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Adanna Elechi: Female Illiteracy & Its Effect on the Nigerian Electoral System



I discovered the most curious thing when I sponsored a post on Facebook. When I checked the numbers, I found out more men saw the post than women. I thought the margin ridiculous, and so I reported my findings to my friend Okike.

Okike, characteristically the know-it-all, told me it’s because female illiteracy is high. A quick visit to the rural areas, he said, and I would discover many of the illiterate and semi-literate men have learned to use smartphones, while the women simply haven’t.

I took my time to verify this. Fortunately – or unfortunately – for me, I work in a village. I found out Okike wasn’t far from the truth.

Yeah, it’s just Facebook a lot of people may say, but the hard truth is that the more illiterate the women are, the more regressive our society is.

Let’s focus on the electoral system and the effect this huge group of women have on it. According to CIA World Factbook, 49.7% (2015 est.) Nigerian adult women are literate. This means 50.3% of women in Nigeria are illiterate. By their definition, this huge percentage of women cannot read or write. I am in no way implying that illiteracy somehow translates to a lack of common sense. I am focused, instead, on the general effect of illiteracy on political participation. That been said, let us look at some of these effects on the electoral system and the Nigerian society as a whole.

First of all, they are the ones most likely to vote. While the more educated and business savvy ones are in their offices or places of business, this group of women go out to vote. Politicians know this and focus on them. They are the ones who accept foodstuff in exchange for their votes. This is because in most cases, illiteracy translates to poverty. They don’t even know what the campaign promises are. They are happy to accept some ‘daily bread’ to feed their children. I am sure no well educated or self-sufficient person would vote for a candidate just because of a few cups of rice, unless in a case of extreme gluttony.

Another thing is, if more women were literate, the cases of underage voting wouldn’t be so much of a plague in this country. Pictures of underage voters with permanent voters cards recently surfaced online, sparking outrage across the country. We were reactive in our approach, calling for the heads of INEC officials while neglecting a crucial remedy to the issue: the women who care for and nurture these children.

If a mother says, No, you are not up to eighteen and cannot get registered, I am sure that child would stay at home, leaving those who are old enough to get registered. Many of them don’t even know the exact date they had their children. I’ve seen this first hand working in my Dad’s hospital in the village. They come in and you ask them how old their child is, and they begin to estimate. If they knew it was a crime to register minors and that they could get prosecuted for it, many of them would not let their children or wards near any registration center.

Also, the more illiterate a woman is, the higher the chances her children will be same. Giving women a chance at education will increase their earning power and give their children a brighter future. I know a lot of women have given their children the best education without even seeing the four walls of a school, but in my opinion, they are not as many as those who do not. As a child born to some of these women, who are not exposed to the importance of education, you are at the danger of getting recruited to do the dirty job the children of more educated or exposed people won’t do. These wards, not knowing the pedigree of whoever is giving them money, go to any length to make sure he/she wins a particular seat. They resort to violence, all for nothing compared to what their mates earn. Borrowing a line from Odenigbo in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’: “Education is a priority! How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to resist exploitation?” Education is a major key (DJ Khalid’s voice).

Illiteracy is the major cause of poverty in the land, and the poorer you are, the more likely you will be used by the rich to get what they want. They know this and keep using it.

As the elections are drawing near, we should keep in mind that to train a woman is to train a nation. We cannot keep ignoring the fact that female illiteracy is at the forefront of the problems we have as a nation. Merely tweeting facts about these politicians do not mean anything, because they know their votes are not really with the social media savvy, but with the women in the rural areas, who are uneducated and very poor. The ones who need a loaf of bread so desperately to unknowingly trade the futures of their children for it. Our future as a nation lie in their hands and until we come out to lift our women up and show them the light, our future will continue to be in jeopardy with all of our education and exposure.

We must go out and let women know the long-term effect of letting politicians buy their votes for peanuts, the effect of registering underage children, of allowing their kids to be used for political gain. We must let them know the importance of education, be it formal or informal. Let them know that there are people who were born in the same circumstances who have managed to escape and build a life for themselves. We must let these women know they can be better than they are, and all that is needed is to believe they can be.

Together, we can fight female illiteracy, by making sure the next generation makes better choices. We can ensure every girl child is given an equal right to education by making a conscious effort to remove barriers to girl child education. This will go a long way in saving our electoral system and our beautiful nation Nigeria.

Photo Credit: © Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) |


  1. Dt

    June 5, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    Nwa Nsukka be anyi, very educative piece. The power of data makes bare (most times) the reality.

  2. larz

    June 6, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    I think you need to look at the two issues separately

    Female illiteracy
    Women involvement in politics (and sports): I have found that most Nigerian women I know (even the educated ones) find it very easy to say Politics and sports are men’s game. Some of them will vote the way their husband votes (and support their hubbys team); they see it as a way of being a submissive wives. Some others just even vote because they are not “into it”.

    This unfortunately is not limited to Nigerian women (I have seen many white women do this too). I have been in social gatherings where I am the only woman that discuss politics with other men but the ladies are quiet. And not it is not that they are quiet in nature. When we move into social conversations about Davido and baby mamas or TeeBillz rant on social media or the royal wedding, the ladies jumps in. Even those that did not know of the gist self will get quick update so they can comment.

    • Engoz

      June 7, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      Grassroots/rural/the older generation of Nigerian women are/were more involved in politics, than this generation. I don’t get why this generation of women feel they can’t hold different political arguments from their husbands. Growing up, my house was a meeting place for the community women’s wing of some political party (I can’t even remember the name), all organized by my mum. I remember the June 12 elections and the debates between my mum and dad. My mum specifically told my dad that MKO will never be the president of Nigeria. My dad a pro-democracy, ‘revolutionary’ lol couldn’t believe it that MKO did not become president, During Obasanjo time, she voted for him, my dad hates Obasanjo’s guts. She can’t stand Obasanjo now though. There was one time the women went to Abuja. They slept in the stadium because the money the party gave to them to book accommodation was siphoned in typical Nigerian fashion. Any time she says the story, we will laugh her eh. Don’t try those community women o. Just forget these shallow ones on the internet. I always respect older Nigerian women even if their views may be different from mine. Their discussions are the best. The new political parties need to focus on these women.

    • Ugonne Ann

      June 9, 2018 at 3:24 am

      Lool…. This is so true. Soap Operas, movies, etc. Our voices are loud but shift the conversation small to serious stuff, it becomes shallow and before you know it, you are a loner.

  3. Mezie

    June 8, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    Beautiful well researched write up. Kudos

  4. Ugonne Ann

    June 9, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Very thoughtful and worrisome piece. What is the contribution that someone can make to the education of women/girlchild? What can be done ?

  5. Chisom Winifred

    June 9, 2018 at 9:25 am

    This is a great piece. Well done Ada.


    June 9, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    I never taught about this before but this is quite true.

  7. Nwigbo

    June 9, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    Good work dear! More strength to do more!

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