheel of progress on development goals.
"We recognize that nascent violent eruptions and the resulting disruption to economic growth and livelihood, breakdown of the rule of law, justice and security are a major threat to consolidating and attainment of the MDGs not only in Nigeria but in other African countries.
"We are gravely concerned that relentless religious extremism, inequality especially in access to quality basic education and resulting social inequity may aggravate the risk of conflict and armed violence in Nigeria," CSACEFA had said.
Simply put, to reduce the tendency of violence, majority of Nigeria's population needs to be educated. It seems like Nigeria is far from facing this reality. The consecutive poor performance of students in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) since 2005, over N20 billion intervention fund not accessed by state governments for Universal Basic Education, no Nigerian university ranking among the first 100 African universities are pointers to our retrogression.
The success of agencies of the Federal Ministry of Education that have been receiving constant funding and should help boost literacy rates like the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), the National Commission for Nomadic Education and the National Teachers Institute (NTI) is in doubt, with nearly 50million illiterate Nigerians.
To address this, federal government set for itself a goal of increasing levels of literacy by 10million each year for the next four years which has kicked off with N1billion self-benefitting fund in trust to UNESCO.
But would such short term measures calm the restiveness of youths and rising violence of extremist religious sects? The lesson to be learnt with our present predicament is that government's tactics of taking reactionary measures must stop.
If we are to follow government's pattern of thinking, with the growing spate of violence, the education sector is likely to further suffer funding problems. But now more than ever this is the time to spend as much on education as security.
This is because an efficient allocation and utilization of education budget would serve as a panacea to the deplorable problem of out of school children and high number of illiterates who go on to pose security threats to peace and stability.