The Importance of Media and Information Literacy in Nigeria [ESSAY]

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In 2019, when Prof. Wole Soyinka full-throatedly said in a BBC News’ symposium that fake news may cause World War III, I was forced to think that he might have said so for literary appeal. It looked, to me, like two things. One, an irony – because it is not everyday you find people bashing fake news in one of the largest television network in the world. Two, a hyperbole – because I know the last World War was sparked by the Big Germany’s invasion of Poland. However, the Nigerian Nobel laureate must have seen beyond my assumptions the significance of media literacy. That is, how crucial it is to access information yet analyze it before sharing – an attribute not so common to today’s Nigerians.

I’ve said this before that fake news may cause World War III and the fake news will be started by a Nigerian.

~ Prof. Wole Soyinka in a BBC symposium at Abuja.

Still, the #EndSars Protest – a decentralized social movement against police brutality in Nigeria – owes a part of its success to a level of media literacy found among Nigerians because while Twitter users helped counter misinformation and verified stories, the voices of the people were unified by New Media personalities. Thus, now and then, information is making the world go round. Information is what ties people of different backgrounds at one knot, with the aim of developing a socially sustainable city.

The buzz around technology in the 21st century has led to an enormous surge in information. As the amount of information available grows, it becomes more and more tedious to manage, and this may hinder the maximization of useful ones. This phenomenon was termed “Information Explosion” by an American writer, Alvin Toffler, in 1970.

In Nigeria, information explosion is evident in our daily lifestyle. We wake up to the radio blaring latest reports of food scarcity in the North, take some hot coffee and shook our heads at the TV reporter. On the road, we are attuned to billboards shoving adverts at our faces, and when we catch a new term, we do a quick search and Google returns about 1.5 billion results. To counter this unproductive trend, Nigerians – recognizing themselves as human capitals – have directly or indirectly continued to adopt the strategies Media and Information Literacy teaches.

Furthermore, rural broadcasting in Nigeria has helped both schooled and unschooled individuals – who are information literate – receive valuable information which they thereafter reflect upon and take due actions on. The radio, in particular, has worked to improve awareness and provided solutions essential for community development ranging from culture, rural development, education, hygiene and sanitation, agriculture to local governance. Take, for instance, Muhammad Bawa, a farmer in Kano, who‌se tomato harvest went from 16 to 42 baskets because he had listened to a call-in session on “Arewa 93.5.” He said, “I was interested in the radio programme because it focused on us smallholder fruits and vegetable farmers. After a few broadcast sessions, I knew exactly what was wrong with the farm and learned how to make changes.”

I was interested in the radio programme because it focused on us smallholder fruits and vegetable farmers. After a few broadcast sessions, I knew exactly what was wrong with the farm and learned how to make changes.”

~ Muhammed Bawa on Arewa 93.5 FM

In Nigerian Universities, there’s a slight drift from the traditional Education system where instead of teaching students what to learn only, they are now taught how to learn – how to filter the information resources available, where to find it, and the need to evaluate their results and manage their findings. In the University of Lagos, the course is tagged “Use of English and Library” and is made compulsory across all her departments. This simple approach has equipped many Nigerian students with the right search skills that shift them from superabundant information (online and in libraries) to utilizing appropriate ones only. Information garnered this way makes it easy for critical-thinking individuals to come up with solutions that fosters development of sustainable cities in Nigeria.

In 2019, the Buhari administration launched the “Clean Nigeria – Use the Toilet” campaign to cut down on the economic loss and the health issues open defecation poses to the country at large. Since then, Nigeria has recorded 71 open-defecation free LGAs and has engaged about 77,400 Youth Volunteers. In 2020, again, we saw how media personnel took it upon themselves to sensitize the public on taking the COVID-19 vaccine. This and more are instances that depict how media and information literacy fosters the development of environmentally sustainable cities, resilient enough for the existing populations and those to come. On a general note, no campaign or sensitization programmes – however funded – would yield results in places where information literacy is terribly lacking.

Since then, Nigeria has recorded 71 open-defecation free LGAs and has engaged about 77,400 Youth Volunteers.

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) has become so important that, in 2018, UNESCO added it to the list of proposed city types. In Nigeria, The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AfricMIL) uses MIL tools to strengthen democracy, good governance, accountability, and orderly society in the country. Several criminal and penal code act laws also bind the media to avoid the proliferation of extremist ideologies, fake news and hate speeches. Even more current is the social media code of practice put forward by National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). The code of practice advises platforms to acknowledge the receipt of any toxic content, misinformation, or disinformation and remove such content with timeliness. Thus, platforms must exercise due diligence to ensure that no unwholesome content is uploaded onto their space, and they must act, upon receiving notice of the presence of unlawful content, from any user or authorized government agency.

Furthermore, media and information literacy plays a germane role in the politics of Nigeria. In fact, it is known that Nigerian nationalists may not have claimed our independence in 1960 if the media, particularly the print media, was not available. Moreover, during election periods, aspiring politicians rely on the public responses to their campaign messages. A segment of the public, on the other hand, look closely into validity of the political messages by verifying from multiple sources and by questioning statistics and figures. Later, they communicate their findings with peers to ultimately decide on the candidate to pick.

It is known that the Nigerian nationalists may not have been claimed our independence in 1960 if the media, particularly the print media, was not available.

By extension, information literacy is indispensable in Nigeria’s path to achieving her Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria. One of such SDG is the provision of inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunity for all. In this breath, Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano state has been investing tremendously in the renovation of libraries, building of new ones, with support even in secondary schools in the state. The state governor recognizes the part libraries play in the development of sustainable cities. Admittedly, the Nigerian library system is wide off the mark, but there is still some emphasis placed on equipping librarians with information literacy skills. If this goes on, there will be more and more decision makers and managers in the society who will utilize “refined” information from theoretical or applied researches to foster sustainable development in form of good road network, constant power supply, portable water, qualitative healthcare delivery.

Admittedly, the Nigerian library system is wide off the mark, but there is still some emphasis placed on equipping librarians with information literacy skills.

In this ever-changing era, Nigerians are gradually learning to apply the plethora of information resources available at their disposal to drive the change the country needs. Media and Information Literacy serves as a tool to analyze and filter information because as Soyinka (2019) had said, unguarded information may really ensue World War III, except that it may not be a war of armour and tanks – it may be a war of humanities against her development.

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