Literacy is simply defined as the ability to read and write regardless of language. It is a gross ignorance to assume that only the ability to read and write in English defines literacy.
In the precolonial era, the Almajiri teachers and their pupils freely provided their community with Islamic Education, in addition to the development of Ajami i.e. reading and writing in Arabic alphabets. Prof Fafunwa mentions that there were 6000 Almajiri schools in Northern Nigeria through which writing came to the North first before any other region. Based on this system, which is founded upon the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith, the then Northern Nigeria was largely educated with a complete way of life, governance, customs, traditional craft, trade and even the mode of dressing.
Northern elites, middle class and even some lower class enroll their children in both English and Islamic school. Most of the lower class have their children enrolled in one form of Islamic school or the other, hence most northerner can read and write, the barrow pusher, the mairuwa, the maigadi, the trailer driver, the village farmer, most to an extent can read and write. Where then is the source of the often quoted high illiteracy of the north?